CINCINNATI — Rob Manfred said he didn’t realize his appreciation of baseball could increase, but that changed on Thursday.
Manfred, the commissioner of Major League Baseball, was the grand marshal of the Findlay Market Parade, a part of many traditions associated with Opening Day for the Cincinnati Reds, who played the Pittsburgh Pirates at Great American Ball Park. Manfred attended the game as part of MLB’s celebration of its 150th season.
“It was particularly important to me to be in Cincinnati for Opening Day because it all began here,” Manfred said, referring to the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings, baseball’s first professional team. “I’ve never experienced an Opening Day like this one. The parade was really special. The fandom in Cincinnati is special.”
Manfred rode with Reds great Johnny Bench in a convertible through the streets during the parade.
“Johnny is always amusing,” Manfred said. “He’s like a god here. It was a lot of fun talking with him.”
Manfred discussed several topics, including potential rule changes and a possible players strike in 2021, but said Bench didn’t offer an opinion on any of those subjects.
“Our conversation was more lighthearted than that,” Manfred said, with a laugh.
Manfred said he and the Major League Baseball Players Association will continue talks to avert a potential work stoppage. Manfred said the current agreement, which players lament often underpays stars during their prime years and leaves veterans such as pitchers Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel unemployed, is what the players desired when it was signed.
“The system is a product of collective bargaining,” Manfred said. “They wanted a seniority-based system. That’s what they bargained for and that’s what they have. It’s as simple as that.”
Manfred said changes to the system are likely, but he declined to speculate what might be revised.
“Collective bargaining is an ongoing process,” Manfred said. “The thing is to manage it so you don’t have big blowups.”
OLD-TIMERS: Former Reds center fielder Eric Davis threw out the honorary first pitch to Bench.
Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan was the honorary captain and former Reds pitcher Bronson Arroyo brought out the baseball.
ROBINSON REMEMBERED: The Reds honored late Hall of Famer Frank Robinson with a video tribute before Thursday’s game.
The team asked for a moment of silence in memory of Robinson, who played for Cincinnati from 1956 though 1965. The Reds are wearing a “20” patch on their jerseys, remembering Robinson via his uniform number.
BELL REMEMBERS: Before Thursday’s game, Reds manager David Bell reminisced about his days with the Burlington Indians of the Appalachian League in 1990.
Bell and the Indians played in Huntington, which had a Chicago Cubs minor league affiliate. Burlington’s lineup featured Bell and two other future Major League sluggers, Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome.
“I had trouble getting in that lineup,” Bell said with a laugh, referring to a Burlington team loaded with hitters but with terrible pitching. “I was very fortunate to grow up in that that organization. Those guys are still good friends.”
ROUNDING UP: Joey Votto, Yasiel Puig and Eugenio Suarez received the loudest ovations from fans in pre-game introductions. ... Thursday marked the 29th time the Pirates visited Cincinnati for Opening Day and the first since 2014. ... The contest also marked the final Opening Day for Reds radio play-by-play man Marty Brennaman, who announced he will retire after the season, his 45th with the team. The team honored Brennaman on the video board after the first inning and the crowd gave him a standing ovation, to which Brennaman leaned out of his radio booth and thanked fans with a wave.