The Sunday game is an annual tradition at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati to recognize and honor residents of Portsmouth. The team also gave special recognition to Portsmouth native Gene Bennett, who retired in January after 58 seasons with the Cincinnati Reds. According to the Reds website, Bennett signed as a player in 1952 and began scouting in 1958. He was promoted to scouting supervisor in 1975 and signed Don Gullett, Barry Larkin, Chris Sabo, Jeff Russell, Charlie Leibrandt and Paul O’Neill. Before his retirement he had been a senior special assistant to Reds GMs since October 1992.
The first pitch of the game was tossed by Mark Hunter of Portsmouth, representing the Steven A. Hunter Hope Fund and wearing a Portsmouth Trojans baseball jersey. As is Portsmouth Day tradition, the Portsmouth mayor was catching. Malone was waiting behind home plate as the pitch came across, but he missed the catch in front of 30,000 staring visitors.
“It would have been nicer for him if I had thrown it a little higher,” Hunter said.
But the mayor made up for his on-field error in the bottom of the seventh inning, when Reds outfielder Jay Bruce tied the game at 6 with a home run shot into deep centerfield.
“It bounced off another hand and into my glove as I was reaching for it,” Malone said, laughing at the craziness of it all. “I was elated. I was real excited about it.”
Hunter was sitting near the mayor and said he laughed as Malone kept trying to instigate the stadium wave. Eventually, it caught on, and the wave spread around the upper and lower decks of the stadium three times.
“We said, ‘Mayor, you got 30,000 people to follow you, and there are only 20,000 in Portsmouth. So we’re taking this as a good sign that you should be able to pull us together,’” Hunter said.
Sadly, Bruce’s seventh-inning home run was also Cincinnati’s last run of the game, and the Reds fell to the Pirates by a score of 7-6.
“It was an overall wonderful experience. Even though our home team lost the game, it was a grand opportunity to have as many city residents there. I was told we sold over 1,600 tickets this year, and to look around and see those familiar faces in the crowd was awesome,” Malone said.