The Cincinnati Reds are recognized as the oldest professional baseball franchise. Established in 1869 as the Red Stockings, Cincinnati has seen its share of talented, legendary ballplayers.
Few players in Reds history have had a more successful career than Tony Perez. Perez was the starting first baseman for Cincinnati in the "Big Red Machine" era, one of the most dominant franchises in the history of baseball. Perez helped lead the teams from 1975-76 to back-to-back World Series championships. A member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Perez's accomplishments go on and on.
That is why his appearance at the 19th annual Reds Legends Youth Baseball Clinic on Monday was so special. How often does a kid get to learn about baseball from one of the best who has ever played it?
Well, that is exactly what happened to the approximately 160 kids in attendance at the camp. Perez worked with each kid individually on their hitting approach and mechanics.
For camp director Mike Wagner, an avid Reds and Tony Perez fan, it was something he had always dreamed of.
"It's been very special because of Tony Perez," Wagner said. "He was my childhood hero, someone I looked up to. For him to be out our event, that was awesome."
"He's a great personality," Wagner continued. "I picked him up at the airport, and we talked so much about baseball - his playing days, his coaching days. He's just a great baseball guy."
Perez certainly wasn't the only Reds legend in attendance. Leo "Chico" Cardenas, a gold glove and All-Star shortstop from the 1960s, attended the event for the 16th year. Cardenas worked with the infielders, and has grown to love everything about the camp.
"I enjoy being around the kids," Cardenas said. "While helping them out we become buddies. Mike (Wagner) has done a great job with this. Him and his family are such good people. Everyone involved in this does an amazing job."
Also in attendance were Don Gullett, Todd Benzinger, Eddie Milner, Ron Oester, and Herm Winningham. Gullett was the ace of the Reds' staff in the '70s, starting game one of the 1975 World Series against the Red Sox.
Benzinger, Oester and Winningham were all teammates on the 1990 team that won the World Series. Benzinger played first base and caught a pop fly for the final out in game four, when the Reds completed the sweep of the Athletics. Oester was a backup middle infielder that season, and was playing in the final year of his career. Winningham was a backup outfielder who came up with several clutch pinch hits throughout the series.
Milner, a center fielder in the early '80s, was a fan favorite who was known for his blazing speed in the field and on the base paths.
As a lifelong, diehard Reds fan myself, covering this event was truly amazing. Seeing former Reds greats just walking around, talking baseball and signing autographs is one of the coolest things I've ever witnessed.
As a child, you grow up either watching these players or hearing about them from your parents and grandparents. They become your heroes.
The opportunity to not only learn from your heroes, but to just talk with them and get to know them, that is an experience that a kid will never forget.
Wagner has done an excellent thing in bringing these Reds legends to Marietta, and a tip of the cap to them for dedicating some of their time to pass on their baseball knowledge to today's youth.
Wagner said to me before this year's camp that "It's a chance for the kids to make memories. We believe that we make dreams come true."
I couldn't have said it better myself.
Jordan Holland is a Marietta Times sports writer and can be reached at 376-5449, or at email firstname.lastname@example.org