Last Saturday I was lucky enough to end up at the Civil Rights Game in Cincinnati. I had three reasons to go. One was to see the Sox on another road trip. The second was to get a better look at the Great American Ballpark. The final reason was to do some star watching. Dignitaries from all walks of life were on hand to celebrate the occasion. Three of them won awards. The four that were featured in a pre game ceremony were Bill Cosby, Muhammad Ali, Hank Aaron, and Frank Robinson. Each of them received a special honor during the night. It was a thrill to see each of these men in person. Each of them has touched the lives of Americans in their own ways.
Muhammad Ali received the Beacon of change award for impacting society through words and actions. When he was at the top of his game Ali gave it all up to support his stance on the Vietnam war. He had to give up his title, and face jail time to do so. Ali has never been one to hold back, and this was no exception. Today Ali is a shell of his former self because of Parkinson’s disease. He really looked bad out on the field in his golf cart. From what I have read though he still has enough energy to wow you when you meet him. It was still a tremendous thrill to be able to see Ali in person. Even if it was from twenty some rows away with him in a golf cart.
Bill Cosby was the recipient of the Beacon of Hope award that is given to the person who influences our future through the support of children. Since his early days in television Bill has promoted family values. He has even gotten into rifts with today’s popular comics because they are too blue. I have been lucky enough to see Bill Cosby in a stand up setting. His encore act was the ‘Dentist’ routine from his HBO special ‘Bill Cosby Himself’ from the 1980’s. This was always one of my favorite comedy bits, and seeing it live was like seeing a classic rock band play their big hit. It turned a good show into a great show. Part of the reason that Ali looked so rigid may have been from the fact that Bill showed so much life. He was mugging from the second his cart left the center field tunnel. He made his way around the field in a Homestead Grays uniform giving the fans a show. The Reds players were huddled around his cart at the end getting some laughs in before the game. He is still an entertainer. The picture at the top of the post shows him standing in his cart giving the crowd a great view of him as he went around the stadium.
Hank Aaron was the final award winner. He received the Beacon of Life award which is given to the person whose life has been emblematic of the spirit of the Civil Rights movement. This is the man who overcame all to become the all time career leader in home runs. As he was introduced to the crowd they played a montage of his career highlights. When he was shown eclipsing the Babe’s record the crowd stood on their feet and cheered him on. I couldn’t help but wonder if that cheering session was for that accomplishment, or to show Selig that here was the REAL home run king. The juiced up fat head that broke it a few years ago should have his own record. Does that show how I feel about the record that Bonds currently holds? It was great to see the home run king sitting next to Ali. Here were two of the greatest in their sports on the same platform. Bud Selig gave him his award, and then disappeared into the crowd. Maybe he was going to rewrite the record books.
Frank Robinson was the final honoree. Each fan that entered the stands (the first 20,000 at least) received a replica 1964 Robinson jersey. He was relegated to the crowd during the Beacon award ceremony, but took center stage after that. He stepped to the mound with several former Negro League players to throw out the first pitch. As you can see by the picture he was letting another former Red Tony Perez know that the heat was coming. Frank still looks great for his age. I was amazed at how well he looked. His throw was a little off, but I am convinced that he was just going easy on Perez. Can’t hurt his hand for a first pitch can you? Frank is still giving back to baseball today. The Cincinnati crowd showed him a lot of love prior to the game. He rounded out the great pre game festivities. A lot of star power made the game seem kind of unimportant. At least until the first pitch.