Tonight was one of those nights at the ballpark that made it all worth it. The money spent, the drive, the extreme fatigue I’ll feel at work all day ‘tomorrow’. None of that mattered. Tonight was about ‘The Deal’ and the Reds turning the page as a franchise. This was something you could just feel. The stadium looked to be in a different gleam tonight, honest to God. With Bruce on the field, there was a certain gloss to the field and the players.
This kid is perfect. He’s humble, smart, and displayed maturity beyond his 21 years tonight. Before the game he just spoke about living in the moment. He was only about this one game, just playing and making his debut. This is tough to do because Bruce’s name has been in every publication since the news became public yesterday. Driving up I-71 there was a giant billboard just before arriving in Cincinnati that had a picture of Bruce and said Welcome to the Big Leagues. Clearly the Red Carpet was rolled out for this kid, the bright lights and spectacle were present. And he handled it with the heady conciousness of a future Hall of Famer.
On the drive up listening to 700 WLW on AM radio, Bruce was the topic. This set the mood for what would be a delightfully themed night. Former players described Bruce as ‘a gamer’, a guy who despite what was going on in his personal life or anything else, when it it’s time to show up and play he’s going to go for 9 innings and try to do everything he can emotionally, physically, and mentally to beat you. It was said that Bruce is the type of guy you want in your ‘Fox Hole’ with you in this league as Jeff Brantley put it; that Bruce is the type of guy you wanna go to battle with each and every day for 162 games.
The most surprising thing that I saw on the night was this. Less than an hour before game time Bruce popped out of the clubhouse and onto the field. Then he climbed into the camera well and started signing. And he kept signing. When we thought he was done signing he signed a bit more. Bruce signed until almost every little kid in the area had their ball, hat, ticket, or jersey signed. He talked with the fans as he did this. This was great we thought.
The last thing in the world I ever expected to see was Bruce, before the biggest game of his life; signing one autograph after the other. But it just goes to show that is what this guy is. There’s no Hollywood involved with ‘The Deal’. He is a down to earth country boy who can simply hit a baseball much better than you or I. That is all.
We even got a word into Bruce. We told him that we were thrilled for him to finally arrive, and he obliged.
This is Jay Bruce’s girlfriend. Also there to the right is Jay Bruce’s sister. Another cool moment on the night was when Bruce first strolled out of the clubhouse. He locked eyes for a second with his girlfriend after he’d said hello to his family. She began to cry tears of happiness seeing him in his uniform. What this said to us was that this was obviously a very big dream for ‘The Deal’ that he’s probably been sharing a lot about with those he’s closest to for a long time. You can tell it’s not about the money he’ll make or the accolades he’ll gain; it’s for the right reasons. This is the game that he loves to play.
The entire lineup seemed to have an extra jolt in it tonight. It was a clear message that the future had arrived. Every time I got a look at ‘The Deal’, it was clear: the future is in very good hands.