A Cincy Celebration As Joe Burrow's First Pitch Is Just Right

Joe Burrow went down the middle.
Joe Burrow went down the middle.

Barry Larkin, the eternal captain of his hometown Reds, welcomed the latest to the pantheon of Cincinnati sports heroes as he presided over Tuesday's home opener at Great American Ball Park.

"Joe Cool?" Larkin asked. "No panic in his game. That's the thing I really look for. I look to see how guys do under pressure and he seems to be the same under pressure."

With the only pressure a bounce in the dirt, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow went to the mound in a Reds No. 9 jersey and threw his first public toss since the Super Bowl as coolly as you'd think for the ceremonial first pitch.

"Took a little off," breezed Burrow with a shrug after GABP erupted in Who Dey chants from the end of the national anthem to the time Burrow cocked one behind his ear and threw it down the middle to head coach Zac Taylor standing behind the plate.

But the crowd very much was on and brought the high heat as they madly roared through the scoreboard presentation brimming with snippets of the Bengals AFC Championship run. While Burrow and Taylor, along with wide receivers Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins, were announced to the crowd with a little "Welcome to the Jungle," piped in for good measure, it could have been Bengals-Browns instead of Reds-Guardians.

It started again a few minutes later when Chase, the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, presented Reds second baseman Jonathan India with the National League Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year trophy.

"Having (Burrow) here. Ja'Marr Chase being a big part of it. Zac Taylor. I think it shows really good synergy in this town," Larkin said.

If anyone knows synergy, it's Larkin. He lives in Miami, at times now, but he was "prideful," to wear his Bengals gear down there. It was Larkin who christened Cinergy Field in 1996 with the first ever 30-homer, 30-steal season by a shortstop. Naturally, Joe Lee Burrow was born that year.

"The thing is," Larkin said, "he's so young. What was it? His second year? And he came back from the injury. And the fact he just sits back there in the pocket and doesn't worry about it."

Ever the detailed CEO, Taylor suddenly got worried. Standing with Burrow and his receivers near the on-deck circle, Taylor realized about five minutes before the first pitch that a) he didn't have a glove and b) Burrow needed to warm up.

Suddenly, a right-handed Rawlings glove appeared via the Reds' promotional staff and Taylor was motioning Burrow to the patch in front of the Cleveland dugout on the third-base side.

Burrow went a little three-quarters for his first baseball tosses since eighth grade a dozen years ago. After about three throws, Taylor noted Burrow didn't have a glove and tossed it back underhand so the franchise wouldn't break a finger. There was no sign of the dislocated throwing pinky finger.

Ja'Marr Chase and Jonathan India.
Ja'Marr Chase and Jonathan India.

"I hear he has a pretty good arm. I think he'll be able to get it there," said Reds manager David Bell, a scion of Cincinnati's first baseball family. "He's fun to watch. I'm definitely a football fan and just watching an athlete at the top of his game and be in the moment, it makes you feel good watching him."

Taylor and Bell have both been skippering their clubs in Cincinnati since 2019, but they never got to meet until before Tuesday's game on the first base-line during batting practice. It was a healthy five-minute chat in which the classy Bell no doubt congratulated Taylor on his season.

"We talk about it as a team all the time," said Bell, a lifelong Bengals fan who led Sam Hubbard's alma mater Moeller High School to a baseball state championship. "Watching how the city responded. It's more motivation.

"The best part about it was how they did it. The way they played. The way they played together. The way the whole city got behind them. It was inspirational for me and the entire city … They inspired people. That's what we play for … You can see what's possible when you play together and everyone plays to their potential. It was really good to see."

But the meeting Taylor really got a kick out of seeing was watching the two Joeys introduce themselves behind home plate while the festivities swirled as only Reds Opening Day festivities can swirl. You could feel Larkin's synergy dripping off Votto's MVP and Burrow's Super Bowl arm.

Votto has captivated Cincinnati with 2,030 career hits during 16 seasons, the first one coming about the time of Burrow's last baseball toss. Both he and Taylor are 38.

"He's a guy you respect and admire so much," Taylor said. "For him to do it this long. I can appreciate it probably more than anybody. I've got a few months on him. It was cool to see them interact."

Votto appeared to invite the three Bengals players into the Reds dugout tunnel for one of social media's hottest crazes, a Votto TikTok. He thought they might have enough time to get one in before first pitch. Burrow was all in and between the time Votto left and the Guardians' endless Opening Day roster was introduced, he took his guys into the tunnel to take Votto up on it. They ended up watching Votto take some last swings in the cage while Burrow loosened up some more with Taylor.

The two Joeys.
The two Joeys.

"No way," said Taylor, when asked if Burrow threw B.P. to Votto. "We're staying out of those guys' way."

Taylor had his hands full keeping his two grade-school sons clear during batting practice. "They're everywhere," he said. "I turned around I thought I saw one on the mound."

But since this is Cincinnati, kids are welcome. Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson handed each a ball before he went into the cage at the plate and the next thing Taylor knew, they both had Larkin "H of F,' autographs.

"Only Hall-of-Famers sign that ball," said Taylor when one of the boys wanted him to sign it.

"But you're in the Nebraska Hall of Fame," his son said.

"Not the same Hall of Fame," Taylor said.

His sons always fight to get the No. 13 jersey on their team, always their dad's number because it is the reverse of their grandfather's No. 31 at Oklahoma. So Taylor wore a Reds' No. 13 and since it is Cincinnati and fathers and sons and mothers and daughters and Reds Opening Day, Joe Burrow's dad drove down from Athens to check in on everything.

"In his first game in eighth grade, he hit three homers," Jimmy Burrow said. "There are some people in Athens who say it was his best sport."

Joey Burrow grew up liking the Yankees and Mariano Rivera's cutter, but they came to GABP a few times as a family. One game Joey came out of it with two foul balls.

He was going to make sure he didn't throw one.

"Once I got assurances from Joe that he wasn't going to throw it 90 in there, I knew we were OK," said Taylor on a day Cincinnati got it just right and put it over the plate.