Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, whose favorite baseball player growing up is the Reds' Ken Griffey Jr., kept tacking on to his own legend this week when he heralded the arrival of the guy who could be the next Cincinnati icon with his four batting practice homers at Great American Ballpark.
A few hours later for real, Elly De La Cruz drilled his first big-league homer.
"I should go over there more often," said Burrow the next day as he pondered a script straight out of an '80s baseball movie featuring Will Benson winning it on a blast that walked-off the Dodgers with his own first big-league shot.
The Natural or Field of Dreams, take your pick. Seamless Joe ("If he comes, they will build it") delivered again even though the last time he swung a bat had been …. ?
"Puberty," Burrow said. "I was hoping I could hit it out. I wasn't sure, but it was nice."
Burrow and about a dozen of his teammates went across the street from Paycor Stadium to try their hand at the summer game and found themselves in the middle of a full-blown Reds revival. Burrow, three years removed from being the NFL Draft's overall pick, got to shake hands with De La Cruz, the game's top prospect, and some other players as the two clubs mingled at the batting cage. Sticking to the script, after Burrow signed a football for him, Tyler Stephenson also went yard against L.A.
"Our batting practice set the tone," said slot cornerback Mike Hilton with a smile as he talked through a couple of his gap shots. "All it takes is one of two guys to change the culture, change the organization. They might be on the right track."
Burrow had a lot of help turning around the Bengals in becoming one of the faces of his sport. Just like the Dodgers' Mookie Betts, who fittingly led off the Burrow game with a blast of his own.
"What can't he do?" asked his new left tackle Orlando Brown, who was standing behind the plate when Burrow went back-to-back over the left-field wall. "He's just somebody when he does something he does it at a high level. He's such a competitor. He loves to show out. I respect the hell out of that."
When Burrow threw out the first pitch at 2022 Reds Opening Day with his first public throw since Super Bowl LVI, his dad reminisced about his son's baseball prowess growing up in Reds Country in Athens, Ohio.
"In his first game in eighth grade, he hit three homers," Jimmy Burrow told Bengals.com that day. "There are some people in Athens who say it was his best sport."
But eighth grade was it for baseball. From then on it was football and basketball.
"Back then, freshmen didn't play varsity and plus I was doing a lot of stuff with AAU basketball," Joe Burrow said.
Apparently he hasn't lost it even though, according to MLB.com's Mark Sheldon, Reds assistant catching coach Joe Singley threw about 100 pitches before he went deep. Nose tackle DJ Reader, a high school pitching phenom in North Carolina, caught the feat on the viral video and broke down Burrow's swing.
"Good swing. His hands were inside. His hips went through. He looked like he'd done it before. It wasn't his first rodeo," Reader said. "I'd strike him out. I'd throw him cutters away and make him go the opposite field."
Burrow and the Bengals were getting nothing but straight stuff from Singley.
"Couldn't hit a cutter. A fastball I can hit," Burrow said.
So could one of his offensive lineman, Cody Ford. Ford, who pitched and played third growing up in Louisiana until his sophomore year, hit one out.
"I think it's a quarterback thing. They can do what they want," Ford said. "It's kind of annoying, but props to them."
Ford insisted one of Burrow's shots nearly reached the second deck.
"Some guys," Ford said, when they got it, they got it."
JUNGLE TO THE HALL: BengalJim Foster has decided to take his third annual "Jungle to the Hall," right to the source Saturday with what he envisions as a "massive," Who Dey Fest in a free event on The Banks celebrating the induction of the late Ken Riley into the Pro Football Hall of Fame later this summer as well as the candidacies of other Canton-worthy Bengals.
From 1-4 p.m., Bengals fans have run off the stretch from Jefferson Social to the Holy Grail Tavern and Grille as Bengals legends roam with fans among a sea of orange and black balloons and a dozen or so tents manned by merchants such as BlaCkOWned Outerwear, Koch Sporting Goods, Bengals Bids and Cincy Shirts as a dee jay punches up music.
From 2-3 p.m., on a stage between The Grail and Condado overlooking Paycor Stadium, Riley's family talks about his life and career. Two members of Foster's fan crew, Bengals historian Tom Justin and James Coppola, moderate a panel discussion focusing on Riley and other Bengals hopefully joining him in Canton, such as Willie Anderson, last year's finalist in the modern Hall of Fame voting, and Ken Anderson, a finalist in the senior category.
Bengals radio voices Dan Hoard and Dave Lapham and Bengals.com senior writer Geoff Hobson also look at other Hall candidates, such as Isaac Curtis, Lemar Parrish and Corey Dillon.
Ken Anderson is expected to attend, as is Louis Breeden, who started at the cornerback opposite Riley in Super Bowl XVI.
The SWAT Team, consisting of the living members of the Super Bowl XXIII starting secondary (David Fulcher, Eric Thomas, Solomon Wilcots) is also expected. When they were named Rulers of the Jungle for a game last season, they also honored the late Lewis Billups.
Bengals all-time leading scorer Jim Breech and Robert Jackson, whose 15 interceptions are tied for fourth most among Bengals safeties, are also among about 20 legends expected to be on The Banks signing autographs. Current players Ted Karras and Chase Brown are also slated to appear. So is the giant inflatable Joe Burrow.
Also planned are raffles and drawings with proceeds earmarked for the Ken Riley Foundation and Cincinnati Music Accelerator.