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Festive Civil Rights Game a joy for Reds

Festive Civil Rights Game a joy for Reds

CINCINNATI -- When it came to the ceremonies celebrating the Civil Rights Game on Saturday, the Reds were just like the 41,326 fans at Great American Ball Park -- only with better seats.

MLB Beacon Award winners Willie Mays, Billie Jean King and Harry Belafonte were honored with tributes and several baseball icons were on hand to watch.

Among the dignitaries only a few feet from the Reds' dugout was a nearly incomparable foursome of living Hall of Famers: Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks and Frank Robinson were seated shoulder-to-shoulder. Near the podium was Mays, the Beacon of Life honoree.

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"That was just amazing," Reds closer Francisco Cordero said. "You're not going to see that all the time. Being here for the second year in a row and getting to watch and experience all of that stuff going on, there's not much you can say. It's unbelievable. It was great."

The biggest ovation reserved for Mays, as he was driven toward home plate on a golf cart. Robinson, the former Reds great, and Aaron also were given warm welcomes.

Center fielder Drew Stubbs had a copy of the new Mays biography sitting in his locker and said he got to meet Mays and have the book signed.

"He's a legend in this game," Stubbs said about the center field great. "It was really an honor to get to meet him and some of the other guys that were around here. It was something I will never forget."

Both the Reds and Cardinals wore 1947 throwback uniforms to commemorate the year that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball. Cincinnati's uniforms were white with no names above the numbers on the back. Their hats were dark blue with a red wishbone "C".

The sold-out MLB Beacon Awards Luncheon was held at the Duke Energy Center on Saturday afternoon. Reds manager Dusty Baker attended the event, and as he was during last year's Civil Rights weekend, came away impressed.

"Very good day. I got to see some of my longtime buddies and some others I admire a lot," Baker said. "I saw someone my mother introduced me to and I still admire a lot- Harry Belafonte. [Beacon Awards keynote speaker] Andrew Young, I met him when I was 18 years old when I was with Hank [Aaron] and those guys. A lot of time has passed."

During the seventh-inning stretch, teen saxophonist B.K. Jackson wowed the audience with a sparkling rendition of "America the Beautiful," that had the crowd cheering. The Reds could be seen clapping in the dugout as Jackson came off of the field.

A the game lived up to the pomp and circumstance, a tightly contested matchup between the top two teams in the National League Central. Most of the fans reserved their biggest cheers for the 4-3 Reds victory that ended on a at the plate that saved the game for the home team.

"A lot of fans watched that tonight, and we completed the evening for the fans," Cordero said. "They were so happy watching that and went home happy with a win."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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