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Nuxhall, others remembered

Nuxhall, others remembered by Reds

CINCINNATI -- Opening Day's celebratory tone of hope and renewal was tempered this year by an aura of sadness and loss.

Prior to Monday afternoon's season opener at Great American Ball Park, the Reds honored four members of their organization who passed away this offseason -- most notably, beloved broadcaster and former pitcher Joe Nuxhall -- and a former area resident who died in Iraq.

Also honored were late Reds general manager Bob Howsam, considered to be the architect of the Big Red Machine clubs of the 1970s, Bob Purkey, a pitcher for the Reds from 1958-1964, and Sheldon "Chief" Bender, who spent 39 years in the team's scouting and player development department.

The standing-room-only crowd stood amid a steady light rain for a moment of silence in honor of the quartet.

The most stirring tribute came during player introductions, when Reds players and coaches jogged on to the field with Nuxhall's name and uniform No. 41 on the backs of their white home jerseys.

Nuxhall, who passed away Nov. 15 at the age of 79, pitched in the Major Leagues for 16 years, including 15 seasons with the Reds. On June 10, 1944, at the age of 15, he became the youngest player to appear in a Major League game. Nuxhall began his Reds broadcasting career in 1967.

Nuxhall was remembered fondly by many members of the organization.

"I got a chance to say goodbye [at the funeral]," said Ken Griffey Jr. "It's tough. It's not normal to not have him here. I can still hear his voice, encouraging me. It hit me in Spring Training that I wasn't going to see him [again]."

Reds players approached Major League Baseball for approval of the pregame jersey tribute shortly after Nuxhall's passing.

With the exception of starting pitcher Aaron Harang, Reds players removed the commemorative jerseys following the pregame ceremony. The jersey Harang wore will be placed in the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum, while the others will be donated for an auction to benefit the Joe Nuxhall Character Education Fund.

"They came to me and asked me if I wanted to wear it [for the entire game]," Harang said. "Nuxhall is one of the better guys you'd every meet. He's a legacy in Cincinnati. Starting the season without him is a definite change."

The Reds also unfurled a Nuxhall jersey hanging above the visitors' bullpen that will remain there for the duration of the season. The Reds also announced that Great American Ball Park's address will officially be changed this summer to 100 Nuxhall Way.

"Not being from Cincinnati, I don't have the history with Nuxhall that many others had," said Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky. "It kind of hit us in Spring Training. I know he's been brought up a lot today. He touched a lot of people."

Team Lachey -- winners of the NBC reality show "Clash of Choirs," sang "Amazing Grace" as a tribute to Nuxhall, Howsam, Purkey and Bender.

The Reds also recognized former area resident Sgt. Keith (Matt) Maupin, who'd been missing for nearly four years after his convoy came under attack by Iraqi insurgents before the Army announced Sunday that his remains had been found. Maupin's family was in attendance at Monday's game.

Jeff Wallner is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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