That was more than probably even the people of Cincinnati could have expected, a success by every standard, and now that the 2009 Gillette Civil Rights Game is in the books, this city will stage it again in 2010 followed by what Reds president and CEO Bob Castellini predicted will be a rotation around Major League Baseball markets similar to how the All-Star Games are chosen.
"The thrust, as I understand it, is going to be to have Civil Rights Games occur in various cities," Castellini said before his team's game against the White Sox at sold-out Great American Ball Park. "And it should be that way."
The Civil Rights Game was played the first two years as an exhibition in Memphis, Tenn., at the Triple-A home of the Cardinals, a setting that was appropriate to start it right there where the Civil Rights Museum is based, site of Martin Luther King Jr.'s last day. Not unlike a professional ballplayer, it then took a big step forward into its first Major League city with the game played for the first time during the regular season.
"The Reds and the city were phenomenal hosts, and to see the enthusiasm today on the (Fountain Square) plaza and know those will be fans for their lifetime, that made us happy," MLB president Bob DuPuy said. "My family and I had the privilege to march on Washington in 1963, and to see what's happening today is very moving."
"Thank you, Cincinnati," added Jimmie Lee Solomon, MLB executive vice president of baseball operations. "You've embraced us, you all prayed and the weather stayed away. I was ecstatic about that. We had the youth event at Fountain Square, and thousands and thousands of kids played baseball and interacting with current and past Reds stars, having a joyous time."
Those were the kinds of things that mattered, and it took a lot of work over a couple of years to bring Cincinnati's presentation to fruition. After the Friday roundtable at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, after the Beacon Awards Luncheon at Duke Energy Center, after the "Wanna Play?" and youth-summit events in Fountain Square, and of course after the game itself and touching pregame ceremonies, the question was where the Civil Rights Game is going and how a rotation might work.
At this point, it is only speculation. Suffice to say that many city officials will be contacting the Major League offices. Most probably will want a Civil Rights Game in their market now. One can look at absolutely every Major League city and imagine what this might be like in that town. That is a fluid process with evaluations to follow this event, but one MLB executive said it would not be surprising if rotations are for two years rather than the All-Star example of one, given significant undertakings such as signing sponsors.
"We were really pleased with everything, the way it came off," Phil Castellini, the Reds' chief operating officer, told Fox Sports Ohio during Saturday's game. "Mother Nature cooperated with us. When you work with a staff like MLB has, they've done this a lot, and we're certainly glad to be part of this event. The new and improved Civil Rights Game in a Major League city and in a Major League regular-season game. We were just pleased with every one of the events so far -- it's been a real thrill."
The Reds had to bid on this, an example of what's to come for other cities.
"I've got to give [Reds vice president and assistant general manager] Bob Miller and the baseball ops guys credit, because they went to the Industry Meetings not long ago, and came back and told our business department that they were considering taking it to a Major League city and regular season," Phil Castellini said. "So as soon as we heard that we started the process of putting our name in the hat, and then MLB went around and visited some of the cities that were interested in hosting the event, and we gave them a good tour, took them to the Freedom Center, and showed them what some of our ideas were, and it seemed to catch on."
Solomon said of that tour: "It just blew us away."
It's safe to say that the 2009 Gillette Civil Rights Game events brought the same reaction.
"I've been to a couple of big Major League Baseball events, and to see these guys come in today, to our crowd like we have down here, and our fans cheering for the icons like Muhammad Ali and Hank Aaron, and seeing these guys wave, and of course Bill Cosby -- I grew up watching all of his different shows, I'm a huge fan, and the uniform he came out in -- it's just been a lot of fun," Phil Castellini said.
"We've had serious discussions, we've laughed. I know I've teared up a few times over the past couple of days hearing some of the stories at the roundtable and the luncheon. And then you see the kids in Fountain Square today, it was just unbelievable. It was like a mini-RedsFest at Fountain Square. So it's just been a real thrill to have all the different events come off the way they have, and we couldn't be happier."
During the pregame interview-room session featuring Commissioner Bud Selig and Hall of Famers Aaron, Frank Robinson and Tony Perez, Bob Castellini said: "To me, this was a forerunner to our All-Star Game, which I'm going to try to exact out of the Commissioner for 2013. We're working very hard."
"We bid on them every year they're available for the National League teams," Phil Castellini added. "But there's a kind of process now to where there's a lot of new ballparks, and if you look at the cities with new parks, and the years since their last All-Star Game, we did an internal study to kind of say you can kind of read the tea leaves a little bit about what the possible locations are. But we hope to be there in 2013 or '15."