I never saw them play.
They made baseball history in 1976 by winning back-to-back World Series championships; I wouldn't be born for 20 more years.
Yet for me, the moment the Great 8 took the field Friday night was an unforgettable one.
I could feel the magic through the TV screen. The grainy 1970s film and the crisp image of the legends of a bygone era walking to their old positions on my family's HDTV. The familiar boom of PA man Joe Zerhusen's voice as he reeled off awards and accolades, and the foreign one of Zerhusen's predecessor Paul Sommerkamp as he echoed the names of the Big Red Machine via a recording. The way Johnny Bench, 30 years and two Stryker knee replacements removed from his last season in Major League Baseball, flipped his cap backwards and crouched behind the plate. The way Pete Rose, his lifetime ban from baseball lifted for one memorable moment, shed a few tears as he donned No. 14 again. The way one of the best starting lineups in baseball history congregated near the pitcher's mound -- the two trophies they'd worked so hard for thirty-odd years ago placed by white-gloved hands on a table nearby -- and mingled once more in one last meeting on the mound.
It couldn't have been more perfect. Or so I thought.
Then, before I knew it, I found myself at the forefront of a crowd of photographers on Saturday at the unveiling of the sculpture in honor of Joe Morgan. Less than five feet away from me stood greatness. There they were, most in red suit coats and ties, flanking the statue of Morgan that had just been unveiled. Cameras clicked, smiles spread.
Cut to half an hour later. There they were again, this time at a specially called press conference, crimson curtains a backdrop to eight men and their two golden trophies. The names who were music to the ears of so many in 1970s Midwest America -- Bench, Rose, Morgan, Tony Perez, George Foster, Ken Griffey Sr., Cesar Geronimo, Dave Concepcion -- sat and talked. To reporters and photographers -- and each other -- they held forth on everything from keys to winning the postseason to Morgan's Honda dealership.
On the former subject, Rose had this to say: "It's mandatory, to go through the playoffs, you have to have fun. And you have to realize, the only way to have fun, is to win. You are going to win some games and lose some games. We all won some World Series, we all lost some World Series. But the object is to get there. You have to play every game like it might be your last game; that's the way you have to approach it."
"There was only one way that we went out there, and that was to win. I think everybody here believed in that. We knew we were going to win and the other team knew we were going to win," Bench declared.
That's the way we played -- as a team," said Perez. "We played as a family and we did everything as a team."
And when Bob Castellini took the podium just before the unveiling of the Morgan sculpture, he uttered one especially powerful line.
"This shows what this team was all about," Castellini beamed, "what Cincinnati baseball is all about."
I haven't heard truer words.
Meggie Zahneis, winner of the 2011 Breaking Barriers essay contest, earned the job of youth correspondent for MLB.com in the fall of '11. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.