Monday, September 23, 2002
Ovation warms Rijo's heart
Popular Red: 'It's way more than I deserve'
By John Erardi firstname.lastname@example.org
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Jose Rijo said the ovation he received Sunday from the crowd at sold-out Cinergy Field after pitching 4 2/3 innings of three-run ball was the best of his career.
To see and hear the fans do that makes me feel so special - it's way more than I deserve; more than any person deserves, said Rijo, who'd been selected to start Sunday's game because of all the highlights he has provided Reds fans over the years.
Rijo, 37, said the warmth of that feeling in my heart is better than winning the Most Valuable Player Award in the 1990 World Series, and better even than the way fans had welcomed him back to the mound last year after a five-year layoff because of arm surgery and rehab.
Before this season, the Enquirer ranked Rijo's return in 2001 as one of the 32 most memorable Reds moments in the then 32-season history of Riverfront Stadium/Cinergy Field.
That Rijo was able to keep the Reds in the game is a tribute to his guile, because he hadn't pitched but a few innings in the last couple of months.
Reds manager Bob Boone had let Rijo go out for the fifth inning in the hopes the Reds would score enough in the bottom of the inning to qualify Rijo for a victory. The game was tied 2-2 when Rijo entered the fifth, but he gave up a run, and the Reds failed to score in the bottom half. I wasn't thinking about the win 1/2ndash 3/4 that was the last thing on my mind, said Rijo. I was out there to show the fans a good time and have some fun.
Rijo received loud ovations from the fans upon taking the field and having his teammates gather around for a prayer before heading for their positions.
I thanked the Lord for allowing us to be here this day and for keeping us healthy, Rijo said. I have been given so much. More than one man deserves. And I can never thank the fans enough for the love and appreciation they have shown me over the years. They have given me the best times of my life.
He said he hoped to keep pitching next year and be back with the Reds, but that one never knows. If Sunday was his final moment on a big-league mound, he certainly made the most of it.
That ovation is something I never will forget, he said. I will carry that in my heart forever. There is no removing it, no matter what becomes of this stadium.
He said he was honored to be part of a double switch that involved shortstop Barry Larkin.
The two came out of the dugout in response to curtain calls from the fans.
Rijo, noting that he and Larkin are the two last active links to the 1990 world champions still playing for the Reds, said he has been blessed to have Larkin as teammate.
Rijo praised the Reds fans for the way they have treated him over the years.
I knew from the beginning that they will love you if you perform and if you work hard, Rijo said. I have tried to live up to their expectations.
He has done that and more.
As Rijo came off the mound Sunday and crossed the first-base line, he doffed his cap to all corners of the stadium. The big smile, the bright, sparkling eyes, the wide beaming face, were all there, as always.
There have been only a few Reds in franchise history who were better pitchers than Rijo. It is hard to believe anybody ever had a bigger heart.
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