Sunday, May 23, 2004

Bagwell's memories include Cincinnati

By John Erardi
The Cincinnati Enquirer

When Houston Astros star Jeff Bagwell eventually hangs 'em up, rest assured he will remember Cincinnati.

"Opening Day for one thing, because I made my (major-league) debut here," Bagwell said before Saturday's sellout against the Reds at Great American Ball Park.

"Barry Larkin for another, because he's such a great player and played his whole career as a Red. The transformation from Riverfront Stadium to the new ballpark. . . . There've been a lot of good memories, really."

Bagwell is trying to make some more good memories this weekend. If Friday's and Saturday's games (and the present standings in the National League Central) are any indication, Bagwell's ultimate memory - a trip to the World Series - might involve Cincinnati, too.

The Reds are in a three-way tie for first place with the Astros and Cubs after winning Saturday 8-7.

Bagwell made his debut in Cincinnati the day the Reds received their 1990 World Championship rings, and he ended the game by lining a pitch right up the middle to Larkin, who was playing him perfectly. Larkin stepped on second.

Two hours and 21 minutes earlier, Bagwell will never forget what was going through his mind, either: I can't believe I'm here. Am I good enough to be here? Am I good enough to stay here?

Fourteen years later, the question was answered long ago. It's a tribute to how prolific Bagwell has been that last year (.278, 39 HR, 100 RBI) was just shy of the monster standards he had set for himself - and fans - 1996 through 2001. In some fans' eyes, last year was an "off year" for Bagwell and actually had some people grousing about his plans to play out his contract that runs through 2006 with an option for 2007.

Check out these numbers:


And 2002 wasn't exactly chopped cicadas, either, with 98 RBI and 31 HR, only the second time in a nine-year stretch that began with 116 RBI in 1994 that Bagwell hadn't driven in 100.

Thursday, Bagwell will turn 36. The bigger question is: What will Bagwell turn in mid-October, when the leaves turn from green to the yellow, brown and orange, the colors of those old-time Astros uniforms? Will it be a pumpkin suit again for Bagwell, or will he be riding in the big carriage this time?

When Bagwell looked out at the mound Saturday at Roger Clemens, Bagwell liked what he saw of his immediate future. RBI are great, but at this stage of his career, Bagwell would like to be thinking of the bases full in the fall classic.

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