When Junior first came to the Reds, he was widely considered to be the best player in baseball.
The grand plan was to watch him finish his career in Cincinnati on an unstoppable march towards Aaron's record.
But a few things happened along the way. Nagging injuries turned into debilitating conditions. Screws in the leg, rehab after rehab. The Natural became the bionic man, an ongoing experiment for Kremchek and the trainers to get back on the field.
Watching him now, no longer "the Kid", but rather an elder statesman, and it occurrs to me that his new jersey number this year really sums up his time in Cincy.
One of the first controversies in his first year came about when he wanted Doggie to allow him to wear number 24. It got a lot of press, much of it overblown, but it seemed petulant and immature. His Seattle stalkers all hooted and howled, claiming we were seeing the Junior they knew.
The number thing died down, and he kept number 30, same as his dad wore on the Big Red Machine.
Now, this year, he's wearing number 3, in honor of his three kids. He's seems more mature, mellow, and comfortable with his place in history. There's no more talk about catching Aaron. There hasn't been in a while, with all the injuries and rehabs.
And his press now is so improved. He reminds me of Jimmy Connors in the later stages of his career, how he was finally embraced, especially in New York. America loves to tear down it's heros, then build them back up if they fight their way back to the top.
With the steroids scandal dominating the news, Junior is once more "the Natural", only for different reasons. It's in fashion again to love Junior, and not just for his incredible talent, but for the kind of man he is and how he conducts his life.
From a silly flap over number 24 when he first got here, to easing into number 3 in honor of his children. It just strikes me as perfect symmetry. We're still lucky to be able to say we watched him roam centerfield in a Reds uniform. And we're blessed to say we watched him continue to grow as a man.
"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
~ Mark Twain