You already know the highlight of Aaron Boone’s major league career.
Especially if you root for the Yankees or Red Sox.
But when the former Reds third baseman returned to Cincinnati to broadcast Monday’s game against the Braves, I asked him a question that I figured he had never been asked before: What’s the second-best moment of your big league career?
“The one-game playoff against the New York Mets in 1999,” Boone told me. “It turned out to be a bad night for us, but I remember very vividly taking the field that night at old Cinergy Field. It was kind of a cool, damp night, with a little mist in the air, and I remember going out about 10 or 15 minutes before the game to go run my sprints in the outfield and the electricity in the ballpark was something that I’ll never forget. Unfortunately, we didn’t deliver, but it’s something that has always stuck with me.”
Boone was in his first year as a full-time starter in ‘99 and part of a young Reds team that shocked the National League by winning 96 games. Boone was 26-years-old at the time and part of a talented kiddie corps nucleus that included Pokey Reese (26), Mike Cameron (26), Dmitri Young (25), Danny Graves (25), Sean Casey (24), and Scott Williamson (23).
“That was the most fun year I ever had in baseball,” said Boone. “That group of guys…so many of us becoming big leaguers and becoming good players at the big league level for the first time…sprinkled in with awesome veterans like Barry Larkin, Greg Vaughn, Pete Harnisch, and Denny Neagle. It was just a group that really meshed well and we hung out together. It was a fun, fun, year and we kicked butt almost every night.”
Did he have an all-time favorite teammate in Cincinnati?
“Barry Larkin really took me under his wing and we were buddies from the day that I got to the big leagues. Being so close to him on the field between third base and shortstop, we formed a very close relationship early on and still have one. Sean Casey and I are as tight as can be. Adam Dunn and Austin Kearns are some of the guys that came up after me, and then I think of great teammates like Pete Harnisch, Scott Sullivan…guys that were fixtures here and an important part of our clubhouse. But my stock answer on my greatest teammate ever is Mike Cameron. He was a lot of fun to play with and brought so much to the table every day – not only on the field but off the field.”
Boone spent seven years in Cincinnati before being traded to the New York Yankees on July 31, 2003 for pitchers Branden Claussen and Charlie Manning. 77 days after the trade, Aaron hit one of the most dramatic home runs in baseball history – an 11th inning walk-off blast off of knuckleballer Tim Wakefield in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS to give the Yankees a 6-5 victory over the Boston Red Sox.
“I didn’t know this – someone pointed it out to me a few weeks ago – but I was something like 2-for-16 in my career off of Wakefield (actually 3-for-17 with 1 HR),” said Boone. “I don’t remember facing many knuckleballers – maybe Steve Sparks or Dennis Springer. I don’t remember having a lot of success against those guys, and getting to face Wakefield that year…there were many times where I went back to the dugout scratching my head.”
In New England he’s been known as Aaron “Bleeping” Boone ever since his playoff home run off of Wakefield. Does he find it amusing or annoying?
“I’m amused,” Boone said with a grin. “I appreciate having a small place in the history of such a special rivalry. That’s pretty cool.”
I recently introduced Aaron to my wife Peg who is a diehard Red Sox fan. He quickly won her over by pointing out that his home run in 2003, helped make Boston’s 2004 World Series title even more enjoyable.
“I feel like it made the story better in 2004,” said Boone. “Obviously, falling behind three games to none to the Yankees the next year in the ALCS and coming back…I feel like the hatred for me up there is not as deep-seeded as it would have been. They like to razz me more than they hate my guts.”
Aaron’s 12-year MLB career ended after the 2009 season and he immediately went to work for ESPN. He is typically in the studio for “Baseball Tonight” on Friday and Saturday before broadcasting a game on Monday night with Sean McDonough and Rick Sutcliffe.
“The transition to broadcasting has been very natural for me,” said Boone. “I didn’t take a year off and that was the right decision for me. I went in with zero experience and zero training, so I’m learning things all of the time. It’s been so much fun for me. I don’t really miss playing all that much. To get to go to major league parks once a week and get to be in the studio – I still feel very connected to the game. In the end, I feel really blessed that I’ve found something that I enjoy doing.”
The broadcasting gig has already brought him back to Cincinnati twice this year including Opening Day when he served as the Grand Marshal of the Findlay Market Parade.
“This place means a lot to me,” said Boone. “Whenever I know that we’re going to do a game in Cincinnati, it puts a smile on my face. I have a lot of very good relationships here. This is a place that was great to me and it means the world to me.”
I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net
If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard
And I’m on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1