In Cincinnati, iconic players can be found in nearly every era of Reds baseball. Talent-wise, the Big Red Machine was arguably the best in history. Longtime Reds fans have never forgotten those powerhouse teams from the 1970s, which made Thursday's ceremonial first pitch at Great American Ball Park that much more special.
George Foster began his Reds career as a part-time player but solidified his place in the Reds' lineup, not coincidentally, around the same time the Reds were dominant in the National League. He's best known for scoring the game-winning run in the fifth and deciding game of the 1972 National League Championship Series, but he's also recognized for hitting 52 home runs in 1977, in an era where players hitting 50 home runs in a single season was largely unheard of.
Foster, predictably, received a huge ovation as he strode to the mound to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Game 5 of the National League Division Series between the Reds and the Giants. Incidentally, Thursday also marked the 40th anniversary of his pennant-clinching run in the NLCS.
"It's an honor to be asked to do it," Foster said. "It's great to be part of a winner again. It's got to be great for the fans, if the Reds are able to pull it out. I know back with the Big Red Machine days, how fans were so loyal to us. Now it would be great for fans to get another winning team. It's like the team saying, 'We appreciate your support.'"
Foster, who still lives in the Cincinnati area, has a deep understanding about what tradition means in this region. He referred to it as "a family thing."
"Cincinnati's always known winners, and I just felt bad when they went through lean years and were not winning," he said. "But now with the Castellinis coming back and bringing a winner to this city, I think it's going to get the families back together again, fathers bringing their sons, moms bringing their daughters."
Foster, who played for the Reds from 1971-81 during his 18-year career, led the NL in home runs in 1977 and '79 and RBIs from 1976-78. He was named the NL Most Valuable Player in 1977 and won the Silver Slugger Award in 1981.
Following his playing career, Foster stayed active in the Cincinnati community, and today he runs a non-profit organization to aid kids from military families and the inner city. The George Foster Safe Youth Network sponsors baseball boot camps, where kids learn character traits of the Army in addition to baseball, and how the two intertwine.
Foster has been working with this group for six years.
"A lot of the parents who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq, there's such a disconnect between the families," said executive director Vikki Brown. "This helps bring the families back together."
In addition to the Safe Youth Network, Foster remains actively involved in the Reds Community Fund and has lent his time and name to several other charitable causes in the area.