Reds attend Stenson's funeral

Updated: November 10, 2003, 8:20 PM ET
Associated Press

LAGRANGE, Ga. -- About 30 teammates, including Cincinnati Reds stars Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Larkin and Adam Dunn were among those who crowded into a church to pay their last respects to Dernell Stenson on Monday.

They also gave Stenson, a rookie last season with the Reds, one last standing ovation.

Stenson, kidnapped and killed in an alleged robbery Wednesday in Arizona, was remembered at Monday's funeral service at First Baptist Church more for making his hometown of LaGrange, Ga. proud than his baseball skills.

Stenson's teammates from Cincinnati and the Arizona Fall League combined to fill four pews in the church.

"It's just a testament to what kind of person Dernell was," said Larkin, the Reds' captain.

Stenson, 25, was found dead Wednesday in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler, Ariz., after a night out with friends. Four men have been arrested in connection with his death.

"I don't know what else is in heaven, but heaven has got to have a baseball team," said the Rev. Marshall Stenson, Dernell Stenson's uncle. "When you are acquainted with somebody who can bring this many people together across racial lines, I'm just proud to be a part of this family."

Dernell Stenson's brother-in-law, Rawlin Tate, asked the crowd to give Stenson one last standing ovation, and the overflow crowd of approximately 1,400 stood and applauded.

Stenson was a 1996 LaGrange High School graduate who spent nearly seven years in the minor leagues before he was called up by the Reds for his major league debut in August. In 37 games with the Reds, the outfielder hit .247 with three home runs and 13 RBI.

Stenson was playing for the Scottsdale Scorpions this fall and was third in the Arizona Fall League with a .394 batting average.

"He was like a little brother to me," Scottsdale batting coach Garey Ingram said at the funeral. Ingram played with Stenson for Pawtucket, a minor league team in the Boston Red Sox organization, before working again with Stenson this fall.

The Red Sox originally drafted Stenson before Cincinnati claimed him off waivers this spring.

LaGrange High coach Donnie Branch called Stenson the best player who ever came through his program, even though Branch also coached current Seattle outfielder Mike Cameron.

In Monday's service, Branch remembered Stenson as an unselfish player, citing an at-bat in a playoff game against Griffin High School. Branch said Stenson already had hit two deep home runs to give LaGrange High a 2-1 lead when Stenson laid down a surprise bunt that rolled foul.

Branch said he called time-out and demanded that the power-hitting Stenson explain why he bunted. Stenson explained the Griffin third baseman was playing behind the bag, leaving room to bunt for a single.

Branch said he told Stenson the third baseman "is not in that tree where you hit the first two home runs. Why don't you go ahead and swing away?"

After the service, Larkin said Stenson made an impression in the Reds' clubhouse with his positive attitude.

"He always seemed to have a smile on his face, even when things were not going well on the field," Larkin said. "As a veteran ballplayer, that's one thing you like to see, that the young players want to be there."

In his eulogy, Marshall Stenson said his nephew "has been promoted to the highest of all leagues."


Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press