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."