FAIRFIELD, Ohio (AP) -Pete Rose and other Cincinnati Reds stars past and present paid respects Tuesday to Joe Nuxhall, joined by friends and fans who knew him only as the ``old left-hander'' from his folksy radio broadcasts or his charitable work.
Nuxhall made major league history by pitching in his first game at age 15, then remained part of professional baseball for more than six decades. His death last week at age 79 uncapped an outpouring of mourning and tributes that his family says has been overwhelming.
The high school in his home of Fairfield, a northern suburb of Cincinnati, opened its basketball arena Tuesday for an open-casket public visitation.
A scheduled four-hour public visitation was extended by more than three hours, past 11 p.m., for thousands of fans who waited hours for the chance to see Nuxhall and greet his family. Crowd estimates ranged from 6,000 to thousands more than that.
Among the first to attend the viewing were current Reds star Ken Griffey Jr., father Ken Griffey and fellow 1970s Big Red Machine great Johnny Bench. Former Reds players Barry Larkin and Sean Casey were also on hand amid the displays of Nuxhall photos, posters and memorabilia.
``It's a sad time, but it's also a celebratory time,'' Casey said. ``Everyone has a story about him. His legend will live on.''
Among later visitors was Rose, who knew Nuxhall as a teammate and then as a broadcaster who helped chronicle Rose's rise to baseball's career hits record and subsequent banishment for gambling. Pro football Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz and entertainer-journalist Nick Clooney also came through the arena.
Griffey Jr. recalled Nuxhall giving sodas and gum to him and other players' children when he was little, then years later offering encouragement to him as a veteran player.
``If he could help you in any way, he would do it,'' Griffey Jr. said.
Larkin said players respected Nuxhall for his perspective as a former player and for his support - he continued to throw batting practice for years after retirement. Larkin smiled as he recalled Nuxhall interviewing opposing players on his ``Star of the Game'' following a Reds loss. Nuxhall's disappointment was clear. ``You knew what team he was for,'' Larkin said.
Scores of people, some wearing Reds jackets or jerseys, lined up hours before the viewing was opened to the public. One of the first was Bonnie Trimble, 55, of Dayton, who said she had met Nuxhall only once, at a book signing, but felt like he was family after years of listening to him on the radio.
``I loved Joe. He meant baseball to me,'' said Trimble, who said she waited in line for nearly eight hours.
``Everyone just loves Joe because he stayed Joe,'' said Griffey Sr. ``There was no one else like Joe.''
Reds' play-by-play announcer Marty Brennaman, Nuxhall's longtime broadcast partner and friend, said Nuxhall remained humble in a business of egos.
``If he is looking down upon us today, he's not going to believe it,'' Brennaman said of the throngs of mourners.
Nuxhall made a brief Reds debut in 1944 as a Hamilton schoolboy, then worked his way back from the minors for a solid 16-year career as a pitcher followed by radio broadcasts for the Reds from 1967 through 2004. He occasionally helped announce games each season after his retirement.
Nuxhall's son Kim is a Fairfield teacher and worked closely with his father on the character education program, one of many youth and community causes, including scholarships for students in Butler County, that Nuxhall actively supported.
Nuxhall died Nov. 15 after the latest in a series of bouts with cancer. Soon after the news of his death, flowers, baseballs, ballcaps and other tributes began piling up at the statue depicting him pitching outside Great American Ball Park.
The family planned private funeral services Wednesday, after a procession taking Nuxhall's body past landmarks of his life including the fields where he played youth baseball and high school football.

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