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Monday, January 28, 2013 3:40 PM



The Delphos Herald

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LIMA — Success breeds interest.

The Cincinnati Reds posted a 97-65 record last year and reached the playoffs before losing to the Giants 3-2 in the first round.

That is a very good reason for nearly 1,300 Reds’ fans to turn out to greet the National Central League champions at the Lima Mall on Saturday afternoon. The Reds have won the division title two of the last three years and the group known as the “Rock Star Tour” consisting of my friend and Hall-of-Fame announcer Marty Brenneman; announcer Chris Welsh; All-Star second baseman Brandon Phillips; and former Red and member of the 1990 World Series team Todd Benzinger were just a few of the representatives.

Gapper and Mr. Red were on hand to greet the young and old alike. The Lima stop has always been a popular one on the tour and fans came out en masse to welcome their heroes.

“This has been huge every year; we had a huge crowd in Columbus today and I know that we have a good crowd here today. The enthusiasm is great and I think that we are going to see a good team this year.” Brenneman stated.

After the press got some private time with the “Rock Stars,” the group headed to greet the masses for some Q-and-A time. Most of the questions were directed at the very popular Phillips. Number 4 was denied a Gold Glove last year, a honor he arguably deserved much more that the second baseman chosen, but Phillips answered the “why not you?” question with humility.

“To tell you the truth, I have no idea. I thought I was going to get one last year. I don’t know how many I can get. The only thing I can do is catch the ball the only way I know how and hopefully they vote for me,” Phillips commented.

The 2013 edition of the Reds is looking bright: the everyday lineup is set this year with Joey Votto at first, Phillips at second, Zack Cozart at shortstop, Todd Frazier at third, Ryan Hanigan behind the plate and an outfield of Ryan Ludwick in left, Shin-Soo Choo in center and Jay Bruce in right.

“That is a good move (Choo for Drew Stubbs) that any team that is a contender has made this off-season, which means that anybody else that had to bat further up in the lineup can move to a position in the lineup that will be more comfortable to them. I think Choo is going to be a good leadoff hitter; now Phillips can move down to second, Cozart can bat seventh and the rest of the lineup will just fall into place.” Brenneman noted.

The topic of the Baseball Hall of Fame came into conversation as this writer and Brenneman lament about nearly every year; the lack of support for Marty’s partner in the booth for three decades, the “old left-hander,” the late Joe Nuxhall.

However, this season, no former players were inducted as this ballot mostly comprised of players from “the steroid era.”

“That didn’t bother me; I think that it added credibility to the Baseball Hall of Fame. You had Bonds, Clemens and Sosa; those that we said to have juiced,” Brenneman continued. “I think that Craig Biggio got the short end of the stick; he should have gotten in. Next year will be a banner one with the players that will be on the ballot: you got Greg Maddox, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas and Biggio will be a holdover, so you could see four or five players in next year. It could be the biggest year we have seen in sometime.”

There was a lot of talk about the role of Aroldis Chapman; the fireballer is slated to join the starting rotation but the Hall-of-Fame broadcaster noted that it is a chance the Reds are going to have to take.

“It’s a crapshoot, I think everybody professes a lot of confidence that he will make a successful transition and I think that’s the approach you have to take,” Brenneman remarked.

The rotation is looking to be — 1-to-4 — Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo and Homer Bailey.

Reds’ general manager Walt Jocketty has said he plans to start spring training with the left-handed Chapman moving from closer to the starting rotation. Last year, Chapman compiled a 1.51 ERA and was 38-of-43 on save chances. In 71 innings, he struck out 122 and walked 23.

Former Red and the man that has the distinction for catching the final out of the 1990 World Series, sealing the Reds’ 4-game sweep of the mighty Oakland A’s, Benzinger, said he sees similarities between this year’s defending Central Division championship team and his 1990 World Champions.

“What we have now is a team that won the division in 2010 and 2012 and should be a team that’s a little ticked off and maybe playing with a chip on their shoulder. When you have a good team who is playing a little angry, that’s a great combination; let’s hope the Reds of 2013 are like that,” Benzinger noted.

Benzinger lamented about the ’90 Series, where no one gave the Reds any chance of beating the A’s.

“Going into the first game of the World Series, we wanted to see in batting practice how far McGwire and Conseco would hit the ball and they were hitting them into the Reds’ seats regularly,” he recalled. “You know how rare that happened in a game but after Eric Davis hit that 3-run homer off Dave Stewart in the first inning, people started saying ‘hey, this could be something’.”

The headlines in newspapers around the United States after game one “Davis Slays Goliath.”

“We were winning 3-0 in games, we were missing Eric (Davis was injured in the first inning of game 4) and Billy Hatcher (he got hit by a pitch in the top of the second and was out), Jose Rijo was on the mound and we wouldn’t get him back until game seven,” Benzinger continued. “Carey Lansford came up and if he would have hit a home run, we could have been in trouble. When he hit that pop-up, I was the happiest person on earth; I never get tired talking about it.”

Benzinger spends his time now in the booth as the Dayton Dragons’ announcer after spending a couple of years in the dugout as a coach with the Dragons. Benzinger sold the ball to a Reds’ fan several years ago but was sporting the 1990 World Series ring.

“I sold that ball five or six years ago to a big Reds’ fan. I never had it on display. I had in it in a box in my basement for 15 years; I’m not a memorabilia guy,” Benzinger added. “I have my ring (which was on his finger). …. They could ask $100,000 for the ring and I wouldn’t give it to them. I would never sell that.”

You have players that are in it for “me” but it is good to see that the Reds have a player in Phillips that truly does care about the fans and remembers what it really is all about.

“This is why we do this it is for the fans; you have to show love to the fans. I try to brand myself and be a fan-friendly person,” Phillips stated.

One of the plethora of fans had a poignant question during the Q-and-A for the Gold-Glover, wanting to know what is first and foremost in the second baseman’s life and what keeps him going in the game.

“Family; my family is first. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be the man that I am today and I thank them for that everyday,” he answered. “If it wasn’t for my parents, I don’t know where I would be today. I am just thankful for the fans — you guys are why we are here. We don’t have to do this; I choose to do it. I am a people person and love doing this and getting out with the fans.”

The second baseman was awarded with a multi-year contract and stated he couldn’t be happier.

“I am happy to be here and let the people in baseball know that I am in Cincinnati to stay and I am happy for that,” Phillips added.

Opening day will be a bit different this year with inter-league play a commonplace attraction this season as the Reds open up the season on April 1 against Josh Hamilton and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.


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