Sunday is Fan Appreciation Day at Cinergy Field. Technically, that's the day the Reds set aside to thank their fans.
But this weekend is high time to look back and appreciate the 1999 Cincinnati Reds. Regardless of what happens over the weekend during the team's last home stand or in the waning days of this exhilaratingly tight playoff race, the season has been one for the fans.
And how refreshing it is to see baseball alive and well and living in Cincinnati again! Countless hours of talk radio and thousands of column inches have been used to analyze the Reds' return to dominance. The "experts" always will have their theories.
But what specifically do we -- the collective we, the fans -- appreciate about these Reds? An informal survey of Reds fans near and far, whether at the ballyard or in bars across the city, reveals many reasons to show this team love. To wit:
· We appreciate the heart of this ballclub. A big man with a big smile and sweet stroke, Sean Casey has almost literally reached out and shaken the hands of all those angered by the 1994 strike. A guy like this reminds you why you follow the game. Who cares what Albert Belle does on any given night? One flash of the Casey grin cures all.
This is a guy so loved by everyone that his teammates have taken to calling him "The Mayor." You can't ask for a better ambassador for the 21st-century Reds, or for all of baseball for that matter. All that, plus there are a couple of batting titles in his future. Can you sign a player to a lifetime contract?
· We appreciate that players expected to be exceptional major leaguers down the road have grown up before our eyes. Aaron Boone, Scott Williamson, Pokey Reese and Jason LaRue sure aren't acting their age. And that's a great thing.
· We appreciate veteran leadership: Barry Larkin, Denny Neagle, Greg Vaughn, Eddie Taubensee, Pete Harnisch. Without them, we'd be the Cincinnati Marlins.
· We particularly appreciate Vaughn for more than 100 RBIs, 40 longballs, and for helping Larkin remember how much fun playing for the Reds really is.
· We glowingly respect and appreciate General Manager Jim Bowden and Managing Executive John Allen. Bowden engineered the team. He looked amid the ashes of last year's train wreck and built a damn good ballclub. His recipe -- one part veterans, two parts youngsters -- was supposed to yield a championship team after about three or four years. He couldn't have predicted this kind of success this quickly. But you must give him his due for solidifying the club once he knew the future was now.
Proof: Juan (the man) Guzman. Four words: Executive of the Year.
Allen had a much more daunting task: force the organization to succeed financially. Spend less, make more. The payroll was already rock-bottom by league standards, so Allen's directive was simply to hope that the team would keep winning (it did) and thereby hope that people would show up and buy tickets (they mostly didn't). It doesn't take an economics professor to figure it out.
Allen tried all sorts of gimmicks: parties on the plaza before Friday night games, a concert by KC & the Sunshine Band. Even the ubiquitous Barenaked Ladies sang the National Anthem before a recent home game. The result? An average attendance of about 24,000.
He's trying. Unfortunately, he needs to try some more. We, the fans, would certainly appreciate dime-a-dog nights, nickel-beer nights, half-price ticket nights or other promotions for non-families.
· We not only appreciate but downright love the new SmartVision jumbo screen, because we can actually see it.
· We would appreciate it if someone took those obnoxious Coke Fun-atics out and shot them. Oh sure, kids love them. But kids before now weren't subjected to them, and we turned out alright.
· We don't care if they are 20 years old, we still appreciate the scoreboard mainstays such as "Walks will haunt," the Mr. Reds Race and the Kahn's commercial ("You're blind! That's a hotdog!").
· We appreciate trying to electrify the home crowds with hip music before each Reds batter, but can we try something other than the gangsta def jam to get us going? It really isn't working. (Side note: Casey's use of Journey songs is almost comical when wedged between the bass-thumping stuff.)
· We appreciate those few thoughtful remarks made by the mainstream media that don't tear into Cincinnati fans, our loyalty or our style of cheering. Smart fans know when to cheer, pals. Most of us don't get paid to be there.
· We appreciate that more than 80 games were televised this season, but show fewer home games and there might be a better turnout at the gate.
· We appreciate Cinergy Field's new paint job. The green, yellow and red stripes across the outfield make it look less like the over-sized ashtray it is.
· We appreciate seeing retired jerseys in the outfield and look forward to more. No. 14, anyone?
· We appreciate the clutch play of the supporting cast. Chris Stynes, Jeffrey Hammonds, Michael Tucker and uber-pinch hitter Mark Sweeney just go about their business whenever called upon.
· We appreciate a platooned right field that bats over .300.
· We appreciate the most efficient bullpen in baseball. They might not look like Nasty Boys, but the result is the same.
· We appreciate that Dmitri Young got over the yellow hair thing. Did he lose a bet or what?
· We appreciate Reese for having us not miss Bret Boone at all.
· We always appreciate listening to Marty and Joe. Marty just tells it like it is, every night. How many commentators are as brutally honest? We appreciate Joe's innings and his liberal use of dead air.
· We appreciate Cap'n Jack McKeon's grandfatherly coaching style. He was hired to teach our young players the intricacies of the game, but he overachieved and put us in playoff contention. Is there anything more endearing than seeing Jack take someone like Pokey aside, put his arm around him and give him a quick lesson in baseball? This guy is like the dream knothole coach.
· We (mostly) appreciate the new duds. We don't care if the black trend peaked three years ago. The uniforms look cool.
· We appreciate Tom, the usher in section 319, who never neglects to make sure that everyone is OK when a foul ball comes screaming up there. If every usher in the park were half as nice as Tom, nobody would be complaining about grumpy old ushers all the time.
· We would appreciate it if the team would kick the living hell out of Atlanta next time they play them. Could you? Please? For us? Thanks.
· We appreciate those kids who introduce the leadoff hitter in the second inning. Every game you think that this one will get nervous and start crying or something. They never do. Nerves of steel, those kids.
· We appreciate that kids can run the bases after select home games. We also appreciate that they'll let non-kids sneak out there, too.
· We very much appreciate the $4 top six seat. Kind of sad when a beer costs more than your ticket, though.
· We would appreciate a few more watering holes in walking distance of the stadium.
· The women among us appreciate that there's more to see at the ballpark than just good baseball. The '99 Reds apparently have some good-looking players: Aaron, Barry, Sean, Scott, Eddie, Mike, Chris. These GQ could-bes make you forget that we let Paul O'Neill and his cute ass go to New York.
· We appreciate the players like Casey and Taubensee who hang out and sign autographs for the kids. That aspect of the game is truly missed by a lot of players.
· We appreciate Larkin's desire to stay in Cincinnati but question his timing about bringing up the natural turf issue. Off-season, baby. That's what it's for.
· Out-of-town fans appreciatecincinnatireds.com, the team's official Web site. At first, it seemed set up just to sell Johnny Bench collectibles, but it turned into a useful tool over the season. We appreciate being able to download the monthly schedule. We appreciate being able to purchase Reds garb online, because no one sells National League stuff in non-National League cities.
· We appreciate that the stadium serves Hudy Delight, except that it can be found only at one stand in the blue section. Gee, why did it take all season to find this out? When asked how long they served it, those friendly concession workers just glaze over and say, "Dunno. But nobody ever buys it." Sad, sad.
· We appreciate the best road record in the Major Leagues.
· We appreciate caring about a professional Cincinnati sports team in September.
· We appreciate that we won't see dog crap on the field ever again.