CityBeat Blogs - baseball <![CDATA[Brandon Phillips Acts Like a Real Dick to Reporter]]> Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips is typically all smiles when the cameras are on him, but before last night’s game against the Cardinals — and just outside the frame of a video recorded by a St. Louis-area radio station — Phillips let the expletives fly during a tirade against Enquirer reporter C. Trent Rosecrans, who dared to accurately report Phillips’ shitty on-base percentage in response to Phillips asking to bat higher in the lineup.

The incident earned a minute-long segment on SportsCenter and responses from multiple national baseball writers.

Phillips was moved to the second spot in the batting order for that night's game — he has batted fourth most of the year and ranks third in the National League in RBI. In a tweet, Rosecrans pointed out that Phillips' .310 on-base percentage is lower than the .320 of the guy he replaced in the two-spot in the team's lineup.

Phillips reportedly went off on Rosecrans in the clubhouse and then continued the tirade during the media session with Baker. Phillips, who is off camera in the video, interrupts the interview with Baker, calling out “fat motherfucker on the end” and saying to Baker: “Tell him you’ll have me bat eighth if you’re worried about my on-base percentage. Fat motherfucker, make him happy.”

Phillips says to Rosecrans, “I’m tired of you talking that negative bullshit about my team, dog. I found out your Twitter name motherfucker, that’s a wrap.”

Rosecrans responds, “Wow, took you how many years?”

Dusty Baker laughed and then said, “I ain’t in this; it’s between you and him.”

Rosecrans says, “It’s between him and him.”

The Enquirer
posted a blog in response to the incident before the game was over. Enquirer sports editor Angel Rodriguez wrote, “While we are disappointed in Phillips' reaction, we understand it is a pennant race and emotions are high during a crucial series with a heated rival. This isn't the first time a player has lost his temper in response to a reporter's questions and it won't be the last. It is part of covering the team day-in day-out.”

In response to an outpouring of support on Facebook, Rosecrans wrote that this kind of thing isn’t really new to the world of sports coverage but thanked people for the support.

Rosecrans was the Reds beat writer for the Cincinnati Post and has reported for local radio stations and websites, in addition to spending most of 2012 writing a weekly sports column for CityBeat. He is a 10-year member of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

The full video can be seen below:

<![CDATA[Deadspin Rips Paul Daugherty over Homer Bailey Take]]> Reds pitcher Homer Bailey threw the second no-hitter of his career last night and dropped an awesome F-bomb during a postgame TV interview. The comment came in response to a pretty dumb question about whether batting in the sixth inning had something to do with him walking a batter in the seventh, the only baserunner to reach and the only reason his no-no isn't considered a perfect game.

Bailey said: "I just fucking walked a guy. This game is pretty tough, you know?”

Enquirer sports columnist Paul Daugherty apparently dropped his prune juice at the sound of the naughty word, and sports site Deadspin ripped Daugherty’s responses on Twitter and his blog, where he criticized Bailey's lack of class, bemoaned a grown-ass man cursing and felt for the poor cable TV viewers who had to witness it.

Deadspin: "Cincinnati Columnist Remarkably Upset That Homer Bailey Said 'Fucking'"

Video below (Note: Bailey is covered with shaving cream because a teammate pied him earlier, after they dumped red Gatorade all over him):

The Enquirer's blog link wasn't working for a while on Wednesday, but Sports Editor Angel Rodriguez said it was just a technical issue and that their people have been having fun with the situation, as evidenced by this "Homer F@!cking Bailey" image they posted on Facebook:

Bailey was actually the most recent pitcher in baseball to throw a no-hitter, performing the feat against Pittsburgh last September. Bailey is the first pitcher since Nolan Ryan in 1974-75 to throw consecutive no-hitters out of everyone in baseball.

<![CDATA[UC Baseball Interview Shenanigans Go Viral]]> The University of Cincinnati baseball team might not have had a winning record last year (24-32, 6-18 Big East), and it is currently without a leader after the school fired longtime head coach Brian Cleary last week. But that doesn’t mean the dudes didn’t have some fun this season — at least after the games ended.

People of the Internet are enjoying a collection of videos and GIFs released by UC showing players doing hilarious stuff in the background of postgame interviews. The clips have been posted at Deadspin and USA Today’s sports blog.

Here's the video:

And GIF form:

<![CDATA[Reds Lead League in Fan Web Gems]]>

When Reds pitcher Mike Leake hit his first career home run Monday night off Braves starter Mike Minor at Great American Ballpark, it landed directly in the lap of 20-year-old casual-turned-hardcore fan Caleb Lloyd, who was sitting at the edge of the left field bleachers.

It was also Lloyd's first home run catch, he said later.

When Zach Cozart hit a homer to mark the occasion of the Reds first back-to-back jacks since last season, the ball headed toward the same general vicinity of the first homer, bounced a couple seats away from where Lloyd was sitting and landed directly into his free hand (the other was occupied by his previous homer catch).

The last time that happened was never. I think dude should call Guinness.

(Drew Stubbs followed Cozart's jack with a home run of his own, making it a rare back-to-back-to-back homer hat trick. Sadly, it went to right center field, not directly in Lloyd's pocket.)

The Reds' TV crew invited Lloyd up to the broadcast booth to hang out for a bit. He spoke to the media before last night's game, where he was also named the team's honorary captain and delivered the game card to the ump before the first pitch.

To make the story even more perfect, Lloyd reportedly returned to Leake his first home run ball to keep as a memento and he gave the friend who he said "dragged" him to the game the other ball. What a guy!

That wasn't the first Reds fan's fancy fielding move this year to trump any made on the field (at least for the day). At Yankee Stadium just four days before Monday's miraculous catches, a young Reds fan amongst the savage Yankee masses gracefully swooped a Joey Votto foul ball out of mid air with his glove while his father (also decked out in Reds gear) hoisted him up a good four feet into the air.

The father/son combo was up for ESPN's Web Gem that night, put up against a play at home by Elvis Andrus of the Texas Rangers. The Reds fans won the vote 63 percent to Andrus' 37 percent. (He's probably pissed. I mean, he had to perform his play all by himself!)

The cool surprise ending to this story — according to Jim Day's postgame report on Fox Sports Ohio, the man from the two-person foul-ball catching team was Reds catcher Ryan Hanigan's brother-in-the-law; the kid was the catcher's nephew.

<![CDATA[The Reds Are On a Roll]]> The Reds are on a roll. They haven’t lost any of their last six series — discount the two-game series against Chicago. Despite all the successes the Reds have had there are still some things that need to be addressed.

Numero uno: When is Mike Leake going to get off that fat goose egg in the win column? Indications are that it will be soon, as Leake pitched a great game against Pittsburgh last week only to receive minimal run support in a 3-2 loss. Although the Reds have again lucked out in not having to face Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg during this weekend's series, Leake opens the series against the Gio Gonzalez (3-1), the Nationals' number two. The Nationals have received plenty of hype this year between their first place standing in the NL East and the introduction of 19-year-old standout Bryce Harper. Surprisingly, Washington’s offensive numbers are far from gaudy, in the bottom third of major league ranks in three major offensive categories — the Reds are only slightly better.

Secondly, while the likes of Ryan Ludwick and Scott Rolen are still struggling with the sticks, Johnny Cueto and Aroldis Chapman have been nearly flawless from 60 feet 6 inches. Wednesday night is a perfect example: Cueto threw seven scoreless innings tallying five strikeouts; Brewers all-star, Zack Greinke was even better, pitching eight innings of 11-strikeout, two-hit baseball. Chapman came in for the eightth and struck out two, including Rickie Weeks with a 101 mph eye-high heater. Sean Marshall came in to close the game but made things interesting with a solo bomb to Ryan Braun and putting two on before Logan Ondrusek got Travis Ishikawa to fly out to left.

Clearly the Reds have decided to save the arm of Chapman for later in the season. He could have stayed in for the ninth, but limiting his innings will keep him fresh. I expect to see Chapman inserted into the starting rotation sometime in July if the Reds remain the hunt for a playoff spot. With clutch performances like last night the Reds can only continue to improve — a must considering their next five series are against winning clubs.

<![CDATA[Hang with Pete Rose at a Casino]]> No matter how many times Pete Rose makes an appearance at a casino, it still just screams, "INAPPROPRIATE!" in light of his place in baseball history (the bad stuff, not the greatness). Guess a guy's gotta make a living somehow. Next weekend you can once again hang with the Hit King and play the slots when he makes an appearance at Belterra Casino in Indiana. He'll appear in the casino/resort's "CenterStage Showroom" (now THAT's appropriate). The event is being billed as "An Evening with Pete Rose: 4,192, The Making of the Hit King."

Here's what you can look forward to, per the press release:
Baseball enthusiasts will witness Belterra’s CenterStage transform into a ballpark atmosphere for a 90 minute interactive celebration of Pete Rose and the great game of baseball.

The one night only event will give fans an inside look at what it was like be on the ride as Rose reached key milestones and earned his place among baseball greats. Unique video and photo highlights serve as the backdrop for Rose as he shares personal stories from his playing career and fields questions from the event host.

Join Pete Rose as he recounts the greatest moments in his legendary career from his glory days with the Big Red Machine and playing in the World Series to his 44 game hitting streak and the epic collision in the 1970 All-Star game.  Rose will recount his feelings as he chased the 3,000 and 4,000 hit plateau and the emotion he felt when he reached the pinnacle of his career, hit number 4,192.

Tickets are available here or here and cost $30.

<![CDATA[Reds On the Upswing]]> Maybe what Joey Votto said after the Reds' latest victory rings true: “I think a losing record early in the year can be a good thing."

The Reds have reeled off three straight series wins and a fourth is not out of the question as the last-place Cubs come to the Queen City. Votto ended a homerless streak in game three versus the Astros and drove in four runs as the Reds came from behind to clinch a 6-5 win. The Reds have won seven of their last 10 games and face three division foes in their next three series’.

After the Cubs, the Reds travel to Pittsburgh and Milwaukee, the two teams nipping at the Redlegs (pun absolutely intended). Series victories can put some distance between the Reds and their division rivals and with some outside help could even see the Reds jump over the Cardinals for first. Jay Bruce has been paramount in the Reds' recent run, as he has hit a home run in four straight games and leads the Reds in nearly every offensive category.

The hot bat of Bruce along with continued solid performances from Votto, Zack Cozart and a recently more effective Drew Stubbs are a must. Now the tail end of the Reds' starting rotation has to bust out of their slump — Homer Bailey and Mike Leake have a combined record of 1-5. The two can start a positive trend against an inept Cubs offense sans shortstop Starlin Castro (.333).

Look for the Reds to win six out of their next nine and keep in touch with St. Louis before a huge series with a surprisingly good Washington team.
<![CDATA[The Reds Slip in Rankings]]> With all the talent the Reds have on their roster the bats just aren’t blazing like we all suspected they would. The Reds rank 27th or lower in four major offensive categories, including runs scored — a woeful 31 runs in 10 games. Luckily for the Reds, outside their current opponent — St. Louis — nobody in the division can win games, either. The Reds sit in second place along with Houston and Milwaukee. The one thing Dusty’s boys can’t afford is to continue with the Drew Stubbs special — swinging and missing. If the Cardinals sweep the Reds — which is looking probable — then they would be six games back, not insurmountable but far from ideal.

A healthy Brandon Phillips will go a long way in getting putting runs on the board. Wilson Valdez and Willie Harris did a commendable job in their time replacing Phillips, but any extended absence from Phillips results in a significant drop in offensive production. In addition to Phillips recovering from a hamstring injury, much of the starting lineup will have to overcome a plague-like slump. Jay Bruce, Ryan Ludwick, Devin Mesoraco, Ryan Hanigan, Drew Stubbs and Scott Rolen are all hitting .205 or worse. Production from the cleanup spot is hurting badly; Rolen has no dingers and only two extra-base hits. Joey Votto and Zack Cozart — the only to hitting worth a damn — need production behind them if the reds are going to reverse their current run scoring trend.

The Reds have Bronson Arroyo taking the hill tonight against the only St. Louis starter without a win this year, Adam Wainwright (0-2.) Wainwright enters the game with an 11.42 era, if the Reds can’t stop their anemic offensive output against Wainwright it may be a long next couple of weeks.

<![CDATA[Canseco: ‘Global Warming Could’ve Saved Titanic’]]>

When Jose Canseco last month offered his sincere concern over the world’s energy consumption and various global warming issues that have resulted, we at CityBeat were quick to report such thoughtful commentary. In a story titled “Ranking Jose Canseco’s Global Warming Tweets” we provided some background on the former Major League Baseball player/steroid user/author and recapped his series of hilarious tweets.

Most of us believed that our immense enjoyment of Canseco’s socio-political commentary would be short-lived — after following him on Twitter for a few days we were offered only recaps of him winning long drive competitions and pleading with Major League clubs to sign him even though he’s 47.

Then on Sunday something awesome happened. Apparently inspired by the recent release of Titanic 3D, Canseco in fewer than 144 characters again blew everyone’s minds: “Titanic 100 years wOw. Global warming couldve saved titanic. Sad to say.”

Canseco was prompted by skeptics to elaborate: “Because we don't recycle and consume like crazy icicles are non existent. Titanic wouldve still existed today," he wrote.

He then showed frustration with the people who didn’t understand the irony he was describing: “You clowns it's very simple. With global warning the weather is hotter so the icebergs would be melted and titanic saved.”

Skeptics satisfied, Canseco went back to blasting our wasteful lifestyles: “100 years ago people actually cared about planet and respected nature. Now we can care less and consume energy like it's free.”

And then, for good measure, he offered a couple slices of personality that prove follow Jose Canseco on Twitter will continue to be a worthwhile endeavor, political activism or not: “Titanic reminds me of the days I had two yachts in Miami but no icicles" and “I had a bat I named Titanic .It was biggest rawlings ever made and beautiful and unbreakable dont know where Titanic is now.”

It’s good to know that influential people like Jose Canseco are taking on such causes, even after learning that Al Gore is not dead. Hug 4 u, Jose.

<![CDATA[Opening Day on the Horizon: A Reds Preview]]>

With Opening Day fast approaching, you now have 225 million reasons to go watch the Reds this year. Bob Castellini opened up the checkbook and Walt Jocketty busted out his best persuasive vocabulary and Joey Votto accepted; to the tune of a 10-year, $225 million contract extension — the fourth largest in major league history.

Reds ownership — unlike our dear friend, Mike Brown — has embraced the recent successes of their young nucleus of talented players and has spared no expense to keep the "Little Big Red Machine" well-oiled. Votto joins fellow all-star Jay Bruce, who signed a six-year, $51 million deal after the 2010 season. It’s nice to see a professional sports owner in Cincinnati who actually loves the sport and is in it for the right reasons.

The Reds will have plenty of offensive talent this year, something that really has not been a problem over the past couple of seasons. Any lingering doubt has to relate to the recent injuries that have plagued the bullpen. Ryan Madson is out for the year after Tommy John surgery while Nick Masset will start the season on the DL with shoulder cuff inflammation. This means that Aroldis Chapman will start in the bullpen even though most Reds fans — and manager, Dusty Baker — know his services would be better used as a starter. Sean Marshall will step in to the closer role until the Reds have more depth in the bullpen; he isn’t a bad option and has consistently kept a low ERA in a relief role.

One thing hasn’t changed, the Reds still play in Great American Ballpark and they have an abundance of young, strong bats in the lineup. Between Votto, Bruce, Todd Frazier and Chris Heisey, expect the Reds to be amongst the league-leaders in home runs. Drew Stubbs will hit some too, but if he could take a little constructive criticism to heart: Please, learn to bunt. This will be a key in the Reds venture for success this year.

If Stubbs can get on base, he is going to steal — there are very few players in the majors that have his kind of speed. If the bats behind Stubbs perform up to expectations, the Reds will score more than enough runs to support the pitching staff. And the single most important key to success this year is battling through injuries; if the young guys can step in and compete there is no reason the Reds won’t win the division — after all, we do have the best first baseman, if not player, in the National League.

The Reds will open their season against the Miami Marlins at 4:05 p.m. on Thursday following the Findlay Market Opening Day Parade. For more celebration of Opening Day, check out C. Trent Rosecrans' column from this week's CityBeat here.

<![CDATA[Ranking Jose Canseco’s Global Warming Tweets]]>

Former Major League Baseball player Jose Canseco doesn’t have the best image. After breaking into the majors as a super fast, freaky power hitter with the Oakland A’s and winning a World Series with his fellow Bash Brother/performance-enhancing-drug-user Mark McGwire, Canseco’s career and reputation were marred by injuries and a series of embarrassing moments on and off the field.

In 1992, Canseco was traded to another team while he was in the on-deck circle waiting to bat. In 1993, a fly ball bounced off his head and over the fence for a home run — This Week In Baseball in 1998 named the incident the greatest blooper of the show’s first 20-plus years. Canseco then asked his manager to pitch in a game even though he was an outfielder, which resulted in an elbow injury that required surgery.

During the PED witch hunt of the early 2000s, Canseco apparently took exception to MLB’s — and the media’s — obsession with how huge Barry Bonds’ body and head had gotten and released a tell-all book called Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big, in which he claimed that the majority of MLB players were on steroids.

Since then, Canseco has generally been seen as a doofus who does silly things to maintain his celebrity and make relatively small amounts of money, such as participating in reality shows, claiming Madonna liked him more than he liked her and training for a mixed martial arts fight and then losing in 77 seconds.

Canseco in the past few days has apparently attempted to rectify all his wrongs with a series of tweets aimed at schooling all the “morons” who don’t believe in global warming. It reads as a passionate, if grammatically flawed, cry for reason in the wake of the mass consumption and laziness that has led to the death of thousands of polar bears and, apparently, Al Gore.

The following is a collection of the tweets, which have made quite an impression on the Twitter community, ranked in order of hilariousness.

Be the first to receive future advice on world-changing lifestyle tips from Jose Canseco by following him @JoseCanseco.

8. The tweet that got it all started — Canseco alerts the public that he is going to drop some serious knowledge about global warming the following day, likely using an aggressive tone.

7. While this tweet was certainly informative, the “reduce, reuse, recycle” motto has been known even by the laziest non-recyclers for a long time. The Playboy celebrity golf tournament reference is funny, though — classic Canseco.

6. “How do we stop global warming?” A relevant question, completely reasonable coming from someone like Canseco who probably doesn’t actually know the answer.

5. Here’s where Canseco starts really lashing into the skeptics, his frustration with mass consumption demonstrating a larger level of understanding of the issue, which likely surprised many readers. Canseco also introduces the concept of polar bears in this tweet, which is essential to later hilarity.

4. Ridiculously bad grammar aside, Canseco again makes a good point — in some countries families indeed share much less space than we use in America. The second reference to polar bears is really funny and for some reason unexpected.

3. Canseco in this tweet proves that he’s not going to let the issue of lazy, over-consuming humans fizzle out after a couple of liberal-esque polar bear references. Jose is now invoking the sacrifices of the pioneers, who didn’t use any electricity and just slept in flannel pajamas even when it was snowing. A pretty good point.

2. Jose Canseco thinks Al Gore is dead.

1. If Canseco is correct that lowering your body temperature at night will make you live 20-percent longer, then he’s probably well on his way to solving global warming. Energy savings aside, Canseco’s hope that he’ll live into his seventies rather than dying in some stupid way during the next 10 years is likely what led to this outburst of social consciousness.

<![CDATA[Spring (Baseball) Is In the Air]]>

Pitchers and catchers reported to the Reds’ spring training facility in Goodyear, Ariz., over the weekend, which means we are only days away from hearing about how awesome the team’s dudes are looking or how quickly they get hurt and have to sit out, leaving us to wonder if they’ll be ready by Opening Day. (March baseball involves a lot of speculation.)

The Reds will open camp with one of the most talented rosters they’ve had in the last 15 years, as General Manager Walt Jocketty added considerable muscle to the pitching staff during the offseason. New Reds to keep an eye on include:

• Starting pitcher Mat Latos, who is expected to be the team’s No. 2 behind Johnny Cueto;

• Sean Marshall, one of baseball’s best left-handed relievers last season;

• Closer Ryan Madson, who the Reds picked up late in the offseason in a team-friendly one-year deal.

The first two mentioned, Latos and Marshall, were acquired via trade of prospects, which demonstrates a dedication by Reds’ management to make a run at another division title (and perhaps more) during the final two years of former MVP Joey Votto’s contract. (See CityBeat sports columnist C. Trent Rosecrans’ Jan. 24 take in “Reds Try to Win Now Without Breaking the Bank.”)

Soon the offseason speculation will give way to preseason hype, as young, no-name guys start hitting .400 during practice games and veterans post high ERAs because they’re practicing specific pitches instead of trying to get everyone out. There will be tons of reports from Goodyear, such as “Bob Castellini Talks Reds, Baseball" and “Roster Projection.”

Before we know it, we will have casually followed weeks of the Reds playing America’s summer game in sunny Arizona, which will distract us from the fact that we still have at least another month of crappy weather before we can enjoy the unofficial start of springtime and Reds’ Opening Day on April 5.

Until then, enjoy the pretend summertime in the highlights and mass influx of information from the team’s month-long practice session. And if you need even more sports speculation, trade rumors and contract talk, here’s a sweet site dedicated to re-reporting everything it can find on your favorite team:

<![CDATA[Queen City Hoops: Xavier Edition]]> The Liacouras Center was not kind to the Xavier Musketeers this past Saturday, nor has it been for the past seven years. Xavier hasn’t won at Temple since 2004 and this year squandered an opportunity to jump to the top of the A-10 standings with a win.

Temple cruised to an easy 85-72 victory over Xavier after dominating from the start. Tied 5-5 with 16:36 remaining in the first half, Xavier went more than seven minutes without a point while the Owls reeled off 16. Though Xavier finally got back on the board, there was little to applaud about a lackluster first half effort. Xavier gave up a season-high 47 first-half points and six 3-pointers and found themselves down 20 at the break. Two of the Muskies' key contributors, Dez Wells and Kenny Frease, combined for 0 points by going 0-6 from the field.

Temple boasts the top-two scorers in the conference, and they did not disappoint. Ramone Moore dropped five 3-pointers on the Muskies and scored a game high 30 points. The Owls other starting guard, Khalif Wyatt, added 18. The 6-foot-11 Micheal Eric was a beast on the boards, ripping down 16 rebounds and adding 11 points. The second half provided a little more excitement for Xavier fans, but it was all for not.

Dez Wells knocked down two second half 3-pointers to cut it to 13 with 12 minutes left. Temple went cold from the field and a Tu Holloway free throw cut it to single digits with a little over a minute to go — too little too late. Holloway led Xavier with 23 points and Mark Lyons added 15.

Xavier now needs help from the rest of the A-10 if there is any hope for a sixth straight conference title, which is unlikely. Xavier must now prepare to play Dayton on Saturday. The Flyers spanked the Muskies by 15 back on Jan. 21.

<![CDATA[Drew Stubbs: Strikeout King]]> I opened my New York Times Sports Sunday section yesterday to find an informational graphic on the bottom of page 3 called “Close-Up: Strikeout Kings.” (I was going to link to it, but The Times isn’t providing a version of it online — thus the crappy photo at right, which gets bigger if you click on it.)

The graphic featured a photo of Reds centerfielder Drew Stubbs sitting on the ground, a grimace overtaking his face after apparently being thrown out while trying to steal second base; a table of stats that included the offensive numbers of strikeout-prone hitters Stubbs, former Red Adam Dunn, Mark Reynolds, Ryan Howard and Jack Cust; and a paragraph across the bottom of the graphic entitled “One of These Players Is Not Like the Others.”---

That “one,” of course, is Stubbs, an atypical strikeout artist in that he’s a fleet-footed base-stealer and frequent leadoff hitter who doesn’t produce nearly as many homeruns as the other strikeout kings mentioned in the graphic.

In fact, Stubbs is allegedly on pace to lead MLB in strikeouts this season with a projected 214, which brings me to the point of this post: If the Reds hitters — especially Stubbs (who’s hitting a pathetic .221 with one homerun and one RBI over the last month) and the even streakier Jay Bruce, but also the trio of leftfielders (Jonny Gomes, Chris Heisey and Fred Lewis) and Brandon Phillips — don’t start contributing in a more consistent manner, one can kiss the Reds chances of repeating as NL Central champions goodbye.

<![CDATA[Dayton Dragons About to Break Record]]> I've never been to a Dayton Dragons game. In fact, I've never been to a minor-league baseball game anywhere — a surprising fact for a lifelong connoisseur of the sport, someone who religiously collected baseball cards and played his fair share of Strat-o-Matic as a kid, someone who currently manages two fantasy baseball teams quite deftly (eight top two West Side Baseball finishes in nine years!).---

Of course, I've also spent the majority of my life within a 60-minute drive of Riverfront Stadium and Great American Ball Park, which has made excursions to minor-league parks, however more financially feasible or endearingly quaint compared to big-league cathedrals, largely unnecessary.

Then there's the fact that the Dragons, the Cincinnati Reds' Class A affiliate up I-75, don't really need me: July 9's game at Fifth Third Field will be the team's 815th consecutive sell out — every home game since the Dragons' inception in 2000 — the longest streak in U.S. professional sports history.

To celebrate the landmark (unexpectedly, the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers previously held the record by selling out every home game from 1977-1995), The New York Times ran a lengthy feature in yesterday's Sunday edition in which it interviewed everyone from the Dragons' crafty, fan-friendly front office members (the team is owned by the Mandalay Entertainment Group, whose investors include Magic Johnson and Archie Griffin) to various season-ticket holders to former Dragon and Red and current New York Yankee Chris Dickerson.

The piece, written by George Vescey, also mentions current Red and former Dragon Joey Votto, including this curious paragraph: “The Dragons have sent 48 players to the major leagues, including Votto, the personable Canadian star of the Reds. When Votto developed anxieties after the death of his father in 2009, he took a few weeks off, then played a few tune-up games in a homecoming to Dayton, where he had lived with a host family when he was with the Dragons."

<![CDATA[Has the Real Jay Bruce Stood Up?]]>

Jay Bruce hit .234 with two home runs in his first 77 at-bats through April 25. At the time I asked, “Will the Real Jay Bruce Please Stand Up?” Six weeks later the Reds’ right fielder is hitting .292 with an NL-leading 17 home runs and 46 RBI.

I guess he answered my question. Or has he?---

Since my call-out Bruce is hitting .326 with 15 home runs and 38 RBI, a remarkable stretch that resulted in him being named NL Player of the Month for May. The run is even more remarkable given how clueless he looked at the plate in April, flailing at balls out of the strike zone and yielding weak results when he did make contact (according to FanGraphs Baseball, he hit only three line drives in all of April.) He wasn’t just struggling; he was looking acutely anemic at the plate, like he didn’t belong in the major leagues. Some even suggested he be sent down to AAA.

Thus that begs the question: Has the real Jay Bruce stood up? Is the Bruce of the last six weeks here to stay? No one expects him to maintain the level of his recent hot streak — at this rate he’ll end the year with 50 home runs and 140 RBI — but are we finally seeing the guy everyone expected when he tore through the minor leagues and burst onto the MLB scene with a spectacular first week as a Red in 2008: a perennial All-Star capable of hitting .300 with 30-plus home runs, 100-plus RBI and Gold Glove defense?

The Reds better hope so. With Joey Votto being walked at a crazy, Barry Bonds-esque rate, and Scott Rolen battling injuries and ineffectiveness, the Reds will need Bruce, who recently moved to the cleanup spot behind Votto, to be more consistent than his track record suggests if they’re to repeat as NL Central champs.

<![CDATA[Will the Real Jay Bruce Please Stand Up?]]>

After a hot start, the Reds have lost eight of 11 and each of the last three series. It's not a good time to be falling flat — the surging Milwaukee Brewers host the Reds tonight, opening what could be a key, pysche-altering three-game series. ---

The Reds' recent struggles have been the result of shaky starting pitching — they're seemingly falling behind in every game, even the ones they end up winning — and inconsistent hitting from the guys batting behind Joey Votto. The pitching should be fine — Edinson Volquez looked as good as ever before making one big mistake yesterday, and remember that two-fifths of the expected rotation, Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey, have yet to pitch due to minor injuries — but two things have to happen if the Reds are to repeat as Central Division champs: 1) Scott Rolen has to play at least 120 games and 2) Jay Bruce has to start looking like he has a clue at the plate.

Votto, who's off to another MVP-worthy start, was walked five times in last weekend's three-game series with St. Louis — a strategy that will become more prevalent with Rolen on the DL with shoulder issues and with Jonny Gomes and Bruce hitting below .200 with runners in scoring position.

At this point it's pretty safe to say that we know who Gomes is: a streaky free swinger (who somehow is among the league leaders in walks, a trend I suspect will not continue) and a good clubhouse guy who always plays as if each game might be his last.

But who is the perpetually tantalizing/frustrating Bruce? Is he the guy who was on fire the first week of his MLB career and the last month of last year, or is he the guy who looks lost at the plate for prolonged periods of time (he has only four extra base hits and, according to FanGraphs Baseball, only three line drives in his 77 ABs this year).

Here's what we do know about Jay “But He's Only 24” Bruce: 1) He is going to be the Reds right fielder for several years to come, 2) he plays Gold Glove defense, 3) he's a good citizen who always says the right thing (often to the point of banality) and, most importantly at this date in time, 4) he will have to start producing with runners in scoring position, otherwise both Votto and the Reds will be stranded on an island of potential.

<![CDATA[Reds Spank Brewers in Season-Opening Series]]>

The Reds opened the 2011 season with a three-game spanking of the Milwaukee Brewers, a flawed team that was being pimped as much more than that by people who should know better. The Reds’ other so-called Central Division contenders, the St. Louis Cardinals, didn’t look much better than the Brewers, losing two of three to the revamped (as in lone power source Adrian Gonzalez is gone) San Diego Padres. (The snake-bitten Cards also lost outfielder/key offensive cog Matt Holliday for an undetermined period with an emergency appendectomy.)

One weekend does not make a season, but it’s beginning to look like 2010 all over again.---

A trendy pick by many to win the NL Central Division after acquiring starting pitchers Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum in the offseason, the Brewers looked no better than they did last year — a mediocre (at best) team with three or four good hitters, no depth, heinous defense and a weak bullpen. (Isaac Thorn predicted as much in his preseason preview.)

The soft-tossing Marcum will certainly be better than he showed Saturday against the Reds, but he’s in no way an “ace,” as some tagged him after the Brewers traded a top prospect to get him from the Toronto Blue Jays. (I’ll take his Reds counterpart the other night, Travis Wood, over him any day of the week.) And I’m not sold that Greinke, a notorious head case who’ll miss at least a couple more weeks after breaking a rib during a pick-up basketball game, is the guy he’s being to hyped to be either — he followed up his 2009 Cy Young season with a 10-14 record and 4.17 ERA, and he sports a 3.82 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP over his seven-year career, not the stuff of a guy who’ll single-handedly turn around a franchise that hasn’t won a division title in nearly 30 years.

But enough about the Brewers and Cardinals — the opening series revealed that the Reds still possess the same strengths that led to their first division title in 15 years, strengths the Brewers and Cardinals lack: lineup and starting rotation depth, stellar defense and a solid bullpen.

For proof look no further than the Reds’ underrated catching duo, Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Hanigan, two players who aren’t buzzed about in the national press or by fantasy baseball geeks but who, taken as a tandem, are about as effective as any catcher in baseball not named Joe Mauer or Brian McCann. Last year they combined to hit .299 with 12 homeruns and 88 RBI; this year they’ve started 9-12 with two homeruns — one of which was Hernandez’s season/tone-setting game-winner on opening day — and seven RBI.

Numerous national prognosticators picked the Cardinals and Brewers ahead of the Reds before each of their ace starters — Adam Wainwright for the Cards, Greinke for the Brewers — went down with injuries, if for no other reason than the Reds largely stood pat this offseason. Yet they stood pat for good reason — unlike the Brewers and Cardinals, the Reds already had the ingredients to play again in October.

<![CDATA[Curse of the Central Division Aces]]>

What's up with the presumed opening-day starters for the three NL Central Division favorites? First the Cardinals Adam Wainwright goes down with a bum elbow that required season-ending Tommy John surgery. Then the Reds Edinson Volquez, whom manager Dusty Baker oddly anointed as the opening-day starter before spring training even opened, was thrown off course with visa issues relating to his positive drug test from last year. And now the Brewers newly acquired ace, Zack Greinke, breaks a rib while playing in a pick-up basketball game.---

The Reds announced today that Volquez's visa problem appears to have been cleared up and that he's still on track to start opening day. The same obviously can't be said for Greinke, who was likely to open the season for the Brewers against none other than Volquez and the Reds (look for Yovani Gallardo to start instead).

Unlike Greinke, who's only expected to miss a few starts, Wainwright is out for at least the 2011 season and maybe more. It's a devastating blow to the Cardinals, who, by my calculations, were already a step or two behind the Reds and Brewers before the injury. Sure, the Cards still have primo top-end talent in Albert Pujols, Matt Holiday and Chris Carpenter (whose 35-year-old body is already showing signs of breaking down this spring), but the rest of their roster is pretty mediocre.

It's curious (frustrating, actually) that before the injuries to Greinke and Wainwright, many national magazines and so-called experts were picking the Reds to finish third in the division despite having the deepest roster and most complete team of the three contenders. That unfortunate train of thought was no doubt influenced by the fact that the Reds largely stood pat this offseason while the Brewers added starters Greinke and Shaun Marcum and the Cardinals … uh, they added Ryan Theriot and an aging Lance Berkman, both of whom are steep downgrades defensively. Sometimes standing pat is the right thing to do — especially when so many Reds haven't yet reached their full potential.

Oh, how things can change quickly. MLB Network did its “30 Clubs in 30 Days” preview on the Reds this week, and both hosts — Dan Plesac and John Hart — picked them to win the division. The two analysts said the Reds were solid in every phase of the game. Plesac went as far as to call Joey Votto a "beast" and that Aroldis Chapman has the nastiest left-handed stuff since Randy Johnson.

<![CDATA[Reds-related Listomania]]>

MLB network has been doing its top 10 right now at each position. “Right now” means right now, as in 2011. Track records no doubt come into play, but the lists are based on whom the network’s “editors” — let’s hope that doesn’t include Harold Reynolds who, though a nice guy, isn’t known for employing incisive analysis — deem to be the best players going into this season. ---

The Reds had five guys make the lists:

• Dusty Baker was No. 7 among managers

• Aroldis Chapman was No. 10 among relief pitchers

• Scott Rolen was No. 8 among third baseman

• Brandon Phillips was No. 5 among second basemen

• Joey Votto was No. 4 among first basemen

The biggest surprise was the inclusion of Chapman, who has thrown only 13 innings in the majors. The show’s expert panelists (former MLB reliever Dan Plesac and former MLB shortstop/manager Larry Bowa) agreed that it’s too soon to put the Reds lefty phenom on the list; though they both said he has some of the nastiest stuff of any pitcher in baseball. Plesac, an admirably exuberant dork with a high-pitched voice and a baby face, used this amusing phrase to describe Chapman’s potential: “The ceiling is the limit.”

One could argue that Votto should have been No. 3 (ahead of Adrian Gonzalez), and that Phillips should have been at least one spot higher (at least ahead of No. 4 Dan Uggla, a guy whose surname is a good descriptor of his heinous defense).

The network’s right field list was perhaps the most perplexing. Jay Bruce didn’t make the top 10 despite the fact that I wouldn’t be surprised to see him have a better all-round season — the guy might be MLB's best defensive right fielder whose name isn’t Ichiro — than anyone on the list, which includes the over-hyped Jason Heyward at No. 7 and an unproven Mike Stanton at No. 8. Then there’s the inclusion of Jose Bautista, a third basemen who was listed at No. 4 among right fielders.

Reds centerfield Drew Stubbs was also snubbed in favor of a few past-their-prime veterans who might not even play the position this year, two of whom are on the same team — the Anaheim Angels Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter. Don’t be surprised if both Bruce and Stubbs end up pretty high on next year’s lists.

In other MLB list news, the network offered up its top nine teams right now, which didn’t include the Reds. Gallingly, Central Division rivals the St. Louis Cardinals were No. 7 and the Milwaukee Brewers, fresh off picking up starting pitchers Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum this off-season, came in at No. 9.