You know it’s almost time for spring training when the Cincinnati Reds conclude their annual promotional tour “caravan” and the team’s longtime Media Relations Director visits the Sidney Rotary Club at the Moose Lodge shortly thereafter. The caravan ended Sunday and Rob Butcher, also a Reds Vice-President, was at the Sidney Moose on Monday before a good crowd on a snowy day.
“Fewer orange barrels heading north and the snow didn’t start until the 70 mile marker,” he reported of his trek to Sidney. “This is a fine baseball crowd and I’m always glad to be here. This (annual) visit also means that I’ll soon be in Goodyear, Arizona to get ready for another season. Pitchers and catchers report in two weeks.”
His custom is to make various opening remarks followed by questions from Rotarians and guests. Butcher began with enthusiastic comments about his March 2017 experience handling media duties for the winning Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. He was genuinely humbled to receive a gold medal just like the players despite a tight supply.
“I’ve gotten to know you folks and I’d like you to see this,” was his intro to revealing that his medal was with him on this day.
Before Rob looked back on the 2017 Reds and then to 2018 he journeyed ahead an additional year to tell of something special on the horizon. “2019 will mark the 150th anniversary of both professional baseball and its first team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings of 1869. This will be a big deal both in Cincinnati and throughout baseball. We’ve already been working on this for the past year.”
The Reds finished 68-94 for a second straight year in 2017 and many guys had great seasons, especially position players like second baseman Scooter Gennett and almost-MVP first baseman Joey Votto.
“Those two were awesome,” Butcher observed. “You expect it from Joey but Scooter joined the team at the end of spring training and didn’t become a regular until May. He still batted .295 with 27 homers and 97 RBIs and had four homers in a single game (first time in Reds history).”
Rob joined the consensus that pitching was the culprit derailing last season. “Starters got injured and the starters who stayed healthy didn’t work enough innings. Consequently the bullpen worked too many innings. We also walked too many guys. We can’t continue to have 40 percent of our games started by rookies which is what Bryan Price has faced since becoming manager.”
He looked to the coming campaign with cautious optimism. “Even with a new shortstop we should hit as a team but can we pitch? If our starters continue to develop and stay somewhat healthy we might even have enough to provide a nice starting staff to Louisville, our top farm club. We return three relievers who had solid seasons and Jared Hughes is a great pickup from Milwaukee as a free agent.”
Other Rob Butcher Q & A tidbits from Monday…..
Now retired pitcher Bronson Arroyo: “I tell young players that you can lengthen your career by carrying yourself like Bronson Arroyo. We brought him back to be a positive influence on our team and start some games until Homer Bailey returned which is exactly what happened. He went on the disabled list in mid-July and didn’t pitch again but made every road trip and was always in uniform. As soon as he’s eligible he’ll be in the Reds Hall of Fame.”
Top draft pick (No. 2 overall) Hunter Greene (just turned 18)…..“I’ve been around him a few times and he’s quite a young man. Looks like he’ll be a starting pitcher rather than a position player but he could be a pitcher who also pinch-hits. Baseball needs young heroes to connect with fans and especially young fans. This could be our guy and the Reds hope he’s on the fast track to the majors.”
Remaining wish list for 2018…..“There are still about 150 major league free agents looking for teams. Maybe we could get a guy who could start 30 games and pitch 200 innings with decent results to solidify our staff. We’ll see.”
Priorities for MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred…..“No question that the pace of the game is a huge issue for the Commissioner. Some things may need the players approval while others may not. Look for some form of a pitch clock this season.”
Ross will report to spring training with Reds pitchers and catchers to provide weekly Friday features beginning Feb. 16. This will be the author’s 28th consecutive Reds spring training. He’s a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.