GOODYEAR, Ariz. — The Cincinnati Reds will break camp on Sunday and head to Texas for a pair of exhibitions against the Rangers before arriving back in Cincinnati on Tuesday night, in advance of Thursday’s 4:10 p.m. regular season opener with the contending Washington Nationals and ace pitcher Max Scherzer.
Meanwhile, Fort Loramie native Jared Hoying has just completed his first spring training in South Korea and will open his Hanwha Eagles season on Saturday. His wife and daughter arrived earlier in the week in time for Team Hoying to experience Opening Day in the Korean Baseball Organization.
Jared had a strong finish to spring training including a two game span that included a homer and a pair of triples. “I’m feeling good at the plate,” he told me. “I’m ready to get this going and play center field every day to see where it takes me.”
He also relayed that St. Patricks Day is not significant in South Korea. “I haven’t even seen much of the color green anywhere,” he concluded.
My other focus during the past month just took a few days away as he became a first time father with new son Chase. North Star native (Versailles HS) and San Diego reliever Craig Stammen threw a solid single inning against the Dodgers on Sunday prior to his fatherly intermission, then hoped to pitch at least once more in spring training before the Padres headed to regular season play.
He struck out two in the aforementioned Dodgers outing with the only blemish being a double by baseball’s best pitcher, Clayton Kershaw, who’s also regarded as a decent hitter. This elicited an interesting response from Stammen after the game.
“I still have him two-to-one,” he began. “I faced him as a starter when I first got called up in 2010. I had a single, double, and RBI.” Both pitched well on that day as the Dodgers eventually won 4-3 in 13 innings. As a reliever Craig doesn’t bat that often but hasn’t forgotten how to hit as evidenced by his two hits in four trips in 2017.
As of press time, Kershaw was being his usual self here in spring training. He’d worked almost 15 innings and yielded no runs while striking out over one per inning. In the two games I saw, his velocity ranged from 71 to 92. Obviously, speed isn’t everything. This guy really knows how to pitch.
As I take one more look through my notebook, here are several items I’d like to share before I drive back to my 45th Opening Day in Cincinnati.
The legend returns: Though the games out here don’t count, they can still be special including Ichiro Suzuki’s first game back with his original American club, the Seattle Mariners. It was almost two weeks ago against the Reds and I was delighted to be there. This 44-year-old hitting legend continues to draw throngs of Japanese media.
Favorite ballpark/least favorite feature: I select the Camelback/Glendale home of the Dodgers and White Sox for both. I love the park and its setting but its 30 seat pressbox has only two seats with unobstructed views. Designers of press boxes for high school, college, and pro often fail to consult with the folks who’ve actually worked in such facilities.
Back in the booth: I’m honored each spring to spend two innings in the Reds radio booth and I did that on Tuesday of this week when the Reds visited the Padres in Peoria. I was welcomed by announcers Marty Brennaman and Jim Day along with engineer Dave “Yiddy” Armbruster.
Marty told listeners of my annual presence, then referenced our joint affinity for TV’s original 1970’s Gong Show including “Gene Gene The Dancing Machine.”
“Every year we celebrate his birthday on April 25,” Brennaman affirmed to his vast radio audience.
The breaks between innings are always interesting including some things that will remain confidential. Others are quite innocent including Armbruster mentioning the heat wave headed here. “Supposed to be 91 on Thursday,” he stated to which Day responded, “Can we wear shorts?”
After many successful years as a host of Reds TV programming, Day becomes a major player in the radio booth. Among other things the Reds want to determine if the Columbus area native can eventually succeed Marty as the primary play-by-play voice. Brennaman turns 76 during this, his 45th season in Cincinnati.
Goodyear crowds: This is the 10th season in the desert for the Cleveland Indians and ninth for the Reds. The Tribe is attracting many more fans than the Reds but some of that is obviously due to the current state of each team. The Indians are a proven playoff team while Cincinnati hopes to ascend to that level.
Some fans are still upset that the two Ohio entries left Florida for Arizona. This is twice as far as Florida but I’m yet to encounter anyone who came out here and didn’t love it. Jack and Bonnie Buschur from Minster were just here for the first time. Ask them.
The Reds are almost halfway through their initial Goodyear contract. Media Relations VP Rob Butcher told the Sidney Rotary Club in late January that the team loves to train here. “There’s minimal travel, great weather, and fabulous facilities. I don’t know why there are still 15 teams training in Florida.”
Almost 2017 MVP: First baseman Joey Votto says it’s time for the Reds to quit promising and win now. He’s leading by example by playing many games and innings beyond usual expectation, even spending time in the dugout when not in the lineup. He hasn’t had a good statistical spring but the Reds aren’t worried.
Amir Garrett: This lefty has looked great with an outstanding mixture of pitches, locations, and speeds. He could finally live up to his hype, likely as a starter in a rotation begging for reliable contributors.
Devin Mesoraco: The oft-injured catcher has enjoyed a fine spring both behind and at the plate. If he stays healthy and is productive he could be traded at mid-season. His contract expires after this season and the guy who took his place during those injuries just won a Gold Glove.
Overall: The 2018 Reds should hit just fine. Relief pitching looks solid. Can the starters throw enough quality innings to lessen the bullpen burden?
If that happens, this team could be in Wild Card contention and around the .500 mark by mid-summer. Several starting pitching candidates have shown well out here. The Reds will need four starters to begin the season with the fifth one needed less than two weeks into the season. Anthony DeSclafani is out of the picture for now. We’re not yet sure who the five will be and how they’ll perform. Stay tuned.
Goodbye Goodyear: This concludes my 28th straight spring training with the Reds and I’ll be anxious to return next February. When I leave here on Saturday I’ll look in the rearview mirror with no regrets. I left home on Feb. 6 and it’s time to get back to Ohio. I’m ready for Opening Day and a visit to Sidney Rotary on April 2.
Award-winning columnist Dave Ross is a periodic contributor to the Sidney Daily News. He’s spent 43 years in local sports media and is a Past President of the Shelby County Historical Society.