The Sidney Rotary Club is not currently holding weekly meetings. At the same time, offices of the Cincinnati Reds remain closed, causing the team’s Vice-President of Media Relations, Rob Butcher, to work from home Both situations are covid casualties but they didn’t prevent Butcher from making his annual pre-spring training presentation to Rotary members and guests via zoom call on Monday, continuing an almost quarter century relationship.
One other thing hasn’t changed. In late January Butcher is often dealing with significant Reds news that can spill into the Rotary dialogue. A few years back he was at the microphone when he took a call from then General Manager Walt Jocketty, and a trade was announced at the Sidney Moose Lodge. This time he revealed that Maricopa County (metro Phoenix) officials had just requested that Major League Baseball delay spring training for at least a month. Camps have been set to open in mid-February with exhibition games commencing late that month. This situation may have been clarified in the days since. Half of MLB’s 30 teams train in that region with the rest in Florida.
Rob always finishes with a question and answer session. His Monday opening was unique, interesting, and very well received. He narrated a journey through his personal photo album of the chaotic 2020 season dominated by covid protocols It began with spring training in Arizona which was cut short in mid-March, followed by an over two month shutdown, then summer camp in Cincinnati, followed by a 60 game regular season (rather than 162), then playoffs and the World Series.
The Butcher album showed very well on the zoom transmission as the numerous photos told his story. We saw Reds broadcasters working from TV monitors in Cincinnati when the team was on the road. In another, Chicago’s Wrigley Field was essentially empty just before a game that would normally be sold out.
Other images illustrated the forced togetherness of the team’s traveling party living in a bubble on road trips. Everybody in the traveling party ate together in the team hotel. There was no patronizing favorite restaurants or going out for a late night “Big Mac.” The situation was closely monitored with reporting and penalties attached “I would go out at night to run which was permitted as long as I passed inspection (no food) when I returned,” the Reds media boss reported.
Covid testing was aggressive, especially for the players. MLB seemed pleased that all 30 teams reported only a combined 90 covid infections among all traveling parties. Only two games were not played of the 900 scheduled and both involved Cincinnati’s division rival St. Louis Cardinals. “We wish those were played since it could have sent us to San Diego rather than Atlanta for the first round of playoffs,” he continued.
Butcher acknowledged the club’s poor August showing before September’s results got the team into the expanded post-season party. “We didn’t score a run in two games in Atlanta,” he lamented. “We pitched well but didn’t hit.” This was true for much of the two month season that preceded the playoffs.
The former Dayton Flyer baseballer sees the Reds with legitimate playoff aspirations in 2021. The loss of Cy Young award winning pitcher Trevor Bauer hurts but was anticipated since his 2019 acquisition, according to Butcher. “Anthony DeSclafani is also gone so that’s two open rotation spots. We have many candidates including Michael Lorenzen.”
It’s rumored that the Reds are looking to trade a few top players who are locked into the team for the near future. “That’s not what’s happening. General Manager Nick Krall is getting many calls regarding these guys and is doing his due diligence on each inquiry. He’s not looking to trade them.”
Shortstop remains a question in 2021. There could still be a trade or free agent but the internal answer could be Kyle Farmer who plays several positions well and was a full-time shortstop at the University of Georgia. “Based on last season, he could be the guy,” according to Butcher.
Will the National League adopt the designated hitter rule which has been used by the American League since 1973 and was fully utilized during the shortened 2020 campaign? “The Reds would love to see it but that would have to be negotiated with the players,” Rob noted. Looks like MLB would want something in return for a universal DH.
A few more Butcher tidbits will be included in future Sports Extras. Now let’s see when spring training starts…..
Next Friday we’ll review the lengthy football lineage between Sidney High School and Miami University. There’s 120 years of sometimes fascinating history that precedes the arrival of Isaiah Bowser in Oxford.
Sports Extra appears each Friday. Dave Ross is a lifetime Reds fan and has covered the team as a media member since 1975.