March 14, 2011
GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Greetings from Goldwaterland, Stewies! For the first stop on the last leg of our spring swing, I headed to the oasis for Ohioans that was recently built on the western fringe of this infamous valley sprawl. And in a wonderful bit of serendipity, The Beatles' "I've Got a Feeling" was on the radio and John Lennon was singing "everybody had a good year" at the exact moment I saw the sign for the limits of the city the Cincinnati Reds call home for the spring.
Yes, I'm a bit of a nerd for enjoying that sync-up a bit too much, but the fact that the reigning NL Central champions play in Goodyear seems appropriate as they come off a good — but not great — year in 2010. After more than a decade of irrelevance, the Reds finally broke through for a division title that stirred the echoes of a proud Senior Circuit franchise. Roy Halladay(notes) and the Philadelphia Phillies may have destroyed any shot at a real fairy tale ending for Dusty Baker's crew, but it didn't spoil the memories of the path taken to get there — Jay Bruce's(notes) walkoff homer to clinch the division, Joey Votto's(notes) monster season to cement his star, Aroldis Chapman's(notes) sizzling debut on the radar gun. You know, to name a few.
It does occur to me, however, that the Reds have flown somewhat under the radar this spring for a team that just experienced a breakthrough season and has assembled a core that looks like it could be quite good in the future. Some of that undoubtedly has to do with the fact that the Reds are not a major market team and don't have the type of stars that the baseball media views as "A-list" (though one wonders what else Joey Votto has to do to earn that distinction).
That the Reds chose this offseason to hand out their optimism in the form of contract extensions to their existing players instead of chasing free agents also factors in. The multiple angles of the Phillies landing Cliff Lee(notes) to complete their hand or the Cardinals' hopes snapping along with Adam Wainwright's(notes) arm are just a bit more likely to attract ink.
But any frustration that Reds fans feel with their team taking a backseat to other storylines for other teams should quickly disappear in the realization that sometimes no news is great news. There are no real big position battles going on, no players talking out of turn and no big injuries as long as you don't count Scott Rolen's(notes) general state of being. The camp is filled with a lot of young players who possess upsides that have yet to be visited and while those stories might not be as media sexy as the Milwaukee Brewers trading for Zack Greinke(notes) in the offseason (and then, uh, putting him on the DL with a basketball injury), they're just as promising.
Will these Reds win the NL Central again? It's hard to guarantee anything at this point of the year. But if you had to place your life savings on one team winning a division title, the Reds are arguably one of the safest bets out there.
"Goodyear," after all, indicates the present tense as much as it does the past.
Well, unless you're the Cleveland Indians.