The request we're sending to bloggers of all 30 teams this spring is a simple one: What are the 10 best things about being a fan of your favorite team? What features of the franchise have you excited for opening day and what keeps you coming back year after year?
Over the next few weeks, we'll give each of the 30 teams a day in the spotlight, showcasing the icons and traditions that make each big-league hamlet special. Up next is Mo Egger of ESPN 1530 in Cincinnati.
I'm glad Big League Stew asked me to do this list, and I'm grateful that the editors didn't go with their original title…."The Ten Best Things About Not Being A Cubs Fan." I can't imagine the work that would've gone into narrowing that list down to 10, just as I can't imagine what it must be like to come up with ways to respond to chants of "1908" in every ballpark I visit.
Anyway, with that obligatory gratuitous shot out of the way, let's talk about why the best things about being a fan of a team that's actually won a World Series in most of our lifetimes and whose fans don't cram their cute history of lovable losing down everyone else's throats.
1. Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto. Technically they are two people and thus things that are cool about being a Reds fan, but if that was your first reaction stop reading this and go back to doing whatever people who were hall monitors do when they become adults.
Brandon and Joey are the team's best two players, and give the Reds arguably the best right side of the infield in the sport. Both were All-Stars in 2011, both won Gold Gloves, and both spent most of last season leading an offense that was not as good as the stats would suggest (Alluding to the fact that the Reds were second in the NL in runs scored last year and claiming that they were a good offensive team is like alluding to the fact that Ke$ha sold a bunch of records and claiming that she's talented. Also, I included the dollar sign in the spelling of her name. I hate myself).
Joey is the best hitter the Reds have had in my lifetime. (OK, Pete Rose had a 44-game hitting streak the year I turned 1, but I was 1 so it doesn't count. And gray-haired Pete Rose was too busy learning what three-team parlays were in his final years as a player to be a very good hitter.) How good is he? Last year Joey ranked in the top nine in six major offensive categories (batting average, RBI, runs, walks, slugging percentage and OPS) all while getting maybe one good pitch to hit a week. Yet his merely outstanding season was kinda taken for granted here because his MVP season in 2010 was otherworldly.
Brandon Phillips has long been the best defensive second baseman in the game, but his work with the glove last season was ridiculously good. Only Karl Ravech's smugness dominated "Baseball Tonight" "Web Gems" more than BP highlights. A mediocre team that fell apart as summer wore on was still worth watching because almost every night, Phillips would make some sort of spectacular play.
Votto's defensive improvement (The Gold Glove is no small feat. He was lousy defensively when he first came up) and Phillips' comfort level in the leadoff spot give the Reds as good a pair of teammates as you'll find in the game. Both players are in their primes (Votto is 28, Phillips is 30), both have uncertain futures (Joey can walk after 2013, Brandon after this season), and both go about their business in entirely different ways. Brandon wears a nonstop smile, speaks his mind, loves being interviewed, constantly chats up opposing players, tweets with fans, and oozes personality. Joey always looks like a guy who just realized he left his bank card in an ATM.
The fact that both players could eventually move on has (finally) given the Reds a sense of urgency to win now. Whether they do or not, the chance to watch the best right side of the infield in baseball on a daily basis makes being Reds fan pretty damn great right now.
2. Barry Larkin's Hall of Fame Induction. Barry Larkin was awesome, is awesome, and always will be awesome. That he wasn't unanimously voted into Cooperstown highlights the fact that there are complete dopes who are given ballots. (Actually, that no player has ever been unanimously voted in also highlights said dopage.)
My generation finally has a guy in the Hall, which simultaneously makes me feel old and proud. Nearly every good team or player the Reds have had has inevitably gone through an annoying series of comparisons to their Big Red Machine brethren. Now fans my age can hammer Larkin down the throats of a new class of whippersnappers and can do so with Larkin's enshrinement as validation.
3. You can actually go to a Reds game now and have a pre or postgame beer. For years if you had Reds tickets and wanted to make a day or night out of it by either throwing back some cold ones or putting back some grub before or after the game, you either had to walk across the river to Kentucky, drive to the suburbs or convince one of the homeless guys living around the stadium to give you a swig of his 40.
Finally, though, the area around Great American Ballpark is coming to life. Last year, a bar (The Holy Grail) opened up within 100 yards of home plate, and others are sprouting up as we crawl toward the season. By the middle of summer, we'll have more food options than the Thanksgiving table at CC Sabathia's house and all will be within walking distance of GABP.
4. Gangsters like wearing Reds hats. I'm told the Bloods wear the iconic red hat with the wishbone C and that The Hustlers put a "4" next to the "C" and an "H" inside the "C." I'm not sure why this is, and I really don't know what the Hustlers are, but how awesome is that? Maybe it doesn't make your average fan beam with pride that the same lid they bought at the team store is being repped by members of the criminal underworld, but the simple fact is that gang members don't wear ugly hats. As long as gangsters are doing what gangsters do with the classic Reds cap on their heads, Cincinnati fans can be assured that their decision to represent their team with the same exact headwear is a fashion-conscious one.
5. Opening Day. Opening Day is big everywhere, but it's special in Cincinnati. The Reds are the only team guaranteed to open the season at home every year and we take Opening Day very seriously. When Bud Selig started staging Sunday Night games on the eve of the traditional Opening Day in the mid-'90s, he cemented his reputation here as a Baseball antichrist that can only be undone if he clears the way for a certain all-time hits leader to make the Hall of Fame. This year's opener was originally scheduled for Good Friday. Any other city, this is no big deal. But not here. Public pressure forced the game to be moved to the day before.
The city literally shuts down for the opener. Unfortunately, it's become a tougher ticket for true baseball fans as the "Need to be seen at the opener" crowd gets their hands on whatever tickets aren't claimed by Nick Lachey's entourage. (Also, why does Nick Lachey need an entourage?) But even those who don't have tickets regularly blow off work to take in the Opening Day parade and accompanying festivities. The Reds season hasn't ended with a great party in more than 21 years, but without fail, it always begins with one.
6. Charlie Sheen isn't relevant anymore. Remember that dark period last spring when Charlie Sheen captured the nation's imagination by pretending to be mentally incapable of doing anything except talking about how he was winning something while being filled with Tiger Blood? Of course you do. What you might also remember is that Charlie is a pretty big Reds fan, meaning that this nutjob became the Reds' most notorious fan. (G. Clooney wins the title of most famous Reds fan. He also wins the title of Reds fan who's slept with the most Hollywood starlets and the Reds fan who most mailed in his performance in "Ocean's 13.")
Charlie would interrupt his incoherent ramblings when he did interviews or when he "performed" on tour (sadly, I actually attended one of these um, shows) to say something about the Reds. And while he demonstrated a rather amazing grasp of the team's current happenings, the idea that this clown was quickly becoming identifiable with one of sports proudest franchises was not something worth being excited about.
7. The Reds are a Twitter-friendly team. They were among the first teams to host a Tweetup (the first of which took place the night Jay Bruce clinched the division with a game-winning homer against the Astros) and they employ arguably baseball's best tweeter in Brandon Phillips (@datdudebp), who last season showed up at the Little League game of one follower and gave away Reds road trip experiences to others. The aforementioned Bruce (one of baseball's best bargain's last year, by the way) has also just joined Twitter and has shown some early potential (follow @JayABruce) and Sam LeCure is also a good follow (@mrLecure)because he tweets about music, his mustache, and how Dusty Baker sometimes underutilizes him.
The tweeting isn't limited to current players. Hall of Famer Johnny Bench is on Twitter (@Johnny_Bench5), though sadly he has yet to send one tweet about The Baseball Bunch and a possible reunion. And the tweeting isn't simply left to the boys, newly acquired Mat Latos may hate Twitter, but his wife Dallas (@DallasLatos) loves it and has to be the most entertaining follow among sports-spouses.
The Reds front office also does a good job of keeping tweeting fans informed while giving them a look inside the club. If you root for the Reds and don't follow @Reds, @Jamieblog, @redsmuseum, @lisabraun, @redscommunity, or @MAnderson_PR, well then you're not really following the Reds.
8. Marty Brennaman. The Reds employ more broadcasters than players. Honestly, I think I'm the only broadcaster in Cincinnati who hasn't called a few innings of a Reds game. (Probably not going to be asked either.) If a fan can guess which radio and TV combos will be calling an entire three-game series, he or she should win a Buick.
(The Reds like their excesses: They employ four official mascots: Mr. Red, Mr. Redleg, Rosie Red and Gapper. Dusty Baker is the team's fifth "unofficial" mascot, but that's kind of like being the fifth Beatle.)
Honestly, all of the team's announcers do solid work, but each of them takes a backseat Marty Brennaman. The Hall of Famer has been calling Reds games on 700WLW since 1974, and even with a lot of mileage on his vocal cords, he's still the best pure play-by-play man in sports. He's opinionated, cantankerous and unafraid to be critical of Reds players, their manager or team management. He's great at setting up his partners as straight men or allowing them to deliver the punchline (not an easy task), and he always seems to have the perfect anecdote when the broadcast demands one.
But Marty's at his best in those moments he's purely calling the action of an intense game in the late innings. No one paints a picture better, no one gives their listeners goosebumps with calls of walkoff homers more frequently, and in an age of one cheesy catchphrase after another, nothing is as succinct and to the point as Marty's "…and this one belongs to the Reds," which closes out every win for the good guys.
9. Great American Ballpark. It doesn't get the run of some of the parks built in the same era (GABP debuted in 2003), it's housed one winning Reds team (2010) and the ballpark was second of two paid Cincinnati stadiums (or stadia for the total dweebs) paid for by taxpayers in the late '90s and early 2000s. The Bengals received Paul Brown Stadium which I believe cost us $84 billion dollars (and has hosted zero winning playoff games for the home team) so the Reds kinda got sloppy seconds.
But while GABP might lack whatever it is people drool over about PNC Park in Pittsburgh (I mean, it's a nice park, but it's in Pittsburgh for God's sakes. The second nicest structure in that city is a rusted-out iron plant that closed in the 70s) and while it might not have the quaintness of Philly or the neighborhood feel and tourist appeal of Wrigley, it's still a really good place to watch a game.
The sight lines are solid, the food options have improved exponentially (go to Mr. Red's Smokehouse and eat a turkey leg), as have the quality and quantity of the beer selections. The scoreboard has gotten a massive upgrade (still nothing better than the GABP Scoreboard Stumper, which has cost me more than 400 beers since I started drinking at Reds games when I was 17), and the overall ballpark experience has upgraded significantly as Great American Ballpark has evolved.
You can still buy a $5 bleacher ticket and you can bring your own food in a soft cooler. (I applaud the Reds for doing this, and think that anything that increases the amount of parents taking kids to baseball games is a good thing, but honestly, your kid wants funnel fries and not some soggy sandwich you packed for them at home.)
The Reds giveaways are consistently among the best in the game ... the Dusty Baker toothpick-holding bobblehead from last year was a favorite. ( It, too, has no idea how to manage a bench. ) And the team does a good job of promoting a fan-friendly, family- friendly atmosphere at games.
Add in the blossoming neighborhood around the yard, a very well put together team Hall of Fame and Museum right next door to the ballpark, and ushers who look the other way when you sneak down to the rich people seats, and you've got a great place to take in nine innings on a nice Midwestern summer night.
10. Pete Rose. I know, I know. He's a punchline by now … a guy who bet on baseball, lied about it, then finally told the truth simply so he could sell some poorly written books. He's spending his golden years signing anything for a price, often loudly bemoaning his status as permanent baseball outsider while parading around with a girlfriend who looks like she just passed calculus.
Even the rare feel-good moments are overshadowed by Pete's inability to just use common sense … when Bud Selig granted the Reds permission in 2010 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of his record-breaking hit, Pete squeezed in an appearance at Great American Ballpark in between paid appearances at a local casino.
He's as flawed and fallen a sports hero as you'll find in this country. And any Cincinnatian who's traveled outside the I-275 loop for a few days (and there are some who haven't) has gotten tired of talking about the Hit King with out-of-towners.
But he's ours.
And before he became synonymous with terms like "lifetime ban" and "will sign anything for money," Pete Rose accumulated more hits than anyone who played the game. Most of them came while playing for the Reds and all of them were added to the total of a guy who grew up here. He might not be the best baseball player to ever play here (see Griffey, Ken Jr.) and his story might not have the happy ending this city wants so badly — I couldn't care less what a Pete Rose Hall induction would mean to Pete Rose, but I care about what it would mean to Cincinnati — but Pete is the most identifiable Red ever. It's not even close. I love listening to people older than me talk about growing up idolizing Rose, and I love to think about what it must've been like to live here when he personified not only America's best baseball team but also its most famous.
I don't think Pete Rose is very cool now. But I think the fact that the good things he did were done mostly while wearing a Reds uniform is. And I think it's even cooler that our city, so deeply jilted and disappointed by its favorite son, can still show him the kind of unconditional loyalty not evident in many relationships other than the one that exists between an iconic player, his fans and his hometown.
Mo Egger is a Reds season ticket holder and a regular in the Right Field Moon Deck at
Great American Ballpark. He also hosts the afternoon show on ESPN1530 in Cincinnati
and blogs at ESPN1530.com. You can follow him on Twitter by going here.
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Big League Stew encourages you to join in the fun! Please share these lists with your fellow fans on Facebook and use the comment section below to tell us your favorite things about being a fan of the Cincinnati Reds.
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