The Voice of the Reds makes you want to open your ears.
Chatted up The Voice at the team's new training digs the other day, and he's bullish about the Reds. Says the winning drought's likely to end, but more on that later.
Let's hear it for The Voice. Marty Brennaman is in his fifth decade of calling Reds games. If you don't live in fly-over land, give a listen on satellite radio.
He's among the game's best play-by-play men in the OTS realm -- Other Than Scully.
The Voice, a tangy blend of Midwest and Southeast, still blasts through the radio, and because Marty is nobody's shill, you're not wondering what's real and what's not.
It's not only the tri-state area that gets to hear him anymore. The Voice went global even as the once-great Reds steadily shrank like their Rust Belt brethren in Pittsburgh and Kansas City.
"We're in 58 countries," Brennaman was saying from near the practice fields, where he's as popular with Reds fans as the team's players are. "New Zealand. Australia. It is unbelievable.
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Well, they are the Reds.
Unfortunately for baseball's oldest professional baseball club, which debuted as the Red Stockings only four years after the Civil War ended, Brennaman became expert at describing bad pitching and sloppy defense over the past decade. The Reds, rather than borrowing from the playbook of the Buckeye State's most prominent sports team, played the inverse of Tressel Ball. They couldn't stop foes fron scoring. Cincinnati's last nine seasons, as a result, have been losers, including all six since the Reds moved across the street to a grass-field ballpark that offers pitchers no refuge.
To hear Brennaman tell it, however, the streak is now in serious jeopardy.
"I think there's a good probability of a winning season," he says.
The optimism owes to more than Arizona's spectacular weather. Rather, something called pitching and defense, or what the fancy talkers call run prevention.
"We like our pitching a lot," said general manager Walt Jocketty, who unlike predecessors Wayne Krivsky and Jim Bowden, can talk like that without eliciting snorts. "We're four deep for sure in the rotation. We've got a couple of veterans at the top: [Bronson] Arroyo always gives you 200 innings and will give us quality starts; [Aaron] Harang is 100 percent heatlhy this year and probably is in as good of shape as he's been in.
"Then you have Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey. Both are young guys with power arms and have really grown a lot."
It's their pitching depth that most excites the Reds.
Aroldis Chapman, the Cuban left-hander signed by Jocketty last winter for $30.25 million, is the talk of baseball. You might've heard, his fastball has been clocked at 100 miles per hour. Monday in his first Cactus League game, Chapman made a few scouts giddy. His suppleness is nearly Lincecum-esque, although his accuracy is not. Chapman likey will open the season in the minor leagues, but it's not certain that the Reds would long resist the urge to promote him if he's faring well. Jocketty said the Reds sold Chapman on opportunity when they recruited him last winter.
Chapman's skeptics note that big spenders such as the Red Sox and Yankees sat out bidding for the lefty, although not everyone with pitching-rich Boston, which worked him out at Fenway Park last October, was opposed.
"At first, we didn't know if the big-market clubs we're going to come after him," Jocketty said. "We thought some of the big-market clubs might blow us out of the water."
Funny, now the big spenders are talking like the small spenders used to talk whenever the big boys went nuts with the checkbook. Take one big-market scout's reaction to the payday for Chapman, who in Cuba's National Series had compiled a 4.03 ERA over 118 1/3 innings. "I thought it was crazy," the scout said. "Why not take that $30 million and give a whole bunch of guys $300,000."
If Chapman becomes a star, Bud Selig has more reason to celebrate revenue sharing. And maybe more of the smaller spenders will spend more of the money that the Yankees and Red Sox give them. There's growing pressure on the little guys to not pocket the welfare checks. Small-market Oakland, which contemplated north of $20 million, was Cincinnati's toughest competition for the Chapman.
Cincy's splurge was also striking because of how it contrasted the organization's mindset toward pricey amateurs, at least as of last June. The story told by scouts is that Reds owner Robert Castellini, bemoaning losses of about $16 million, had strongly discouraged his baseball men from drafting pitcher Tyler Matzek, a lefty widely viewed as a top-five talent, but one whose hefty pricetag would drop him in the draft. The Reds used their first pick on Mike Leake, a polished pitcher from Arizona State who ultimately would sign for $1.62 million less than Matzek.
"We had money available in the first round," Jocketty said. "Matzek didn't get to us, and we liked Leake a lot. We thought Leake could come quickly."
"We picked it up just around Christmas," Jocketty said.
Diluting some of the risk, Jocketty deferred most of the $16 million signing bonus for at least four years.
The Reds talk like both Chapman and Leake could be pitching for them this summer. On the same list is a pitcher who's far more proven than either of them: Edinson Volquez, who is coming off Tommy John surgery. WIth the Reds two years ago, Volquez was 17-6 with a 3.21 ERA in 196 innings. His elbow gave out after nine outings last year.
"We'll get Volquez back probably in late July," Jocketty said.
"That's like getting a top-line free agent this summer," said Reds manager Dusty Baker.
While detours seem as likely as not to await Chapman, if only because pitching prospects are so fragile, he wouln't be Jocketty's first big-ticket move to pan out. Far from it.
"Walt is amazing at the big deals," said longtime friend Kevin Towers, who was San Diego's GM from 1995-2009.
Jocketty, hired by the Reds in early 2008, had quite a run in St. Louis. In his 13 seasons with the Cardinals that yielded seven playoff berths and a World Series title, he acquired stars such as Jim Edmonds, Chris Carpenter, Mark McGwire, Scott Rolen and Larry Walker. His seven-year, $100-million deal for Albert Pujols in 2004 has appeared more prescient with each passing year.
"Walt's underrated," Towers said.
Baker and the Reds' players were elsewhere in 2001, when Cincinnati, coming off a second-place finish in the National League Central, lost 96 games. It has known only losing seasons since. The skid from 2001-09 is the franchise's longest since 1945-55. Even the team's Johnny Come Latelies -- among them Johnnie B. Baker Jr. -- say it's well past time to win.
"Yeah, big time," said Baker, the former Giants and Cubs manager who is in the final year of the three-year contract that brought him to Cincinnati. "We came close to [finishing with a winning record] last year, but a lot of guys got hurt."
Reds folks say Baker, who has Jocketty in his corner, seems more relaxed than he was in his first two years with the club. Maybe it's the faint smell of the Pacific Ocean. Baker is a Californian, and the Reds, after training in Sarasota, Fla. since 1998, have moved west to Arizona. They and the Indians share the western-most site in the majors. Baker describes Midwesterners as "good-hearted, good-spirited people," but he's still a West Coast guy.
"I love it here," he said while watching the Reds' best hitter, Joey Votto, slam a pitch to left field. "I miss the water a little bit, because I love to fish."
His players are no less upbeat, or determined.
Arroyo called it an "end of the road" season for several Reds players.
"Either we get something done with the veterans here, or I think they're pretty much going to go all young," he said.
Brandon Phillips, the team's second baseman and Most Valuable Player in two of the last three years, smiled as he talked about Chapman. Although seeing an unproven player get so much money might rankle veterans with other clubs, the Reds have been irrelevant for too long to be anything but excited, Phillips said.
"September 2006 was the last time I remember us having a winning team," Phillips said. "Then we went to the West Coast and fell off the map. We haven't been good since."
Nodding at Chapman across the clubhouse, he smiled again.
"I'm glad he got $30 million. He deserves it because he's athletic, and, man, he throws 100 miles per hour. I'm happy with his signing because it makes people see who we are and brings attention to us. Before, nobody knew who we were. Everybody just knows we lose."