CHIEF LOGAN STATE PARK — It’s becoming a yearly tradition.
It seems like every year the Cincinnati Reds’ Winter Caravan makes a stop at the Chief Logan State Park Convention Center they are greeted by wintry weather.
It happened two years ago when Reds’ manager Dusty Baker stopped in at Logan.
It happened last year.
And on Friday morning, it happened again as Reds’ Winter Caravan was welcomed with two inches of snow and a winter storm. The Reds made a brief, invitation-only, 45-minute stop at the park. Even though the weather was bad, thoughts were on the spring and baseball season in Cincinnati.
“It seems like every year we come to Logan it’s snowing but it is January in West Virginia,” quipped Reds’ broadcaster Jim Kelch.
The Reds roll out their winter caravan every year hoping to get fans fired up about the upcoming season.
After Cincinnati’s 2012 NL Central Division Championship and 97-65 record, Reds’ fans are already jacked up about the coming of spring.
Despite taking a 2-0 NL Division Series lead against the eventual World Series Champion San Francisco Giants and losing the series 3-2, expectations are very high for the Reds in 2013.
“It didn’t work out in the end but when you look back at the 2012 season, to win 97 games, to win the division, to win the most games in a season since the Big Red Machine Era and to draw very well it was a good season,” Kelch said. “They didn’t get to where they wanted to be but they are slowly getting to build to where they want to be and that, of course, is World Series Champions.”
Kelch was joined on Friday at Logan by: infielder Todd Frazier, pitcher Logan Ondrusek; 2012 minor league player of the year Billy Hamilton; broadcaster and former pitcher Jeff Brantley; Vice President of Baseball Operations Dick Williams; and mascot Rosie Red.
“The organization has improved immensely in the last six years,” Kelch said. “Baseball America named the Reds as the ‘Organization of the Year’ for 2012. We are very proud of that achievement. Now going into 2013, anticipation is high for how this team will perform.”
The big news coming out of the Reds’ organization in recent days and from the Winter Caravan was the announcement that Cincinnati and Great American Ballpark will host the 2015 All-Star Game.
“The big news coming out of Cincinnati the last couple of days was that the All-Star Game will be coming to Great American Ballpark in 2015,” Kelch said.
Williams also welcomed the big news. The last time the Reds hosted the All-Star Game was back in 1988 at the old Riverfront Stadium when the American League won 2-1 over the Nationals before 55,837 fans.
“It’s great to have the All-Star Game back in Cinncinnati. It’s been too long,” he said.
Another piece of big news is fireball lefty Aroldis Chapman being made into a starter this season. Chapman was one of last season’s most dominant closers, striking out 122 batters in 72 innings of work and converting 38 of 42 save opportunities.
The idea of putting Chapman into the regular Reds’ rotation has been in the works for years.
It seems like this year, that plan will be set into motion.
“I think what all Reds’ fans are thinking about is how is Aroldis Chapman going to do transferring from the bullpen to the starting rotation?” Brantley said. “Can he do it? And if he can do it how many innings is he going to be able to pitch and is he going to get hurt? If he doesn’t pitch well, who is going to pitch in that number five spot? If they do move him back to the bullpen is he going to close or set up? These are fair questions going into spring training. This adds some excitement to the camp.”
The Reds broke a 17-year winless post-season streak last season with the two wins over the Giants in October.
Most of the key performers — Joey Votto and all-stars Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce — have been signed to long-term contracts.
The Reds also acquired outfielder and new leadoff man Shin-Soo Choo from the Cleveland Indians. Choo has a .381 on-base percentage in eight major league seasons and will take over in center from Drew Stubbs who was shipped to the Indians.
“This is a veteran ballclub in terms of experience,” Brantley said.
Williams said despite the three straight losses to the Giants in the NL Divisional Series the Reds’ mindset changed as compared to 2010 when they last made it to the playoffs.
“I saw a big difference in the team from post-season 2012 to post-season 2010,” Williams said. “In 2010 there was a big celebration in just being there. There was a big relief with the fans because it was such a long time coming. We were just happy to be there and it sort of showed up when we went to Philadelphia and faced a good team. Last year, it was a completely different mindset. We wanted to be in the post-season and we expected to win in the post-season. I think all of us were shocked what happened in Cincinnati.”
Frazier, who has played both infield and outfield, is expected to take over the duties at third base for the Reds in 2013. Frazier hit .273 with 19 home runs and 67 RBI last season.
“We look back last year and you could say coulda-should-woulda but it’s a new year coming up and we’ve got everyone coming back,” Frazier said. “We’ve got that taste in our mouths that we need to get rid of but once we go back to spring training I think everyone is going to be fired up for another good year.”
Ondrusek was 5-2 on the hill with a 3.46 ERA last year for the Reds. He pitched 54.2 innings with 39 strikeouts and 31 walks.
“We’re all competitors and as a competitor you want to be the best at it. This year our goal is to make it a step further and make it to the championship round and the Word Series. If we win one we want to win another and another,” Ondrusek said at Friday’s event.
Hamilton is an exciting young prospect for the Reds and heads to his first full major league spring training camp next month in Goodyear, Ariz.
Hamilton, 22, is being converted from his natural shortstop position to centerfield. He crafted his new position last autumn in the Arizona Fall League.
Last season, Hamilton’s speed became a national phenomenon as he stole a professional baseball record 155 bases, breaking the old mark set by Vince Coleman, a major leaguer primarily with the St. Louis Cardinals. Combined between Class A Bakersfield and Double-A Pensacola, he batted .311 with a .410 on-base percentage and 112 runs scored in 132 games.
The buzz is sure to grow as Reds fans get a closer look at Hamilton during Spring Training, where he will be in big league camp for the first time as a non-roster player. He’s made cameos in a few Cactus League games when summoned from Minor League camp.
Hamilton is hoping to impress Baker and the Reds’ coaches enough to make the Opening Day Roster despite playing much of his pro career so far in the Double-A minors.
“It’s been a good transition,” Hamilton said about his move to the outfield. “It took about a month and a half. Going to Spring Training with the big guys I think will help me out a lot. It’s different footwork in the outfield but I feel I can use some of my speed now a little bit. I feel like the move is going to be a good thing.”
The Reds are not sure if 37-year-old third baseman Scott Rolen, an eight-time Gold Glove winner, will be back this season or if he will retire. He has 2,048 hits, 313 home runs and 1,273 RBI in his big league career.
“We’re not sure if Scott Rolen will be coming back,” Brantley said. “The way that Watt Jocketty has approached this and Dusty has approached this is that Todd Frazier is the Cincinnati Reds’ third baseman. That’s his job. It’s up to Todd to go out there every day and play third base. He showed a tremendous amount of skill last year but he really didn’t get a real shot to play third base. He was all over the place. He was in left, at first and at third. This is a guy that came up as a shortstop. You know as a baseball fan, you know that it takes some skill to play shortstop.”
It was also announced this year’s Logan West Virginia Day would be August 11 as the Reds host the San Diego Padres at 1:10 p.m. at Great American Ballpark.
To buy tickets you can go online at: www.reds.com/logan promo code: logan.
You can also purchase tickets locally by visiting the Logan County Chamber of Commerce to sit in the “Logan, WV Section” section 136, down the right field line.
For groups of 25 or more, block seating, scoreboard messages and more information, contact Bart Conway at (513) 765-7474.
The Coal Families Weekend with the Cincinnati Reds will be held April 6-7 as the Reds play the Washington Nationals.
Friday’s Reds Winter Caravan was sponsored by Logan radio station WVOW. The Reds Caravan is visiting more than 20 of the Reds radio affiliates throughout Reds Country during the trip.
The Reds Southern Tour left Logan on Friday and went to another event in Pikeville, Ky., at the East Kentucky Expo Center.
The Southern Tour was scheduled to wrap up on Saturday and Sunday with stops in Lexington, Ky., and Bowling Green, Ky.
Reds pitchers and catchers are to report to Arizona on Feb. 12 for Spring Training. The first Cactus League game is Feb. 23 against the Cleveland Indians.
Cincy is scheduled to open the season with a three-game interleague series against the L.A. Angels on April 1, 3 and 4 at home.
This year, Major League Baseball has spread out the interleague games instead of the traditional clusters usually in May and June.
On May 27-28, the Reds host in-state rival Cleveland. Cincinnati then goes on the road to play the Indians on May 29-30.
In June, the Reds travel to American League teams Oakland (June 25-26) and Texas (June 28-30).
July 5-7 just before the All-Star Break, the Reds host the Seattle Mariners for a three-game set.
Then on Aug. 6-7, the Oakland A’s come to Cincy for a two-game series.
Interleague play then concludes for the Reds on Aug. 16-18 as old NL Central rival Houston hosts Cincinnati for a three-game set. The Astros are jumping ship to the American League in 2013, giving each league an even 16 teams.
Houston had played 50 years in the National League and the move has been an unpopular one among Astros’ fans. Last year, the Astros were 55-107 — the worst record in all of the major leagues.