BLOOMINGTON, IND.–A couple of months have passed since the Cincinnati Reds had the San Francisco Giants nearly pinned on the mat and then were victimized by a reversal and a choke hold to end their season short of the World Series.
The pain of that aggravation doesn’t go away entirely, but outfielder Jay Bruce said the other day that the defeat has been examined and processed and its time to think about vengeance in 2013.
“It left a bad taste in your mouth,” Bruce said Friday on a visit to outlying Reds territory. “You chew on it for a while and you throw it out. We should have played better. We had them on the ropes.”
The Reds handily won the National League Central Division in 2012 and had the Giants down 2-0 in games in the division series before losing three straight to the eventual World Series champs. Just like that instead of being the focus of the nation they were at home like everyone else watching on TV.
When disappointment is so strong it’s difficult to see value through the fog, but although the Reds did not get where they wanted to go last season, they accomplished some notable things. Cincinnati finished 97-65 and captured the division by nine games. They showed resilience when star Joey Votto got hurt. They had the best bullpen in baseball. And they put a balanced team on the field with numerous players taking turns producing clutch hits.
“Looking at the whole season, we played great,” Bruce said. “We had a hell of a year.”
Bruce is one of the Reds who had a pretty special year. He was chosen for his second All-Star team and clouted 34 home runs with 99 RBIs. He is still only 25 and has played five full Major League seasons. Fans at the Great American Ball Park have developed their own chant to greet Bruce with when his plate appearances are announced, exaggerating his name by going “Bruuuuce.”
Bruce was welcomed in the same manner Friday as part of the touring Reds Winter Caravan when it stopped at the College Mall in this university town and some 500 people lined up to obtain autographs from Bruce, prospect Ryan LaMarre, and veteran back-up catcher Corky Miller.
Over a several-day period this past week the Reds split up personnel and embarked on three geographical tours covering their fan base in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky. Reds director of communications Rob Butcher said 37 community stops were made, basically tied in with radio affiliates that broadcast the team’s games. There are 93 Reds radio affiliates in all, he said.
The scene in Bloomington, home of Indiana University, brought out fans wearing player jerseys or carrying balls, bats and other items for signatures. The most enthusiastic group began massing at 2:30 p.m. for the 6 p.m. start. Although there was a brief question and answer period, no doubt the fans’ primary focus was the meet-and-greet with pens.
However, Miller, who has had stints with the Reds twice, the Twins, Red Sox, Braves and White Sox, in addition to various minor-league stops, was asked if he could throw out Billy Hamilton, the base-stealing hotshot working his way through Cincinnati’s minor-league chain. Hamilton set a record with 155 stolen bases with two teams last year.
“I probably could,” Miller said in a deadpan reply suggesting that if Hamilton ran on him 100 times he might be safe two or three times “and it wouldn’t be my fault. It would be the pitchers’ fault.” Whether the fans liked it or not Miller was upholding catcher’s pride.
The heavy-on-kids-and-young-people crowd was handled with assembly-line efficiency and no odd autograph requests, such as signatures on body parts, seemed to be demanded. Bruce said the most unusual thing he can recall ever signing stemmed from an offshoot of he and his teammates acting silly. During a game against the Miami Marlins Bruce was being harassed by fellow Reds for a play as he returned to the dugout and as he put it, “I flicked them off. As proof that there is a camera everywhere you go in life these days, sure enough someone snapped a picture. Bruce signed the picture when it was shown to him.
“I bet there are some funny pictures out there,” he said.
Actually the pictures the Reds are looking to pose for in 2013 would be those showing champagne sprayed around the clubhouse in celebration and of players holding up a championship trophy. Maybe the playoff loss to the Giants was merely a necessary step along the way to reaching a goal.
“You’re experiencing things and learning,” Bruce said. “It’s the same team, only better.”