After all the dissapointment this club has had in recent history, as a thirty year old I can say that this season is the single greatest season of baseball I've ever watched. And it all started with uncertainty in the offseason and every Reds fan believing that the sky would soon be falling.
All of Cincinnati \had one thing and one thing only on it's minds and lips after a disappointing 2011: "The Votto Window". With that window closing and closing fast ESPN, Sports Illustrated and every baseball blog and podcast told Reds fans to enjoy every one of Votto's at bats in a Reds uniform. He would soon be hoisting World Series and MVP trophies in a Dodger, Blue Jay or Yankee uniform. The Redlegs would then sink back down to battling the Pirates for the cellar of the Central and we would go back to having the Cardinals crush us. 2010 was our moment in the sun.
And with all of that chaos going on, all Walt had done was sign washed up Ryan Ludwick and traded our entire future (including Votto's inevitable replacement, our former ace, a switch hitting major league ready catcher and promising reliever) to San Diego for a headcase pitcher?! Not only that, but Phillips would be leaving soon after. The right side of an infield manned by baseball's best hitter and best fielding second baseman would be taken over by two untested youngsters. The Reds had to get it done soon or they were doomed.
It was soon clear that Castellini meant business. Small market? That's no excuse. Votto and Phillips were extended seemingly simultaneously. It was clear that for the first time since crazy Marge Schott owned the Reds that they had an owner who wanted to win. But even after years of the media saying the Reds needed to spend money to get out of the cycle of losing, the front office was still chastised. The Reds would never be able to afford such insane contracts. It may be a good deal in the short term, but these crazy contracts were out of Cincinnati's range and would soon sink the club. What everyone forgot was that Cincinnati is a baseball town. The low attendance numbers at the ballpark still didn't take away the Reds radio and TV ratings, which reached far beyond what they should for a ballclub in the smallest of markets. Reds nation wasn't dead. It was watching and listening at home. Hibernating.
Once the season started the Reds had an awful April. Comments in sports bars and all over the internet made it seem like everyone was certain Dusty, Price and Jacoby all needed to go. Chapman needed converted to a starter yesterday. Fans were suggesting we trade everyone under the sun and start rebuilding immediately. The excitement of the Votto deal was waning. 11-11 at the end of the month. The record said the Reds were mediocre. After all the hype and promise to start 2012, and all the recent criticism, it felt like they were much worse than a 500 team.
In May they met the Nationals, who embarrassed them in April, for a second time. The Nats took the first two, but that Sunday Joey Votto went off with a historic performance: three home runs, including a walk off grand slam. It was the spark the Reds needed. After that the team started to pick up steam and began to get into a groove.
In July they came out of a west coast trip reeling, but still fighting. Their record coming back from the West Coast was still a winning one, far from the days of Marty's infamous "Bataan Death March" rant. The second half of the season the Reds opened up against the defending World Series champion Cardinals, and swept their ass. Never has a series felt so good. But just when things started to look up, Votto goes on the DL. Many counted the Reds out. Votto was the major cog in a feast or famine offense. Without him batting third, the Reds bullpen would be completely taxed trying to stay ahead in games. The Reds were clinging to the top of the division with a hungry Pirates team on their heels. Without Votto things could head south quickly. But Dusty managed to keep the locker room together. Joey Votto is great, but he's only one man. The rest of the team played like they had something to prove.
The product on the field wasn't the only thing to celebrate in July. Cincinnati native Barry Larkin became the 12th Red to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, as a member of the 2012 class. The first Red to be inducted since Tony Perez in 2000, endiing a 12 year drought.
The monster series against the Pirates looked, and felt like it was going to decide the division early. It seemed like everyone was counting down the days. The Buccos came into Great American strutting, and after plenty of plunks and losing two out of three they left the Queen City limping. That series seemed to break their confidence. A team that was being heralded as a sure thing for at least a Wild Card slot has since fallen below 500. Marty shaving his head, Charlie Sheen matching the donations of Reds nation and throwing his hat in the ring as mayor of Cincinnati....one of the wildest weekends in Cincinnati baseball history, and certainly the most memorable of this season, at least for myself.
Most recently Dusty was hospitalized with a mini-stroke. Dusty is a player's manager,. Love him or hate him, you can't deny the results on the field. The guy knows how to create clubhouse chemistry and get guys playing to their potential. He's the glue that holds the team together. I don't think I was alone in worrying about what was possible without Dusty at the helm in a tight race for the #1 seed in the National League, even if he was only gone for a short amount of time. But if this team has proven anything over the course of 2012 it's that they know how to
Just when you think the 2012 Reds are out of magic, another moment comes a long and makes this season even more special. Homer Bailey, the hard headed young pitcher that many, including myself, said would never put it all together, throw’s the first Reds no hitter in 24 years. If throwing a no-no against a division rival isn't enough salt in their wounds, it was also the first no-no in PNC Park history, and also assured yet another over .500 season is impossible for the Pirates.
Although it might sound crazy, I'll go ahead and say it: Even if the Reds lose every single game from here on out, this season would still go down as my favorite in Cincinnati Reds history. The only thing that could make it better would be meeting and sweeping the Cardinals in the playoffs, and bringing home the pennant and World Series during home games. For a team that's accomplished as many crazy feats as it already has, that's not outside the realm of possibility. Hard to imagine seeing where the club was even three short seasons ago.
And the best part is that the core of this young team is locked up for the foreseeable future. Cueto, Chapman, Latos, Votto, Bruce, Frazier and Cozart are all going to be here for awhile. Even after sending a boat load of our best prospects to San Diego for Mat Latos, we still have Corcino, Cingrani, Gregorious, Phipps and Hamilton ready and waiting to contribute.
We might not see a season as special as this one for a long time, but knowing that the possibility will be there for quite awhile is going to make the next few off seasons even more unbearable than usual. And when that's the worst thing you can say about your ball club, you know the front office is doing a hell of a job.