CINCINNATI – Opening Day isn’t just the first game of the regular season for the Reds, it’s an actual holiday for the city of Cincinnati.
Founded in 1869 as baseball’s first professional club, the Reds held Opening Day No. 136 on Thursday vs. the Marlins. As usual, there were no shortages of pomp and circumstance that made the day unique.
“I know how big Opening Day is here. It’s larger here than any place I’ve been,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said.
Once upon a time, the Reds had the honor of playing the very first game of every season. Now the club has the privilege of getting to open every regular season at home.
Cincinnati is also the only big league city that has a venerable parade to celebrate the beginning of a season. For the 93rd time, the Findlay Market Opening Day Parade rolled from the streets of Over-the-Rhine into downtown.
Former Reds star and current ESPN broadcaster Aaron Boone served as grand marshal and current players Mat Latos and Nick Masset also took part and rode in the back of a car towards Fountain Square.
Just before game time, the Rosie Reds social group continued their time-honored tradition of presenting fruit baskets to both teams’ managers – Baker from the Reds and Ozzie Guillen from the Marlins.
U.S. Senator Rob Portman served as the game’s honorary captain. Retiring Hamilton County sheriff bounced a ceremonial first pitch – but it’s Opening Day, so it counted as a strike.
After the introductions of both the Reds and Marlins, there was a moment of silence to honor a former owner, the late Carl Lindner and former Red Jerry Lynch, both whom died during the off-season. The Reds also paused to remember victims of March tornadoes that devastated parts of Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.
Grammy Award winning recording artist Rodney Atkins sang the National Anthem as a giant American flag shaped like the country was unfurled across the outfield.
Taking it all in was television personality and singer Nick Lachey, along with his wife Vanessa Minnillo-Lachey, the entertainment reporter. Lachey, a native Cincinnatian, has previously thrown a ceremonial first pitch at a Reds opener.
“It’s literally my favorite day of the year for this city to be able to have our opener at home every year,” Lachey said. “It’s an unofficial holiday. The sun is shining and everyone is optimistic. Opening day is perfect. Everyone starts at zero. There is nothing but promise. It’s a good day.”
Even for a veteran player of 17 seasons like Reds third baseman Scott Rolen, Opening Day remains a special time – no matter the city where it’s being held.
“It’s always been a celebration time for baseball across the country,” Rolen said. “Everybody fills their stadiums up and I think people look forward to it, people get excited about it – fans and players – you get your nerves and butterflies and everything. Everybody is looking for their first hit and all that stuff. That’s not the important stuff. You go out there and the country is looking forward to that day.”
The topic of Roy Oswalt and the Reds being a potential match hasn’t gone away in the past several weeks, despite the denials from general manager Walt Jocketty. Rumors flared up again over the weekend as other clubs appear to be declining their interest. The Cardinals were the latest team to reportedly back off.
Speaking by phone on Tuesday from Goodyear, Ariz., Jocketty emphatically denied the Reds were in on Oswalt.
“The media has been putting us into it. I’m tired of it,” Jocketty said. “I try to be upfront with you guys. I’ve gotten a lot of calls from people. I’m not saying something couldn’t ever happen but there’s nothing to lead me to believe we will sign him.”
“I don’t know where he’s going. We haven’t had any serious discussions with him. We’ve had no contact with that player.”
On another topic — the Reds are no closer to an extension with 2B Brandon Phillips
“Not really,” Jocketty said. “We really haven’t had a chance to talk with them. Hopefully in the next few weeks, it’s something we can address.”
Jocketty said he did not believe Phillips’ side had set any deadline for talks ending before the season starts.
“I think this could go on for a while,” Jocketty said.
– Mark Sheldon
Looking to supplement their rotation with extra depth, the Reds reached a Minor League deal late Wednesday with left-handed pitcher Jeff Francis according to of Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com and MLB Network
Reds general manager Walt Jocketty told MLB.com last week that his club was interested in adding Francis, a free agent.
Francis, 30, was 6-16 with a 4.82 ERA in 31 starts last season with the Royals. Most of his career had been spent with the Rockies from 2004-10. He was a 17-game winner in 2007.
Lifetime, Francis is 61-66 with a 4.78 ERA in 181 games (180 starts).
– Mark Sheldon
Bypassing the free agent market for backup infielders that can play shortstop, the Reds executed a trade Wednesday that brought utility infielder Wilson Valdez from the Phillies for left-handed reliever Jeremy Horst.
Valdez spent the last two seasons in Philadelphia and batted .249 with a .294 on-base percentage, one home run and 30 RBIs over 99 games in 2011. A lifetime .243 hitter, the 33-year-old Valdez has also spent time with the White Sox, Mariners, Padres, Dodgers and Mets
Out of Valdez’s 342 career big league games, 190 have been played at shortstop where he owns a .980 fielding percentage. Many might remember him doing the Reds in as the winning pitcher of the May 25, 2011 game that lasted 19 innings at Citizen Banks Park. With his team out of pitchers, Valdez moved from second base and pitched a scoreless top of the 19th inning.
Also — Nick Masset signed a two-year contract to avoid arbitration. Terms not immediately known.
– Mark Sheldon
The Reds agreed to terms with utility player Willie Harris on a Minor League contract, two sources confirmed to MLB.com on Monday.
Harris, who will be invited to camp as a non-roster player, can earn an $800,000 base salary if he makes the club and his overall salary can reach $1 million with incentives.
Last season with the Mets, Harris batted .246 with a .351 on-base percentage, two home runs and 23 RBIs in 126 games while earning $800,000. A left-handed hitter that has played 11 big league seasons for the Orioles, White Sox, Braves, Nationals and Mets, Harris is a lifetime .240 hitter with a .330 OBP.
– Mark Sheldon
The Reds have added a closer, a left fielder, a starting pitcher and a lefty setup man. What’s next?
Infielder … maybe.
The free-agent market for infielders who can play shortstop and back up rookie Zack Cozart is rather thin. It’s thin enough that Reds general manager Walt Jocketty is thinking trade rather signing someone from the open market.
“We’re still talking to a couple of clubs,” Jocketty said late Friday. “We’ll know something by next week, hopefully. I don’t think there’s a lot of guys out there free agent wise.”
Jocketty did not divulge which clubs he was chatting with.
Of the free-agent shortstops, there’s only Ryan Theriot, Miguel Tejada and former Red Edgar Renteria. In recent days, ex-Red Orlando Cabrera retired and Jack Wilson signed with the Braves.
Jocketty said that there has been some interest shown to Theriot.
“We’ve talked to him, had some conversations,” Jocketty said.
Asked if he was optimistic something could get done, Jocketty responded “not today.”
• If the Reds sign nobody and don’t pull off a trade, Jocketty said he’d be comfortable going with what is already in house. That would mean Cozart and Paul Janish would be the team’s shortstops, with Cozart on the inside track to start.
• The Reds are continuing to look at adding to their depth with possible Minor League contract offers. One player they’re taking a look at, Jocketty confirmed, is pitcher Jeff Francis. The left-handed Francis, 30, was 6-16 with a 4.82 ERA in 31 starts last season with the Royals. He was with the Rockies from 2004-10 and was a 17-game winner in 2007.
– Mark Sheldon
MLB.com has learned via a source Monday night that outfielder Ryan Ludwick has agreed to a one-year contract with a mutual option for 2013. The dollar figure remains unclear, but the Reds weren’t expected to spend a lot to fill their opening for a fourth outfielder.
Ken Rosenthal at FOX and MLB Network was first with the story.
Ludwick, 33, batted .237 with 13 home runs last season in a combined 139 games with the Padres and Pirates. He has a history with Reds general manager Walt Jocketty, having played for him with the Cardinals. Ludwick spent the 2007-09 seasons in St. Louis and hit a career best 37 homers with 113 RBIs in 2008.
This fills the Reds need for a fourth outfielder that can mainly play left field in a quasi-platoon with Chris Heisey.
– Mark Sheldon
UPDATE — A baseball source confirmed to MLB.com that the Reds and Ryan Madson agreed to a one-year, $10 million contract.
According to several reports, the Reds have agreed to terms late Tuesday on a one-year contract with free agent closer Ryan Madson. CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman reported it first. I am still trying to confirm this myself and have several calls out.
Citing sources, Heyman earlier in the evening that talks between the two sides were heating up and in the serious stages. However, a source familiar with the situation had downplayed the report to MLB.com, saying it was unlikely the Reds would get Madson unless his agent — Scott Boras — came well off the demand of a four-year, $44 million contract he had been reportedly been wanting.
And with this seeming to be a one-year deal for Madson, that certainly appears to be the case. USA Today reports the deal is worth in excess of$10 million.
The Reds have not announced any agreement. A message was left with general manager Walt Jocketty.
– Mark Sheldon
There is a CBSSports.com report that the Reds are in the serious stage of talks with free agent closer Ryan Madson, even saying that things were “heating up.”
A source told MLB.com on Tuesday night that the club has contacted almost every player on the market at one time or another. The source downplayed the report on Madson, saying it was unlikely unless Madson’s agent — Scott Boras — came well off the demand of a four-year, $44 million contract he had been reportedly wanted.
The Reds have maintained talks with the other free agent closer on the market — Francisco Cordero. Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said last week that the offer for Cordero would be for no more than one guaranteed year.
– Mark Sheldon
The Reds made official Wednesday the signing of RHP Andrew Brackman.It is a one-year Major League contract and terms were not immediately known.
Although Brackman was once a first-round Draft pick of the Yankees in 2007, he’s known best locally as being a product of Cincinnati and Moeller High School.
Signed by New York to a four-year, $3.35 million Major League contract out of North Carolina State, Brackman’s selection came with risk since the club knew he would promptly require Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
In three Minor League seasons, Brackman was 15-29 with a 5.11 ERA. Brackman spent most of 2011 with Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre but pitched three games in relief for New York in September — all were scoreless appearances. The Yankees declined Brackman’s 2012 option after the season.
— Mark Sheldon