After a 650 mile road trip from New York City to Cincinnati, much of it spent traveling in the late night darkness through New Jersey and Pennsylvania, I arrived at the gates of Great American Ballpark, ticket in hand, weary, but eager to see the Club finally break through and beat the NY Mets. While watching them lose once again the night before in front of my television in New Jersey, I cranked up my MLB audio subscription on the Internet to catch the hometown version of the night’s debacle, rather than listen to the always delightful Keith Hernandez give his smug and negative assessment of my Reds to his Metropolitan audience.
By chance during the broadcast, I heard Jeff Brantley interviewing Craig Lindvahl, a teacher and filmmaker, who had just completed a documentary celebrating the heretofore unseen part of Team Reds, the part that makes Great American Ballpark the smooth and professional-running ship it is day in and day out. As Craig likes to say, “once you’ve seen this film, you’ll never look at a game at GABP the same again.”
Craig’s film, “Let’s Get Ready To Win, A Day at Great American Ball Park” was slated to get its premiere immediately after the game in the Reds’ Hall of Fame theatre next door. Not to be missed. But first things first.
I grabbed a ticket in Section 117, 7 rows behind the visiting dugout behind home and third—the perfect spot to watch Homer Bailey work, except for one thing—it was an oven by the time of the first pitch at 12:35. From the first batter, who rocketed a ball into the deep outfield that was nonetheless quickly run down, it was clear that Homer didn’t possess his good stuff. I, along with the denizens of Section 117, questioned the wisdom of allowing Bailey to remain in the game as it got out of hand, everyone craning their necks in unison toward a quiet outfield bullpen. Homer was being left to find his own way out of a wilderness of his own making and I think I know why, despite the subsequent explanation that Sam Lecure was unable to get loose. With the Reds’ next opponent, the Giants, arriving with their vaunted pitching staff, Dusty was determined to take a well-rested bullpen into the upcoming weekend. While I understood the thinking, I didn’t much agree with it. Given the circumstances the Reds find themselves under, you take your best shot at a win today, and worry about tomorrow… tomorrow.
After Logan Ondrusek threw a ball in the dirt in the 9th that produced what turned on to be the winning run, a nearby fan yelled to the mound, “come on, Lucas.” It hit me like a thunderbolt: Baker had done the unthinkable: he’d brought in the wrong Ondrusek. Ah, fans.
Worn out by the long drive, the heat and another comeback fallen a run short, I headed for the Hall of Fame, looking forward to the air conditioning almost as much as Craig’s film. Mere moments into the film, an audible sigh went up in the audience when the recently traded Jonny Gomes jersey appeared, freshly awaiting its owner. Clubhouse manager Rick Stowe, VP of Ballpark Operations, Declan Mullin, and Director of Media Relations, Jamie Ramsey, are given starring roles in the production. And for good reason. A central thesis of Lindvahl’s film is that if everyone in the organization acts like winners and works like winners, that mentality will translate onto the field. Much of the movie takes place the night the Reds’ clinched the 2010 NL Central Division and the connection between those in the bowels of the ballpark, “who are living and dying with every pitch” is an emotional umbilical cord linking players to staff and fans. I’m no film critic, but I know excellence when I see it. Craig’s film captures not just the hard work and sweat of getting a facility ready for 40,000 people, it celebrates the heart of a not-so-small community of folks, making magic and loving every minute of what they do.
At the film’s conclusion, a Q&A session took place, and afterwards, Craig and Jamie Ramsey, who writes the blog Better Off Red, were gracious enough to talk to me and Redleg Nation. Craig could not speak highly enough about the organization and their commitment to bringing a winner to the city of Cincinnati. Now, it should be noted, Craig is a Chicago Cubs fan. He’s not some lifelong Cincinnati boy singing the celluloid praises of a team he grew up loving. He’s no homer. And yet, his admiration for the Reds and the way they do things was palpable. He spoke of other teams who made appearances in the World Series, but were run by front offices that were unable to take advantage of their good fortune and maximize their moment in the sun. By contrast, the Reds are made up of a committed group of people, working with a single voice, with the goal of doing things the right way, the professional way, from how they value their employees, to the humane way they interact with their players, and as Declan Mullin showed in the film, their concern for the fans. Everyone is family.
I mentioned to Craig the negativity surrounding the team with the recent play, the frustration with Walt Jocketty for not making the big deal, and the perception that Bob Castellini isn’t spending the requisite money to bring home a winner. Craig’s reply?
Nothing could be further from the truth. “Bob Castellini views ownership as a sacred public trust,” said Lindvahl. His first person opinion was that the owner is putting the money back into this organization and along with Walt Jocketty, is united in the same goal: building a winner and building it to last from top to bottom. As far as the owner is concerned, the day to make money will be the day he sells his interest in the team.
Not bad stuff coming from a Cubs fan.
I’ll take some heat from a segment of the fan base that dissects every loss and parses every Jocketty quote as if it was a stat to be poured over and coldly evaluated. But this isn’t WAR—or even OPS+. It’s a business with human beings. So, I stand by what I saw. From the cool professionalism of Karen Forgus to the graciousness of Jamie Ramsey, these folks know what they are doing. Of that, I have no doubt.
My day over, I shook hands with Craig Lindvahl, thanking him for the gift of his time. His day was most certainly not over. Not more than a couple of hours later, I would listen in the car as he talked with Lance McCallister, spreading the gospel of baseball in Cincinnati. I took a quick peek at the Johnny Bench exhibit and stepped into bright sunlight. It was a full two hours since the game had ended, but thanks to Craig’s gem of a film, I knew that the deceptively quiet ballpark to my back was humming with activity, the folks inside toiling away, getting ready for tomorrow’s game. It was still an oven outside. I was beat. Yet, I had a little bounce in my step. The Reds weren’t winners today.
But, the organization over my shoulder? All they are doing is getting ready to win.
Author’s Note: Craig Lindvahl’s documentary, Let’s Get Ready To Win, A Day at Great American Ball Park, will be shown Saturday, July 30th at 5:00pm on the MLB Network before the Reds take on the San Francisco Giants.