Truth be told, we knew this day would arrive. Heck, we demanded it. There were disagreements about the timing having to do with television contracts, attendance and selling high. But we had this. More than six months ago, long before last season’s slog came to its merciful end.
Change was needed for the Cincinnati Reds. Big change.
The last step was convincing the club’s ownership. That wasn’t easy. Only a precious few people were in a position to make an effective case to let go of the popular players and familiar decision-makers. Delay in accepting that conclusion surely weakened the trade market. (For the record, stubborn hope isn’t the worst quality for an ownership group. Not nearly.) But then, the Rebuild Whisperers got help. The Reds finished 16-41, losing 14 of their last 15 games. Watching that unfold had to be compelling, if brutal, evidence of the need to alter course.
Change was approved, both for the front office and on the playing field.
The transition is far – miles away – from complete. But new teams are on the way.
When will we feel the change? When Mike Leake shows up in a St. Louis uniform. When the bullpen door opens in the ninth inning and something other than the Cuban Missile rockets through. Withdrawal from our addiction to the highs from those strikeouts and radar gun readings will be rough. Most of all, we’ll know we aren’t in Kansas anymore when we see highlights of Super Todd Frazier hitting majestic home runs and generating enthusiasm on the South Side.
We need to put the wonderful memories of those great Reds in a safe, permanent place. Tuck them away with the controversies surrounding the bumpy off-season. At least for today, let’s put aside the trades that were made as well as the ones that weren’t.
The season we demanded is here. So is the unmatched glory of Opening Day in Cincinnati.
For the record, plenty that we recognize remains. We can still marvel at how Joey Votto hits. At how Billy Hamilton runs and catches. The dazzling double plays by Zack Cozart and Brandon Phillips will shoot us out of our seats. So will the long home runs by Jay Bruce and Devin Mesoraco.
Beyond individual players, we’ll cheer for this team in habitual ways. We’ll appreciate and enjoy every single, hard-earned victory over the Cardinals, Pirates and Cubs. We might even savor them more because the wins will be less frequent than we’re accustomed.
But even more intoxicating than the return of the familiar — the veteran contributions and triumphs over evil-doers — will be falling in love with a different group of young players.
The new kids aren’t all on the block just yet. Even the front office would admit the roster is a mid-transition jumble right now. That’s due in equal parts to unfortunate health, luck and timing. It may call for an Everest-sized mountain of patience to wait for it, but the roster will get better from the standpoint of rebuilding.
Brandon Phillips will turn into Alex Blandino. Zack Cozart into Jose Peraza. Jesse Winker will become a fixture in a corner outfield spot. Time will bring permanent pitching roles for Robert Stephenson, Cody Reed, Michael Lorenzen, John Lamb, Brandon Finnegan and Jon Moscot. Homer Bailey will finally get back to the mound.
Meanwhile, we can enjoy each pitch from Raisel Iglesias and Anthony DeSclafani, because they’re going to be good. We can watch Eugenio Suarez hit and field, knowing he was acquired for a song. Adam Duvall may not make us forget the Home Run Derby, but he will smash his share of upper-deck shots that count.
It’s an obvious cautionary point, but not everyone mentioned above will make it in a major league uniform. There will be false starts, injuries and missteps along the way. But many of those players will turn into big leaguers. They’ll be the next Cincinnati Reds.
We called for this change. Now we must change, too. Our expectations and our affections.
For young fans, the new guys will become role models as surely as did Todd Frazier, Sean Casey before him, and Joe Morgan before him. We grown-ups will have to choose the next toys of our adulthood.
New players will earn their way into our hearts. They always do. That’s the way it works.
Change – needed and inevitable change – will come to Great American Ball Park this year and next. Yes, 2016 will be a different kind of season for us Reds fans. But, in an example of what our English teachers called irony, this year may actually be more about pure baseball than usual. Instead of anxiously watching the out-of-town scoreboard and fretting over the standings we’ll be catching meaningful glimpses of the future — the Cincinnati Reds’ future. That begins anew today, Opening Day.
For everything there is a season. You can cite the Book of Ecclesiastes or Pete Seeger for that axiom, take your pick.
2016 is the Reds time to plant. Enjoy the sowing, the bloom and the growth.
And know that there will soon be a season to reap what is planted.