Editor’s Note: I hope you will join me in welcoming Clay Marshall to the Redleg Nation family. Clay is an exceptionally talented writer, and I’m really excited that he’ll be giving us his thoughts from the west coast this season. Please make Clay feel welcome! — Chad Dotson
“You say yes, I say no
You say stop, and I say go
You say goodbye, and I say hello”
–The Beatles, “Hello, Goodbye”
In the languages of many cultures around the world, there are words that mean both hello and goodbye. In Hawaii, people greet and part by saying “aloha.” In Italy and France, they do the same with “ciao” and “salut,” respectively. Fijians, meanwhile, use the word “bula” not just for hello and goodbye, but also for welcome, love, life, and cheers.
After spending Friday and Saturday in Goodyear, I wish there were a similar multipurpose English word to convey the mixed emotions I currently feel as a fan. Although injuries to Homer Bailey and Anthony DeSclafani will likely make the first few weeks of this season just as unpleasant as they were last year, I can’t help but get excited that the Reds will play six of every seven days between now and October. Still, while I fully support the rebuild, it was bittersweet to be in Arizona and not see several familiar faces from previous spring training trips.
Yes, I realize that’s life in modern-day major league baseball, where only 15 active players (including two Reds) have remained on the same team for a decade or longer. The winds of change feel more noticeable to me this year, though, because my son’s favorite player no longer wears red. On each of my past two spring training weekenders (trips I undertook without my family), I managed to convince Brandon Phillips to film short video greetings for my son, which I figured he’d appreciate more than a souvenir t-shirt he’d quickly outgrow. As a fan who’s anxious for the Reds to turn the corner, I was ecstatic when Phillips accepted his trade to Atlanta last month, but as a father, I felt sad for my son. Take it from me — there’s no easy way to explain bad contracts, service time and blocked prospects to an 8-year-old.
Seeing the Phillips trade through my son’s eyes reminded me of the heartbreak I felt when my own childhood hero was traded. While vacationing over Thanksgiving weekend at the age of 13, I can clearly recall watching SportsCenter one night and hearing that Eric Davis had been traded to the Dodgers. I couldn’t believe it — just 13 months earlier, his 1st inning home run off Dave Stewart set the pace for Cincinnati’s Cinderella World Series sweep. Four years before that, when he slugged a game-winning 9th inning grand slam in the first baseball game I can remember watching, he was the reason I became a Reds fan in the first place. Soon, his posters adorned my bedroom walls; his baseball cards filled two separate binders; his #44 graced the jerseys of every sport I played (or at least the ones where I could choose my number). Now, he was gone.
As the offseason progressed, I found myself torn — I wanted Davis to succeed in Los Angeles, but I was never able to become comfortable with the idea of rooting for another team, especially one in the Reds’ own division. (As longtime fans will recall, it wasn’t until the realignment of 1994 that Cincinnati moved out of the NL West.) And while I didn’t obsess over their stats to the extent I did with Davis, I still loved watching and cheering on players such as Barry Larkin, Hal Morris, Chris Sabo and Paul O’Neill and ultimately decided to continue doing so. Accordingly, it’s possible that Davis not only made me a Reds fan, but that his trade, unpleasant as it was, cemented that fandom for life.
That doesn’t mean I wasn’t happy — OK, ecstatic — when he returned to Cincinnati in 1996. And even though I understand the reluctance of those concerned that he’ll be this year’s Kevin Gregg or Alfredo Simon, I’m similarly happy to see Bronson Arroyo back in a Reds uniform. I fully supported letting him walk after the 2013 season, but I remember thinking at the time that if Jamie Moyer could still pitch at age 49, it wasn’t out of the question for “Saturn Nuts” to end up back in Cincinnati after his contract with Arizona ran its course.
Ignoring the manner in which he exited Saturday’s game, it was fun to watch him pitch again — the leg kick, the craftiness and, yes, the hair — and I found myself looking forward to learning the similar quirks of the new and soon-to-be Reds who will anchor the rebuild. More importantly, following a 20-month stretch in which we’ve bidden farewell to Phillips, Johnny Cueto, Todd Frazier, Aroldis Chapman, Mike Leake, and Jay Bruce, seeing Arroyo on the mound felt like something of a security blanket as we head toward another turbulent season. Time will tell if he can successfully bridge the past with the future, but for now, I find it hard not to root for him.
(I admit I have my own selfish reasons for cheering on Arroyo. The day my wife’s ultrasound revealed that we’d have a son, I made a list of at least 50 potential names. For some reason, I decide to include Bronson — and much to my surprise, as my wife and I proceeded to play Baby Name Survivor, that ended up being the last name left standing.)
While I wasn’t able to shoot any video greetings for my son this year, the baseball circle of life works in mysterious ways, and the one autograph I managed to score for him before Saturday’s game was that of Phillips’ second base successor, Jose Peraza. As I have no desire to raise a Braves fan, I hope that memento will help encourage him to say aloha — that is, farewell to the past and hello to the future. As for me, the one player I sought out isn’t on the current active roster, but as I shook his hand, I thanked him for playing the game the way he did and told him how happy I was to see him still wearing a Reds uniform today. “I still bleed red,” Davis told me — a comforting reminder, as with Arroyo’s return, that not every goodbye we say as fans is forever.