A big crowd came out to the Historic Hoosier Theater in Vevay on Saturday night to greet players and officials from the Cincinnati Reds; as they made their annual stop here as part of the Winter Caravan.
The stop is normally during the day at the end of the week, but this year the schedule of the Western portion of the caravan allowed the group to stop in Vevay on Saturday night, having traveled from Bloomington earlier in the day. This was the second to the last stop for the group, who finished up on Sunday at Slugger Field in Louisville.
“Mr. Red” kept everyone entertained in the packed theater while fans awaited the arrival of the caravan; and once everyone arrived, Reds broadcaster Jim Kelch introduced everyone on the tour. Making an appearance were players Billy Hamilton, last year’s Minor League Player of the Year who stole 103 bases while playing for the Reds’ Dayton Class A team; third baseman Todd Frazier, who split time last year between Cincinnati and the Triple A team in Louisville; and relief pitcher Nick Masset, one of the key components in the Cincinnati bullpen for the past couple of years.
Also on the tour was broadcaster and former player Jeff Brantley, and Reds executive Dick Williams.
But the biggest round of applause on the night – and the person who had the most questions directed to him – was Reds manager Dusty Baker.
Once the group arrived, the “Rosie Red” mascot joined “Mr. Red” in entertaining the crowd.
Dusty Baker told the crowd about some of the moves that the team has made during the off season with players, and his outlook for the upcoming year.
“I feel positive going into the season, probably more positive than any other season since I’ve been here,” he told the crowd. “I think our players have another year of maturity in terms of being ballplayers, and I think our players are just going to get better through the natural evolution of time.”
The manager talked about how current stars like Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips, and Joey Votto have all been working hard throughout the off season to get better; and that work, along with the addition of new players, is really going to add to the overall team.
“We’ve added some quality guys to our pitching staff,” Dusty Baker said. “Guys like Mat Latos, Sean Marshall, and Ryan Madsen. You’re going to love these guys. I think these guys bring a lot of life. We’ve brought in guys with a winning attitude and a positive attitude to go along with the guys that we have now.”
Questions from the audience ranged from how many homeruns the Reds might hit this year (Cincinnati hit the second most in the National League last year) to where Cuban pitcher Aroldis Chapman might fit into the pitching staff in 2012.
A young Switzerland County fan asked Dusty Baker who his favorite all time player was; and the manager answered with two former stars.
“My favorite player of all time was Tommy Davis, who used to play with the Dodgers. He was my hero when I was a kid growing up, and I wanted to be like him and play like him, and I ended up wearing his uniform number (#12) which I still wear now.
“My favorite player after I got into pro ball,” Dusty Baker continued. “Was the great Hank Aaron, who I played with on the Braves.”
One the lightest moments on the night came when a fan asked the Reds manager how many packs of toothpicks he goes through during a game (The manager is famous for his trademark toothpick).
“Well, it depends on the game,” Dusty Baker laughed. “If we’re winning, not that many. If we’re getting killed, probably a whole bunch.”
The manager said that his toothpicks are actually Australian tea tree chewing sticks, which are good for the gums.
The players were asked how they keep themselves in shape during the off season.
“One of the biggest things coming into the off season for us is rest,” Nick Masset said. “It’s a long, long season. I take a month off and let my body rest and let everything regenerate. Then coming into November, I start training with my own trainer. It’s nice being with the same guy during the off season.”
“I’m from New Jersey, so it’s pretty cold to get outside,” Todd Frazier said. “I go to Tampa during the winter to train and workout there. I also eat all healthy foods and listen to the training staff and they help me out. I also try and put on a few pounds, because I know that during the season I’m going to lose between 10 and 15 pounds.”
“It’s a little different for me, because in the off season the Reds sent me to Puerto Rico to play ball and get bigger,” the skinny Billy Hamilton said with a big smile. “I think the biggest thing is trying to get rest and get healthy after a long season.”
Following the questions each person had the chance to go on stage and meet each of the caravan members, and also get autographs and photos. It was also announced that this year’s “Switzerland County Day” at the Reds game will be on Sunday, July 15th, when the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals come to Cincinnati for a Nationally-televised night game beginning at 8 p.m.