“Well, where are you going to go?” Phil Castellini asked on the radio before the Cincinnati Reds home opener Tuesday. He was responding to a question about restless fans who have suggested that Phil’s father sell the team.
Well, let’s see.
On Tuesday at 4:12 p.m. local time, when the game began and the fun ended, fans could have gone home and, to approximate the in-game experience, whacked their temples with ballpeen hammers.
What’s better: Watching the Reds bullpen explode in the ninth inning of a 10-5 loss? Or putting your face in a waffle iron?
The Reds president wasn’t done expounding on the fans’ ingratitude. Opening day shouldn’t be a referendum on town-team relations, but Phil Castellini opened the can. Might as well let the worms out.
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“What would you do with this team to have it more profitable, make more money, compete more in the current economic system? It would be to pick it up and move it somewhere else,” Phil Castellini said, before adding, “Be careful what you ask for.”
Translation: We’re here. You’re lucky. Show some respect.
As a marketing strategy, that’s not quite up there with, “We’re going to bring championship baseball back to Cincinnati.”
At 9:05 p.m., the Reds did send a press release with the following apology from Phil Castellini: “I apologize to Reds fans and regret the comments that I made earlier today. We love this city, we love this team, and we love our fans. I understand how our fans feel and I am sorry.”
Look, ball-o-nomics are not a good deal in the short term in little media-market towns. In the long term – return on investment – owning a baseball team has been better than owning a truckful of P&G stock. The problem with that is, you don’t get paid until you cash in. And nobody in charge at Pretty Good American Ball Park is suggesting ownership take out a home equity loan.
The problem isn’t the facts. The problem is the attitude. Phil Castellini’s candor on WLW was another jab to the jaws of Reds fans. He implied fans should be grateful, when actually the opposite is true. Without customers, there is no product, whether you’re selling tickets or tomatoes.
As far as the Reds moving elsewhere, that’s not going to happen. And since when is a team’s ownership revered for keeping the team in a town that has supported it to the ends of the earth? Is that what we’re down to now, with the Cincinnati Reds? Is that our standard?
Some days, baseball works best as a concept. Even opening day. The pregame Tuesday was perfection. Joe Burrow throwing the ceremonial first pitch to Zac Taylor was genius and a gracious way for the Reds to honor (not begrudge) the success down the street.
Having Ja’Marr Chase, best NFL rookie, present Jonathan India, best NL rookie, with India’s award was classy and inspired. Honoring Cincinnati’s Olympians was a nice touch, as was the remembrance of the heroes of Ukraine. The Reds under the Castellini ownership have always displayed care and class, even as the on-field product has faltered more often than not.
If only they didn’t have to play the game.
There were a few good moments. Tyler Naquin absolutely hurt a pitch from Guardians reliever Anthony Gose. The eighth-inning blast carried 428 feet to the batter’s eye in dead center field and completed the Reds rally from a 4-0 deficit.
The exit velocity was 105 mph, which evidently is very fast, if that concerns you. It didn’t seem to matter much to Naquin. “All (the baseball) has got to do is clear the yellow line,” he said.
The game was 4-4 after eight innings, so David Bell dwelt on the comeback, not the ninth-inning failings of relievers Hunter Strickland and Daniel Duarte. “Don’t give up,” said Bell. “Even if you don’t win, it can really carry over.”
Let’s hope Strickland’s four runs allowed in a third of an inning doesn’t carry over. “Hunter’s going to be one of our guys,” Bell allowed. “He’s going to pitch in close games.” The manager said inserting Strickland in the ninth inning of a tie game “was an easy decision.”
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The Reds have an 11-man bullpen, so it could be confusing to pick the right guy night after night. It could also be easy for a few of the 11 relievers to get less work than an eight-track tape. We’ll see.
Meanwhile for sheer intrigue, nothing beat Joey Votto’s walk-up music: Jolene, written and performed by Dolly Parton about, she once said, a bank teller who had a crush on Parton’s husband.
Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Joleeeene!
There will be better days this year. The Reds youth will be interesting if not always capable. Those players will bring hope, legit hope, and without hope in baseball, what have you got?
In 2022, you’re cheering an idea (Reds baseball) that has flourished since 1876. It’d be wise for Phil Castellini to give that some thought and to recall it every so often. He might own the team. But it doesn’t belong to him.