This is going to sound crazy. I know. You're going to think I'm nuts.
Thursday was the day I recaptured my Reds' fandom.
I live out of market, and don't get to catch very many Reds' games on TV. They're still the first box score I check in the morning, but, I don't know. Over the last year and a half, it's felt like there was something missing for me. I've been pretty relentlessly negative about all the moves Jocketty's made. I hated the Rolen trade, hated the Cabrera signing. Even when they signed Chapman, I spent almost as much time dreaming up scenarios where Dusty would blow out his arm, or where they'd put him in the bullpen "just to get his feet wet," he'd have success, and they'd just leave him there to pitch one inning every other day, as I did celebrating that they were showing a commitment to putting a good product on the field. Even as they took 2 of 3 from the Cardinals, vaulting them into first place, I just wasn't as invested as I've felt in the past. Then, Thursday happened.
It's all so obvious in hindsight.
I started following the Reds in 1986, when I was 6 years old. Good time to be a young Reds' fan, as they had several exciting players just starting their careers. One of those guys, in particular, I latched onto, and lived and died with his AB's (No, it's not who you're thinking. Nope, not him either).
The Big Kalvoski. Barry Larkin's brilliance wasn't immediately apparent to me at age 6, and Eric Davis shared his first name with my idiot little brother. So, Kal was my boy. I loved his all-around offensive game; the line-drive doubles and triples, swiping second damn near every time he got to first, the fact that he never struck out (Hey, I wasn't into sabermetrics in first grade. Back off.). When Kal got traded, I was crushed. Fortunately, I had just started pitching for my Little League team, and the Reds happened to have a young pitcher laying waste to the National League.
I wasn't allowed to throw a slider, but I got to watch Jose's. He brought the gas. He brought the Super Soaker on days he didn't pitch. He always seemed like he was having a great time just playing the game. His 1990 season was the definition of what an "Ace" was supposed to be, and his World Series brilliance sticks in my mind as the single greatest individual performance by an athlete I was rooting for. God, he was fun to watch. I even went to the first game of his "comeback" in Dayton in 2001 just to cheer him for all the great memories he had given me as a kid. Unfortunately, all those innings caught up to him and, just a season and a half removed from a 257 IP season where he posted a 2.48 ERA and led the league in strikeouts, his elbow exploded on him, and he was gone. But, by that time, I knew I was watching a Hall of Famer, and that it might be the only one I ever get the chance to root for.
Everything you could possibly do to win a baseball game, Barry did. He hit for contact. He hit for power. He worked the count. He ran the bases. He didn't get thrown out. He played brilliant defense at the toughest defensive position. He was the definition of a ballplayer. If his teammates did enough, the Reds were going to win, because Barry was absolutely not going to screw it up. He was just consistently great; every year, every game, every inning. It's rare that you're able to appreciate greatness as you're watching it, but with Barry, it was just that obvious. Larkin was fortunate to have a long, brilliant career, and as it was winding down, an exciting young player started hitting moon shots into the seats at Riverfront.
Rooting for The Donkey carried me through some lean times. Even when the Reds were scuffling 10 games below .500 in July, Dunn was the guy who could put a charge into the crowd with one swing. In a decade without a lot of highlights, Dunn's Grand Slam against the Indians and his one-hopper into the Ohio off Jose Lima kept me coming back. But then, Uncle Walt came to town, hired my least favorite manager in baseball, dealt my favorite player for a bunch of mediocre and/or injured roster filler, made the team older and worse, and put a huge dent in my interest in the Reds.
As you can see from my walk down Memory Lane, I've always, always, always had a Favorite Red. Even on a team I rooted like hell for, I had that one guy that, more than anyone else, I believed in, and defended against anybody telling me that they were the problem. After the Dunn Trade, I no longer had a Favorite Red. Joey Votto would be an obvious choice, I love his quiet stance at the plate and the fury of his swing. But, he just never seems to me like he's enjoying himself. As you can see from some of my previous Favorites, that's important to me. Plus, I'm pretty sure that given the opportunity, my wife would leave me for him. And I couldn't blame her. Jay Bruce could be that guy, but I think I already spent all the energy I have defending a big, goofy Texas slugger who strikes out too much. I'm getting old, I'm not sure how many more of those battles I have in me. So, I've been watching this team for the past year and a half without a piece I've always had that linked them to my childhood: My Favorite Red.
It looks like the Reds ordered a uniform for Harang, it came in with the wrong number, and somebody said "screw it, give it to the rookie."
He's got everything I like to see in a pitcher. He works quickly, keeping his fielders and his fans in the game at all times. He buried a 3-2 slider in the dirt, trusting that he could coax a swing from a hacker sitting dead red, expecting the rookie to groove one. Everything he throws darts into the zone or out of the zone, never finishing where it started. He, like Larkin, does every single thing he can to beat you; he fields his position extremely well, he takes good cuts in the box. Quite simply, Mike Leake is a joy to watch play the game. Yeah, I know the 9th inning on Thursday sucked. I know that using Owings to pinch hit is stupid if you're not going to put him in to pitch. I know that using Mike Lincoln for a second, let alone a third, inning is the dumbest thing you could possibly do with the Reds' bullpen. I know that playing Miguel Cairo and Laynce Nix in the same game is just begging for one of them to botch a routine play in a critical moment. I know all that.
But, let's not lose sight of what's important here. I got what I needed to get behind this team. I have a new Favorite Red. I'm back.