On the day the full squad dressed for the first time for spring training, Cincinnati Reds manager Jerry Narron stood in the middle of the clubhouse with several messages.
One of them he considered ultra-important.
"I told them, `I'm tired of hearing people say they love to see Ryan Freel play. I want them to say they love to see the Cincinnati Reds play,' and that's exactly what I told them," Narron said.
That's part of Narron's everyday credo about playing the game hard and playing the game right -- the way it is played by Freel and Chris Denorfia, two guys who get the most out of what isn't star stuff.
Denorfia, the organization's minor-league player of the year, is trying to capture an extra outfield spot and has tough competition from veterans like Tuffy Rhodes and Quinton McCracken, plus the fact Freel and Tony Womack play the outfield, too.
But Denorfia already is in his play-the-game-hard and play-the-game-right mode. On Sunday in Tampa, he made a diving, belly-flopping catch in center field to end the game with the Reds leading, 4-1. The New York Yankees had two runners on base.
And Narron noted two at-bats in which Denorfia didn't get a hit -- once when he hit the ball to the right side to move a runner from second to third and once when he hit a deep fly to the deepest part of the park for a sacrifice fly.
As Narron notes, those things shouldn't have to be pointed out for praise, they should be ingrained. That's what he wants the 2006 Cincinnati Reds to be.
"It is the only way to win baseball games," he said.
It'll be interesting to look back on Narron being so full of praise for Freel and Denorfia if the season starts and Ryan Freel is riding the pine so that Tony Womack or Rich Aurilia can play. Oh, and if Chris Denorfia in AAA.
Hopefully Narron will turn out to be a harmless old "pound the Budweiser" type of codger, but he's got the potential to do some real damage with his love of veterans and "playing the game the right way". Let's hope he really means what he's saying here about Freel and Denorfia and we'll see Freel at second on Opening Day and Denorfia as the fourth outfielder.