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A Reds Fan Goes to Petco Park

Jeffery Carr

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© Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Petco Park has got to be one of the best places to watch a ballgame in this country, not named Great American Ballpark.

Nestled within the buildings on the south side of downtown San Diego, the home of the Padres was just a few blocks from the hotel my newlywed wife and I were staying at for our week out west. We walked through the Gaslamp District (San Diego’s OTR) to get to it and entered on the north side. There, greeting you as if you were to begin some sort of maze, were three choices.

You could either veer right to ride an escalator up to the main concourse, you could go left and tour through the Padres’ Hall of Fame, or you could split the difference and check out the left field terrace. Being the huge baseball nerd that I am, my wife and I entered the Hall of Fame.

Comparatively, the Padres’ Hall of Fame is much smaller than the Reds’. In fact, the entirety of it is, essentially, the first room that you come to in the Reds’ Hall of Fame. In the middle of the circular room there are replicas of team memorabilia while on the wall is a timeline that begins with the founding of the franchise and leads to now. Even had stuff about Ken Caminiti in there, to the chagrin of steroid era detractors, I’m sure.

When you exit the Hall of Fame, it spits you right back out to where you must again pick a fork in the road. With it being Tuesday, the Padres have a killer Taco Tuesday promo: $2.50 tacos, all throughout the park. So, we walked up to the left field terrace and grabbed a couple of carnitas tacos. I’m no food critic, but I do love food, and these tacos were phenomenal. We then got back to navigating the park, which isn’t a continuous circle, like Great American. The entrance we came in would be like if you came in at Gapper’s Alley in GABP and on one side you went straight to left field, and nowhere else, while the other side led you to the rest of the park.

The main concourse was packed with food and drink vendors. There were a lot of options, including tri-tip steak sandwiches and tacos. You may or may not be aware of tri-tip, but basically it is a tender cut of steak that they sell out west, and it is quite good. So, with a tri-tip sandwich and a Giant Killer (a special adult beverage for their series with San Francisco) in tow, we made our way to our seats, down the third base line.

Side note: I’m a Hawaiian shirt guy…yeah, I see you rolling your eyes…and there aren’t that many of those around Cincinnati. Decided to wear one to the Padres game, and I was not alone. At Petco, if you aren’t wearing a jersey, you’re wearing a Hawaiian shirt, and that is a scientific fact. Anyway, back to the regularly scheduled post.

The Padres’ Clayton Richard and the Giants’ Dereck Rodriguez were in the midst of a pitcher’s duel, so we decided to go explore some more. Petco doesn’t have one long bar with numerous taps, but what it does have are multiple one-off vendors with their own taps. Places like Coronado Brewing Co., Mission Brewery, and even a brewery called Pizza, each had their own cart pouring beer from the tap. I got the “Guava Islander” from Coronado Brewing Co. and it was decent.

On the upper concourse is an area like the Fioptics District at Great American. It has panoramic views of the bay and the skyline while also giving you a good view of the game. The area is on top of the Western Metal Supply Co., by the left field foul pole. Had it’s own bar with hot dogs and stuff on the menu. Good place to catch a game, supposing the ticket prices are the same as the Fioptics District.

Overall, the game atmosphere was slightly different from Great American. I don’t recall there being an organ, or there might have been a slightly more electronically sounding one, if any. The feeling was a little more innocuous compared to Great American. The game day staff do a really good job, here in Cincy, keeping the crowd engaged and Petco just seemed slightly more hands-off, even though their rivals were in town.

I still love my home away from home away from home in Great American, but seeing another ballpark kind of has me itching to go to others. Might just end up writing about them here, at Locked on Reds, too.

Check us out on Twitter @LockedonReds and @jefffcarr

Jeff has spent his entire life around sports. From playing baseball and golf in high school to traveling with college softball, volleyball, and men’s basketball teams as their media relations guy, sports have been at the center of his mind. Just as comfortable talking spread offenses as he is talking Sabermetrics, get ready for simplistic views of complicated sports jargon. The Queen City is his home and he is excited to write about the Reds and the Bengals.

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Jeff Brantley talks Bell, new pitching coach Derek Johnson and more

James Rapien

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I discuss one free agent pitcher that should be on the Reds’ radar, plus Jeff Brantley joins me to discuss the hiring of manager David Bell and pitching coach Derek Johnson on today’s podcast. Listen and subscribe below.

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Cincinnati Reds

Bell hiring finally rings in a new century for Reds

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The innovators are often criticized. It’ll never work, they’re told.

Wind the baseball tighter to allow more home runs? Ty Cobb hated it because it took the science out of the game. But Babe Ruth loved it, so did the fans and the sport grew. Show sports on a cable channel for 24 hours a day? Nobody will watch that. The Internet? It’s just a fad.

The Cincinnati Reds love their tradition, so it’s no surprise that it has taken them this long to embrace the modern game. This is baseball, not math, the Reds have said for the past 20 years while others have proven that math matters. Not the kind of math of counting stats that says he’s a good hitter or pitcher because he has this many of this or that. But the kind of math that looks at percentages and formulas that aren’t easy to understand. They call it analytics and it makes old-timers (mostly people over 30) roll their eyes from man caves to the broadcast booth. A lack of understanding is not a reason to dismiss an idea. It’s a reason to learn before you judge.

The Reds have finally been convinced that their way doesn’t work anymore. They’ve stopped rolling their eyes, let go of the eye-rollers who blocked progress and hired a manager with vision. Those old ways once worked for the Reds — though not as much as we’d like to think— when all teams did it that way. But when smarter ways to build a good team passed them by, so did their ability to win.

To be fair, the Reds have been moving in this direction, the one Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s began following in 1997. The Reds have an analytics director and three people they call data scientists. The problem is that too much of that information was stopping at the field manager’s door. The guys running the dugout weren’t doing enough with it. They were baseball men, after all, and they only trusted their eyes and tradition more than a spreadsheet or report they probably didn’t take the time to understand.

And the front office allowed the dysfunction to fester through Baker, Price and Riggleman. Finally, there is reason to believe that the Cincinnati Reds aren’t stuck in the 20th century.

There’s a new guy in the dugout named David Bell who has caught this vision since he left the Reds organization after managing in the minors. He’s worked for the Cardinals, Cubs and Giants, teams that have obviously done a lot more right in recent seasons than the Reds have. Yes, Bell had to leave the Reds to learn a better way.

When Bell was introduced as the new manager he said things that were an indictment of the front office and on-field dysfunction. He talked about how all of the information had to be considered from upstairs to downstairs. He asked for an offseason office upstairs and will live in Cincinnati in the offseason.

He has this crazy idea that the front office and manager’s office ought to actually work together and have shared leadership instead of a top-down model that didn’t work. Remember Jesse Winker from odd-man out to everyday right fielder in a 24-hour period? Then there was the indecision about what to do with Homer Bailey. Who’s in charge we wondered? Does this team have a strategy?

Bell surely interviewed the Reds as much as they interviewed him. He discovered the lack of communication between the front office and the dugout. He must have told Dick Williams he’s ready to listen to them, and it appears they’re ready to listen to him.

This is good for the Reds. A true strategy that teaches on-field fundamentals and has an appreciation for complex data will have a chance to develop and flourish. Players will come up from the minors and maybe not sit the bench. They won’t hear a different message from the one they’ve heard in the minors.

Now this is going to take some getting used to if you don’t buy all this analytics mumbo-jumbo. The in-game moves and strategies won’t be what your used to:

  • The lineup might not be predictable.
  • You won’t agree with a lot of pitching changes.
  • You’ll wonder why Winker isn’t playing tonight.
  • Why not bunt in this situation, you’ll wonder.

And the offseason moves:

  • Why did they sign that guy?
  • Why didn’t they sign that guy?
  • Who are these all these prospects we just got for a proven player?
  • Those aren’t the pitchers we should have gone after?

Not every move will work, but you have to play the percentages. Not every move (not even close to it) worked the old way. It’s a new world in Cincinnati. If you still have a Big Red Machine hangover, get over it. Rose, Morgan, Bench and Perez would have been free-agent eligible by 1975. In today’s market, there is no way all of them (if any of them) would have been teammates that deep into their careers.

The Reds can’t compete with big payrolls. They must copy what other small-market teams like the A’s are doing. It’s the only way to have more good seasons than bad ones like the A’s have. And maybe they’ll find that year like they did in 1990.

That’s the promise of the Bell hiring. Not because he’s necessarily destined to be a great manager but because his hiring has signaled a fundamental change in the way the Reds intend to do business. Maybe Bell will preside over the next playoff team, maybe he won’t.

But at least we can finally welcome the Reds to the 21st century.

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Cincinnati Reds

Reds Tab Johnson to Lead Pitching Renaissance

Jeffery Carr

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© Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The second big move of the offseason for the Cincinnati Reds came last night with the signing of a new pitching coach, Derek Johnson. The Reds nabbed him from Milwaukee, a team that largely outperformed expectations to finish 6th in pitching.

Johnson has been the Brewers pitching coach for four seasons and is highly regarded by the league and pretty much everyone. Those who are around the Reds organization are 100% on board with this hire.

His departure, while the third Milwaukee assistant to jump ship, drew the ire of those around the Brewers organization.

Sometimes reactions are evidence enough, but let’s look into Derek Johnson. He was a college pitcher, but never toed the rubber in the major leagues. Doesn’t seem to have hindered him in the coaching arena, where he has a ton of experience. He began coaching in college, and even coached at Vanderbilt for a bit, who happen to be pretty good at baseball. He even coached Sonny Gray, there, who is a possible target to bring into the Reds rotation.

His foray into professional coaching began with coordinating the Cubs minor league pitchers 2013 through 2014. That’s when the Brewers hired him onto their pitching coaching staff. Once with the Brew Crew, he immediately got to the developing of guys like Chase Anderson, Junior Guerra, Jhoulys Chacin, and other overachievers. Heck, the guy wrote the book on pitching, back in 2012 (see The Complete Guide to Pitching).

Another key factor, which has been the theme pf the Reds offseason, is he’s a coach who embraces analytics. He doesn’t go only analytics, though, and tends to use what will best aid a pitcher, without over-informing him. One thing that has been prevalent in interviews with David Bell is that there is a happy medium with analytics, and Johnson is on board with that.

Johnson also had a quote, in an interview with the Journal Sentinel, that I found interesting, and it just continues to excite me about this hire. On the question of if his personality is that of anonymity, he said this:

“I would say for sure. First off, this game is never about a coach. It’s always about the players. Players play, coaches coach. For me, we’re grinding away in the bullpens and we’re working on stuff in the games and trying to figure out what to do next and, really, that’s my main job and my main focus. The interviews, and all that kind of stuff, that’s for the players.”

I found this to be of interest, too:

Journal Sentinel: “The sentiment outside the organization coming into the season was that Brewers needed to sign or trade for 1-2 established starters in order to contend. Instead, Jhoulys Chacín was signed to a smaller, shorter deal and you’ve relied on your holdovers to fill out the rotation with Jimmy Nelson out and Chase Anderson and Zach Davies not pitching as well as they did in 2017. How satisfying is that?”

Derek Johnson: “I’m very proud of them. I’m very proud of how they’ve gone out and competed and stuck with some of the things that we’ve done in the bullpen and where we’re trying to go. I think a big part of my personality and the way I think of things is, ‘These are our guys – they’re Brewers.’ And right now, the other guys who aren’t Brewers, they don’t concern me at all, and they won’t until they become Brewers. That’s above my pay grade. What I have are 13 guys and we’re doing the best we can with them. They’re our guys right now, and I like it that way. I don’t want for anything else. It’s what we are and who we have and these are the guys that are putting the uniform on every day. I think it’s really important and honorable for us to think of it that way. I don’t care about other pitchers; I care about them.”

From what I gather from all the sources and people I’ve read, this is a good hire. Welcome to Cincinnati, Derek Johnson.

Follow @jefffcarr and @lockedonReds on Twitter for more content.

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