Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Misconceptions of the job

Sportswriting might be the most misunderstood profession. In that vein, I'll try to address your most commonly asked questions and comments here:

1) Do you drink beer at the games?

No. Like most workplaces, the press box and media areas are alcohol free. Can you imagine being required to watch entire sporting events on a daily basis without so much as a taste of brew? Welcome to our world.

2) Does your wife/girlfriend/family member/friends go to the games with you?

No. Media credentials are non-transferable. Besides, I don't believe any of them would enjoy spending three hours watching me type.

3) I'm sorry your team lost.

Not to sound condescending, but we really don't care. Covering a winning team can make writing easier and the season pass more quickly, but it is largely irrelevant in our work. In fact, after a grueling 162-game schedule, a lot of writers would rather go on vacation than cover another three weeks of postseason games.

4) Your deadlines are at 4 a.m. so you can go home and write after a game.

Uh, try 10:30 to 11:00 p.m. Who do you think delivers the papers to your doorstep by 6 a.m. - Santa Claus? There are times when we have 15-20 minutes to finish, read-through and send a story before deadline. Sometimes less. It can be a harrowing experience, trust me.

5) Can you get me tickets to the big game?

Most reporters have no idea how/where to buy tickets. They attend games to work. Some may know who to contact within the organization regarding tickets but freebies are rare and often against the rules.

6) Are you friends with any of the players?

Some player/reporter relationships are better than others. But, journalism ethics requires us to be at arms-length. A print reporter would never want to endanger his/her objectivity by befriending athletes. The athletes/coaches are clients in a sense. They have information which is vital for us to perform our jobs effectively. It's a business relationship.

7) You get to watch games for free, awesome!

Yes, it's nice of them to not charge us admission to go to work. Keep in mind, we actually have to watch. No leaving early to beat the traffic. Whether it's 45-0 or in overtime, we have to stay until the end with responsibilities throughout. Depending upon the sport, we're usually at the stadium/ballpark hours before the game and heading home a couple of hours afterward.

8) You must know everything about the team(s) you cover.

Not even close. That's why we typically have a stack of media guides, game notes, rosters and stats piled high at all times. We're human. We look things up.

9) You must love what you do.

Yes, without question. It's like stealing money - most days.

Monday, February 27, 2006

For those of you who have asked ...

I will not be attending Reds spring training this year.

As much as I would have enjoyed working amid the sun and surf in Sarasota, I have responsibilities that will keep me grounded in the Queen City.

It's not all bad.

This is shaping up to be a busy week of covering basketball districts in both Ohio and Kentucky followed by the A-10 men's basketball tourney at US Bank Arena next week and the NCAA Tournament first and second rounds in Dayton the following week.

By then, Opening Day will be only two weeks away.

For those who haven't noticed, the Reds will not be making their customary stop in Louisville for an exhibition game this year. Instead, they will conclude the spring training schedule against the Indians in Sarasota on Saturday, April 1 before heading north for Sunday's pre-Opening Day workout at Great American Ball Park.

A familiar face

When you're asked by the Enquirer to cover a district gymnastics meet, you expect to do so in relative anonymity.

But, as I toiled over my notes at the Southwest District meet at Centerville High School on Saturday, I received a surprise greeting from a familiar face - longtime WCPO news anchor Randy Little.

Little's daughter, Brittany, is a member of the Turpin High gymnastics team and he was on hand to photograph the event and lend support to the Spartans who finished in second place and qualified for the state meet.

At the time of his "forced" retirement from Channel 9 in 2001, Little was the longest-running local TV news anchor. He is now doing some radio news reports for B-105 and WGRR.

Little, who once interviewed former President George Bush aboard Air Force One, offered this theory as to why his television career ended so abruptly:

"It's a young man's business now," he said.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

'Shootout' a season-changer

The annual Crosstown Shootout has often been a season-changer, of sorts, for both UC and Xavier.

Remember when XU was 10-9 going into the 2003 'Shootout'? The Musketeers beat UC to begin a historic season-ending run that didn't end until the Elite Eight.

This season, XU's fortunes have gone an entirely different direction.

Sean Miller's club was 13-2 after beating the Bearcats, on the verge of the Top 25 and what seemed to be a certain NCAA Tournament berth.

Since then, senior center Brian Thornton has suffered a season-ending injury, senior guard Dedrick Finn has been kicked off the team and XU is eyeing the NIT - if they're lucky.

Meanwhile, UC, the Crosstown Shootout losers and a team with a full deck stacked against them from the beginning of the season, are close to locking up a tourney bid and making head coach Andy Kennedy a candidate for Big East Coach of the Year.

A victory over No. 2-ranked Villanova tonight would put a cap on a remarkable regular season for the Bearcats.

It bears mentioning, that I began touting Kennedy for Coach of the Year honors early in the season. If he wins it, I'll guzzle a nice cold cup of I Told You So. Still a longshot, however.

There are a lot of very good teams and coaches in the Big East who are having outstanding seasons.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

No 'In the Game' column next week

A note for those of you who read my 'In the Game' column in the Downtowner Newspaper (I understand it's somewhat of a cult following) ... there will not be a column in the February 28 issue.

Other writing commitments have forced me to forgo the weekly column.

It'll come back strong the following week with some Reds spring training notes and whatever else we deem newsworthy.


Tuesday, February 21, 2006

New Reds player was 'Moneyball' star

Scott Hatteberg has never batted better than .300 in his major league career but one chapter in a best-selling book made the Reds’ newest first baseman a household name among baseball purists.

Michael Lewis’ bombshell Moneyball devoted more than 20 pages to Hatteberg’s attributes as a ballplayer.

The premise was to prove Paul DePodesta, who was the Oakland A’s assistant GM at the time, correct in his assertion that a club could win with nine Hatteberg’s in the lineup. In fact, DePodesta went as far as to determine that Hatteberg would have out-produced the New York Yankees by as many as 950 runs to 897 if he had taken every at-bat for the A’s over a full season.

We’ll soon find out what impact Hatteberg will have in Great American Ball Park.

The Reds signed the 36-year old to a one-year contract last week. The deal was reported to be worth $750,000 plus incentives. Wayne Krivsky signed Hatteberg less than four days after being named the new Reds general manager.

“He's certainly a professional hitter that takes good at-bats,” said Krivsky. “We have good reports on him.”

Hatteberg batted .256 with seven home runs and 59 RBI in 134 games for Oakland last season. He’ll likely back-up Adam Dunn at first base this season.
Talk about contrasting styles.

Dunn’s stat-line is consistent with that of most prolific power hitters. He hit 40 home runs with 101 RBI but struck out 168 times. He also had 114 walks and an on-base percentage of .387 in 543 at-bats.

Hatteberg, meanwhile, had on on-base percentage of .334 but only fanned 54 times in 464 at-bats. He walked 51 times breaking a streak of five consecutive seasons in which Hatteberg walked more times than he struck out.

Dunn avoided arbitration by signing a two-year deal worth in excess of $18 million. The acquisition of Hatteberg is certainly no threat to Dunn’s status on the team but it might be an indication of the attributes most valued by Krivsky and CEO Bob Castellini.

During his introductory news conference, Castellini referenced Sabermetrics as a valuable statistical tool in player evaluation.

“There's definitely room for Sabermetrics,” he said. “We won’t let it take over our baseball operations, but there is a need for it.”

Moneyball sent shockwaves through the baseball community with its suggestion that statistics could one day replace scouts and render many age-old player evaluation concepts obsolete.
Krivsky and Castellini aren’t likely to take things to that extreme but the dynamics of the Reds’ day-to-day lineup need to be re-tooled.

Too many strikeouts. Not enough situational execution at the plate.

Hatteberg, who owns a career .356 on-base percentage, has walked 432 times in his career. In 2004 with the A’s, he walked 72 times and struck out only 48 in 550 at-bats.

Former Reds GM Dan O’Brien got pounded for instituting a program in the minor leagues which required batters to refrain from swinging at the first pitch.

Hatteberg, who began his career with the Red Sox before they unceremoniously dumped him following an injury-plagued 2001 season, doesn’t swing at nearly 65-percent of the pitches thrown his way.

“There was nothing I hated more,” he said once. “than swinging at the first pitch and ground out. It struck me as a worthless experience.”

Might as well cue the Kiss-cam at Great American Ball Park when he’s at the plate. We’re going to be here awhile.

Hatteberg, who was signed solely as an insurance policy for Dunn at first base, will likely play a limited role with the club.

His signing was just one of several player personnel and front office moves made by Krivsky in his first week as GM. The Reds also acquired pinch-hitting specialist Quinton McCracken and local product Tuffy Rhodes.

DePodesta and the A’s waited exactly one minute to make Hatteberg an offer after the Rockies relinquished his rights at midnight on December 20, 2001. Krivsky waited four days to snare the Moneyball star.

The Reds don’t need nine Hatteberg’s on their roster to prove DePodesta’s point.

They should be pleased with having just one.

Friday, February 10, 2006

'Cool Hand' Luke gets handshake and designation

Luke Hudson ended the 2004 season as the Reds' most promising young pitcher going 4-1 with a 1.67 ERA in his final eight starts. Last season, he dropped to 6-9 with a 6.38 ERA in 16 starts.

Today, Hudson was designated for assignment to make room for left-hander Michael Gosling who was claimed off waivers from the Diamondbacks.

The 25-year old Gosling, who was selected by Arizona in the second round of the 2001 first-year player draft, recovered from shoulder surgery to make his big-league debut in 2004.

He split last season between Triple-A Tucson and Arizona going a combined 4-9 with a 5.56 ERA in 30 games including 22 starts.

The Reds have 10 days to trade, release or outright Hudson.

6:10 p.m. home games

If you look closely at the Reds 2006 schedule you'll notice a time change for Saturday night games at Great American Ball Park.

Rather than the traditional 7:10 p.m. start, the game-times have been moved up an hour.

Not sure how the fans will react to the change, but from a reporter's standpoint, leaving the park an hour earlier (10:30 vs. 11:30) is a much better deal, especially the night before a Sunday afternoon game.

Of course, this will also necessitate an earlier arrival which cuts into time for yard work. Hey, even better!

Krivsky fires one signs another

Wayne Krivsky's first day as Reds GM resulted in assistant GM Brad Kullman's ouster and the signing of Timo Perez to a minor-league contract.

The first move was no surprise. The second was anything but a bombshell.

Still, Krivsky is beginning to live up to his no-nonsense reputation that helped convince Reds CEO Bob Castellini to hire him in the first place.

Kullman told the local papers that we wasn't surprised by the move since it's common practice for a new GM to free up space within the organization to bring in his own people. But, he was understandably hurt after 11 productive years with the Reds.

I always enjoyed speaking with Kullman. He's a personable, intelligent guy. He'll land on his feet.

Just a hunch, but I think the changes which have occured during the past month are just the beginning. The tree's being shook. Who will be the next leaf to fall?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Krivsky's the man

The Reds will formally introduce Twins assistant GM Wayne Krivsky as their new general manager at a news conference at 6 p.m. today.

Unfortunately, I will be en route to Wyoming High School to cover a boys basketball game for the Enquirer and will be unable to attend the press conference.

The timing of Krivsky's hiring does cooperate nicely with the deadline for my weekly Downtowner column, however.

I think the Reds made the right choice. My take will be forthcoming, but first things first.

I must deal with the matter of undefeated Wyoming, the state's 8th-ranked team in Division II, looking to clinch a share of the Cincinnati Hills League title and remain undefeated against rival Deer Park.

I'd rather be engaged in a Q&A with the new Reds GM, but oh well ...

Friday, February 03, 2006


That's the number of knee surgeries Barry Bonds underwent last season. It is also now the number of name changes the Giants home ballpark has undergone since opening in 2000.

First PacBell Park, then SBC Park and now (cue the drum roll, please) ... AT&T Park.

Yep, the deal was made official today.

How long before Giants broadcasters are required to say Bonds "dialed long distance".


Paul Wilson working his way back

Reds right-hander Paul Wilson is a hard worker, almost to a fault. You won't find a better conditioned athlete in baseball. That's what has made the past several months most difficult for the 32-year old pitcher.

Wilson, who had season-ending shoulder surgery in June after going 1-5 with a 7.77 ERA, was in town Thursday to discuss his re-hab.

"Every week, I'm getting stronger," Wilson told MLB.com. "I can see and feel my arm getting stronger every week. I'm really encouraged."

Any hopes the Reds have of being competitive in the NL Central Division may rely heavily on Wilson's full recovery.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

When was the last time ....

a Top Ten college basketball team was listed as an underdog against an unranked team?

Well, it's happening tonight at Cintas Center.

Xavier has been installed as a 3 1/2 point favorite over No. 10 George Washington.

The Colonials haven't won in Cincinnati in five years. Perhaps that's one reason for the unusual line. Another may be GW's schedule which is among the weakest in the country.

Still, the Musketeers have played poorly since their overtime win over Cincinnati, losing at home to Saint Louis and on the road at Temple before beating Dayton on Saturday.

A sellout crowd, and somebody named Dick Vitale, will be on hand at witness tonight's grudge match between two Atlantic-10 powers.

The game's on ESPN2 at 7 p.m.

Wren may have an edge

Frank Wren, the Braves vice president and assistant GM, may have an edge amid the plethora of Reds' GM hopefuls.

Wren is a local guy. The Lakota High School graduate grew up rooting for the Reds.

His most valued asset, however, is his experience working for one of the most respected organizations in baseball in Atlanta.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

An intriguing candidate ...

Atlanta Braves assistant GM Frank Wren's name was added tonight to the list of candidates for the Reds general manager post.

Wren was Baltimore's GM for one year before becoming a casualty of Peter Angelos' overhaul of the Orioles organization. He has spent the past few years working alongside GM-extraordinaire John Schuerholz in Atlanta.

Wren was rumored to be among the candidates for the Reds GM job after Jim Bowden was fired. There was no initial indication of when his interview with new Reds CEO Bob Castellini might take place.

Wrigley renovation

A mild winter of historic proportions has allowed construction crews in Chicago to work at break-neck speed during the renovation and expansion of Wrigley Field.

The $13.5 million project will add 1,800 seats to the Cubs' home ballpark by extending the bleachers outward toward the grandstand. In addition, new restrooms, concession areas and television screens will be added on the ground- level of the bleachers.

Included within the scope of the work will be netting placed underneath the roof of the grandstand to prevent pigeons from roosting in the upper deck.

I guess the Cubs organization figured their fans had been crapped on enough.

Castellini to put his stamp on Reds

The knot in Robert H. Castellini’s tie isn’t always set straight but - in a shrewd business sense - he always seems put-together.

As he addressed fans and the media for the first time after being formally introduced as new Reds CEO, Castellini didn’t appear completely comfortable as a public speaker. He stumbled over his words and, at times, hesitated mid-thought.

But, when reporters asked Castellini about his plans for the Reds, he offered a cold stare and delivered a stern response.

“We didn’t get the ball from the Reds to wallow in mediocrity,” he said. “If that’s all we have to offer, we shouldn’t be hanging around long.”

This is the type of reply Reds fans have been eagerly awaiting from club ownership during the course of five consecutive losing seasons.

Castellini followed that up with a query for the circle of reporters that enveloped him.

“Fellas, don’t you get upset when you have to cover a ballclub that’s not a winner, not even a .500 club?” he asked. “I’m a lifelong Reds fan. I get upset. But … you guys have to swim in it everyday.”

The general objectivity inherent in our jobs prohibits us from fretting over wins and losses.

But, the Reds’ boss does have a point.

Controlling interest in the Reds was offered to Castellini’s group back in November. But, it took more than two months for Major League Baseball to formally approve the sale despite the group’s track record of more than 30 years of baseball ownership.

The complete list of partners will be announced in a few weeks. It may include a group of minority investors led by Ed Rigaud, a former P & G executive and president of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

The transfer of ownership came less than one month before the start of spring training leaving little time for any sweeping changes. But, less than 72 hours after assuming control of the Reds, Castellini swung the bat for the first time and promptly belted GM Dan O’Brien out of the park.

Castellini made it clear that he wanted to hire his “own guy” for the general manager position. A list of potential candidates for the job was beginning to emerge late last week.

By the time he approached the podium at his introductory new conference, Castellini had already begun to reshape the Reds organization.

“The biggest thing we’ve done is to separate the business side from the baseball side,” he said. “This business model is very comparable to the Cardinals. I think the business side of the Reds is very responsible. In the past, we had too many people trying to do too much.”

On the surface, this would appear to be a vote of confidence for Reds COO John Allen whose responsibilities now rest solely on the business side. We’ll see.

Castellini wants to name a new general manager within a few weeks. The new GM may have his own ideas about who should manage the club. The team is in Jerry Narron’s hands for now.

Interim GM Brad Kullman has been given Castellini’s blessing to pursue trade options. Austin Kearns and Wily Mo Pena have drawn interest.

Nothing is certain as pitchers and catchers prepare to report to spring training. Reds fans, who bought Opening Day tickets in a record 12 minutes last season only to watch their team stumble to a fifth-place finish, are facing yet another rebuilding plan.

But, Castellini shares their pain. He handed over his tickets and luxury suite out of frustration. He now says he wants to build a team “worthy of the unwavering loyalty of our fans”.

Major League Baseball made him wait for more than two months before singing off on the deal. Meanwhile, Castellini sat chomping at the bit to put his plan in place.

He does not hold patience as a virtue.

“We’ve got an ownership group that is passionate, energetic and hands-on,” Castellini said. “We’re going to give 110% to put a winning team on the field. We will not rest until the fans are happy.”

The Reds CEO insists that reporters call him “Bob”. Reds fans hope to soon refer to him as “savior”.