Friday, March 31, 2006

Ready to roll

We're still more than 72 hours away from the first pitch of the 2006 baseball season, but my work will begin in earnest on Sunday afternoon when both the Reds and Cubs take the field for their pre-Opening Day workouts at Great American Ball Park.

My task on Sunday will be to uncover any last-minute news tidbits for each team as they prepare to open the season and craft a notebook for each club's site.

On Monday, I'll be assigned to cover the Opening Day festivities ranging from the Findlay Market Parade to George W. Bush's first pitch. First-year beat writer Mark Sheldon, formally of the Twins, will take up the game coverage.

Beginning Friday, I'll step in for reporter Ed Eagle, who's not making the trip, and cover the Bucs during their weekend series with the Reds at Great American.

As always, look for my Reds coverage in the Downtowner Newspaper and

I'd like to invite you along as we stroll through the 2006 season. Hopefully, via this blog, I can paint a picture of the season and give you some insight into the day-to-day goings on.

Perhaps I can offer a little different perspective through the eyes of a freelance reporter.

Win or lose, there's always news. Should be fun. Play ball!

Thursday, March 30, 2006

You can still get 'em ...

Reds fans have one more chance to win tickets to Monday’s 2006 Opening Day sold-out game against the Chicago Cubs.

700 WLW Radio personalities will visit Cincinnati-area Kroger stores on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and Gameday Cafe on Pete Rose Way early on Monday. At each of those locations, plastic baseballs with prizes inside will be given away on a first-come, first-served basis.

Fans can win a pair of Opening Day tickets, Reds Hall of Fame passes, tickets to the April 8 game against the Pittsburgh Pirates or a coupon from Pepsi for a complimentary MDX energy drink. Five thousand plastic baseballs will be distributed.

Gametime at Great American Ball Park is 2:10 p.m. on Monday. President George W. Bush is scheduled to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

Schedule Of Appearances:

Friday: Hyde Park, 1:00 p.m., Mike McConnell
Saturday: Anderson, 10:00 a.m., Scott Springer Beckett Ridge, 1:00 p.m., Seg Dennison Delhi, 5:00 p.m., Jim Scott
Sunday: Union, 11:00 a.m., Andy Furman & Seg Dennison Kenwood, 3:00 p.m., Bill Cunningham.
Monday: Gameday Cafe, 5:00-9:00 a.m., Jim Scott
Gameday Cafe, 9:00-11:00 a.m., Mike McConnell & Tracy Jones

Monday, March 27, 2006

Hughes basketball coach dies

The local community lost a good one when Hughes High School boys basketball coach Greg Milles passed away Sunday night from an apparent heart attack.

More details are forthcoming.

Mills was a true gentleman and a wonderful role model for the kids at Hughes, which is an urban campus located adjacent to the University of Cincinnati.

Best wishes to the Mills family and the entire Hughes community.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Funny how things take care of themselves

Speculation about the Reds trading one of their catchers is on hold for the moment.

It was announced today that Jason LaRue will have arthroscopic surgery to repair the torn medial meniscus in his right knee.

The surgery will be performed Monday morning by Reds medical director Dr. Tim Kremchek in Cincinnati.

LaRue is expected to miss 10-14 days. He has not been placed on the disabled list. An MRI taken Sunday afternoon revealed the injury.

Javier Valentin will likely be the Reds starting catcher on Opening Day. Recently acquired David Ross will back up Valentin until LaRue returns.

Manager Jerry Narron would prefer to not carry three catchers. For now, he won't have to.

Friday, March 24, 2006

It's official

President George W. Bush will throw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to the Cincinnati Reds’ Opening Day game against the Chicago Cubs.

The Reds and Cubs will play Monday, April 3 at 2:10 p.m. ET at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.

Chief executive officer Bob Castellini said, “We’re proud to announce that the President will join us for the start of this new beginning for Cincinnati Reds baseball.”

President George Herbert Walker Bush threw out the first pitch in 2003, the inaugural regular-season game at Great American Ball Park. Vice President Dick Cheney had the honor in 2004 and U.S. Representative Rob Portman last season.

George W. Bush will be the first sitting president ever to throw out an Opening Day first pitch in the Queen City and only the second sitting president to participate in that pre-game ceremony here. President Richard M. Nixon threw out the first pitch prior to the 1970 All-Star Game at Riverfront Stadium.

Other Opening Day festivities include:

* Reds Hall of Fame pitcher Mario Soto will be the grand marshal of the 87th Findlay Market Parade.

* SS Felipe Lopez will receive his 2005 Silver Slugger Award.

* CF Ken Griffey Jr. will receive 2005 National League Comeback Player of the Year Awards from Major League Baseball and the MLB Players’ Association.

* Cincinnati resident and jazz artist Kathy Wade will sing our National Anthem.

* The anthem will be highlighted by a flyover of UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters, operated by the Indiana Army National Guard in Shelbyville, Indiana.

* During the seventh-inning stretch, Cincinnati fireman John Winfrey will sing God Bless America.

Other info:

Gates To Open At 10:10 A.M. Because of increased security on Opening Day, the gates at Great American Ball Park will open to fans at 10:10 a.m., 4 hours prior to gametime. Prior to entry, all fans will be screened and all carry-in items will be inspected. Fans will not be admitted with glass bottles, soft drink cans, aerosol cans, umbrellas, poles, sticks, horns, other noise makers or laser pointers. Fans can bring in soft drinks and water provided they are in clear plastic bottles with the seal unbroken. Insulated foam cups/containers are prohibited. In an effort to control the flow of the public through the ballpark gates, fans are discouraged from bringing to the game strollers, large bags, backpacks, coolers, camcorders, cameras with extended lenses or banners/signs. Pursuant to Major League Baseball regulations, no bags larger than 16 inches by 16 inches by 8 inches will be permitted inside the ballpark.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Coaching carousel

It's been a hectic day for those who cover UC Bearcats basketball.

UC, playing without seniors James White and Jihad Muhammad who were ruled ineligible hours before the game, lost to South Carolina in the quarterfinals of the NIT at Fifth Third Arena.

Shortly thereafter, interim coach Andy Kennedy accepts the job at Ole Miss and Mick Cronin, a former UC assistant and current Murray State head coach, takes over the helm at UC.

In high school hoops, North College Hill played without O.J. Mayo but still won to advance to the state championship game.

Earlier in the day, vanquished Bearcats coach Bob Huggins accepted the head coaching position at Kansas State.

Is it baseball season yet?

Huggy in the heartland

Reportedly, Bob Huggins has found a home ...


It's official. News conference scheduled for 5 p.m. ET.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Pity Rob Butcher

President George W. Bush will throw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to the Reds/Cubs game on Opening Day at Great American Ball Park.

Details are still being confirmed, but it appears Bush has agreed to participate in response to an invitation by his close friend, and Reds majority owner, Bob Castellini.

Opening Day is always a hectic time for Butcher and everyone associated with the Reds organization. But, recent visits to the ballpark by VP Dick Cheney and former President Bush have made the atmosphere in and around Great American Ball Park a bit tenuous.

Can you say, "pins and needles"?

Monday, March 20, 2006

Fresh off e-mail ...

Wily Mo Pena Sent To Boston For Starting Pitcher

CINCINNATI - The Cincinnati Reds today acquired RHP Bronson Arroyo and cash from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for OF Wily Mo Pena.

Arroyo, 29, went 14-10 with a 4.51 ERA in 35 games (32 starts) for the Red Sox last season. He established career highs in wins (14), starts (32) and innings pitched (205.1) while producing a team-high 20 quality starts.

Arroyo has appeared in the postseason in each of the last three seasons, including as a member of the 2004 World Champion Boston Red Sox.

Originally selected by the Pirates in the third round of the June 1995 draft, Arroyo owns a career record of 33-33 with a 4.59 ERA in 126 games (90 starts) with Pittsburgh (2000-02) and Boston (2003-05).

Pena, 24, batted .248 with 51 HR and 134 RBI in 302 games with the Reds from 2002-05.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Gotta give credit where it's due

More than 6,700 fans showed up Friday night at Fifth Third Arena for UC's first-round NIT game with Charlotte. Even Bearcats coach Andy Kennedy cited a few of the many reasons for the fans NOT to be there.

1. St. Patrick's Day.
2. Friday night.
3. The "real" tournament was on TV, and UC wasn't in it.
4. No beer was sold.
5. Did I mention, no beer was sold?

Granted, 6,700 is barely half Fifth Third Arena's capacity. But, the fans that were present were enthusiastic and loyal.

Sure, signs of the Selection Sunday hangover still lingered - one banner in the student section read: Is Air Force Better Than This?

But, the crowd roared encouragement throughout, even when the Bearcats trailed by eight points late in the second half. Following a spirited comeback by UC, chants of "Hire Andy" cascaded from the rafters.

As I banged out my 300-word AP wire story from the "Who Really Cares? Tournament", I couldn't help but be impressed.

I've had my issues with UC basketball fans in the past. But, sometimes the good fans show their true colors under the most interesting and trying circumstances.

Friday, March 17, 2006

So much for this theory ...

So much for picking teams which had strong finishes to the season to advance in the NCAA Tournament.

Iowa caught fire to win the Big Ten Conference Tournament title beating Ohio State and robbing the Buckeyes of a potential No. 1 seed.

Syracuse enjoyed a much-publicized run to the Big East title elevating themselves from the NIT to a No. 5 seed.

Both of those teams now have one thing in common: plane tickets home.

Shoulda seen it comin'.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Reds lose a good one

Mike Vassallo, the Reds assistant media relations director and favorite target of Marty Brennaman's abuse, is moving on.

The Milwaukee Brewers announced today that Vassallo has been named the club's Media Relations Director.

Prior to joining the Reds six seasons ago, Vassallo had spent three seasons in the New York Yankees Media Relations department.

A native of Long Island, N.Y., Vassallo is a 1997 graduate of the State University of New York College at Oswego. He will officially begin work with the Brewers on March 29.

After six seasons as an understudy to Rob Butcher, the best media relations director in the business, Vassallo is well-equipped to succeed in his new position.

Best of luck, Mike.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

North College Hill Invitational

Just returned from Wright State University where I was covering the Division III boys basketball tournament, a.k.a the North College Hill Invitational, for the Enquirer.

In our feature game, Madeira lost to a good Versailles team which shot a blistering 68% from the field and 57% from 3-point range.

Even if the Tigers can match that shooting performance, they're still likely to lose in the next round.

O.J. Mayo is apparently recovered from the pneumonia which caused him to miss the Trojans' first two tournament games. He scored 31 points and was 5-for-8 from 3-point range.

Bill Walker added 29 points including a handful of highlight-reel dunks. He also hit a 40-foot shot at the end of the first quarter.

NCH beat Bloom-Carroll 94-54. Next up - Versailles. Yawn.

Kudos to the Bloom-Carroll student section for starting the predictable "We don't recruit" chant.

Here you go ...

Monday, March 13, 2006

Cue the sound of crickets chirping ...

Has UC athletic director Mike Thomas or university president Nancy Zimpher commented on the Bearcats being unfairly denied a NCAA Tournament bid?

If they have, I've yet to hear or read it.

Not to incite the conspiracy theorists, but the 'Cats failure to reach the NCAA Tournament certainly makes it easier for Thomas/Zimpher to play hardball with Kennedy when it comes time to seriously discuss him as a candidate for head coach.


UPDATE: Thomas broke his silence to Bill Koch of the Enquirer earlier this week. He said he was surprised that the Bearcats did not earn a NCAA Tournament bid. He did say he was confident that the kids would play hard in the NIT. No mention or show of support for Andy Kennedy, which is no surprise.

Quality NCAA Tournament resume for UC?

Cincinnati was ranked No. 40 on

The Bearcats' schedule was ranked as the fifth-most difficult in the country.

Their non-conference schedule was ranked No. 22.

UC was 11-11 against teams in the top 100 RPI.

The 'Cats won four games against RPI top 50 teams.

They were 8-8 in the Big East Conference, the toughest league in America.

Andy Kennedy and his players certainly deserve a better explanation than the rhetoric they've recieved from the NCAA Tournament committee the past 24 hours.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Oh, back to my previous point ...

Two of the best coaching jobs in college basketball were done here in the Queen City:

Andy Kennedy rallying the UC Bearcats to the brink of a NCAA Tournament berth after the untimely ouster of head coach Bob Huggins and the loss of center Armein Kirkland to injury.


Sean Miller coaching a depleted Xavier team, which lost its starting center and starting point guard, to an A-10 Tournament title and a NCAA bid.


This was a first

I've had to protect my laptop from cold, heat and thieves. Never have I had to protect it from feet.

Following Xavier's dramatic one-point win over St. Joseph's to earn the A-10 title and a trip to the NCAA Tournament, the XU students rushed the court. One youngster in particular chose to use my table space as his personal launching pad. No damage done.

Two great scenes following Xavier's victory:

1) The team hoisting injured senior center Brian Thornton to the basket so he could have the honor of cutting the last strand from the net.

2) The entire Xavier team and coaching staff showing up at Game Day sports bar, located one block from the arena, where they shook hands and high-fived fans and well-wishers.

This is what makes college basketball such a special sport.

For some reason ...

my final post following Xavier's victory didn't make it to the blog last night - operator error I'm sure.

Xavier and St. Joe's are tied 59-59 with less than one minute remaining in the A-10 title game.

We'll re-visit last night's post depending upon the result here.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Closing in

Xavier leads Fordham 60-51 with 3:50 remaining in the game.

Fast and furious

Although the score doesn't indicate as such, the second half of Xavier/Fordham has been played at a frenetic pace.

With 7:38 remaining in the game, Xavier leads the Rams 50-46.

A couple of scores from the Big East Tournament have dropped jaws along press row at U.S. Bank Arena.

Syracuse rallied again, this time to upend No. 23 Georgetown 58-57.

At halftime, 16th-ranked Pittsburgh leads No. 2 Villanova 32-21.

In other news ...

Ken Griffey Jr. went 4-for-4 with two homers and 7 RBI today in the USA's 17-0 rout of South Africa in the World Baseball Classic.

The game was shortened to five innings when the tournament's mercy rule was invoked.

First one in the books

St. Joseph's 73
Temple 59

He should know, he played the game

Byron Larkin, Xavier's all-time leading scorer and color analyst on its radio broadcasts, disagreed with my suggestion that the Musketeers might prefer a matchup with St. Joseph's instead of Temple.

"I don't think so," said Larkin. "Either one would be a tough matchup for Xavier because they're so small. Temple's a weird team. You never know what to expect from them."

Hey, Larkin's the guy with the 2,696 career points. Not me.

St. Joseph's leads the Owls, 34-23, early in the second half.

Two college hoops greats

Moments ago, venerable Temple head coach John Chaney and Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson exchanged a hug and a handshake near the scorer's table at U.S. Bank Arena.

There are a lot of victories and achievements shared among those two men.

Chaney's Owls were preparing to take on the St. Joseph's Hawks in an A-10 semifinal game. Robertson was on a break from his stint on 700 WLW radio with host Andy Furman.

Game update:

St. Joseph's Chet Stachitas just hit a 3-pointer to put the Hawks ahead 12-5 with 12 minutes remaining in the first half.

Just a hunch, but I would imagine Xavier fans are rooting against Temple in this one.

Should they beat Fordham in this evening's other semifinal game, the Musketeers would face either Temple or St. Joe's in Saturday's championship game.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Do you think all we talk about is sports?

Picture Cincinnati Post columnist Lonnie Wheeler, Gannett News Services reporter Mike Lopresti, Associated Press reporter Mark Schmetzer and myself eating dinner in the media hospitality room at U.S. Bank Arena tonight. Can you guess the content of our conversation?

Was it about the upcoming Xavier/Charlotte matchup? The NCAA Tournament speculation surrounding the UC Bearcats? Was it in regard to some other general sports topic?


We were engaged in a lengthy, and quite well-informed, discussion about our favorite episodes of the Andy Griffith Show.

Everything was going fine until Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty showed up and got us on a Happy Days tangent.

Burrell was "big time"

Xavier's Stanley Burrell stood at the foul line preparing to shoot two potential season-saving free throws for the Musketeers.

From my vantage point in the first row of the scorer's table, I could overhear Justin Doellman say to Burrell, "Be big-time, baby. Be big-time".

He was.

Burrell scored 10 points including three crucial free throws down the stretch helping Xavier defeat Charlotte, 59-55. The Musketeers advance to play in the A-10 semifinals on Friday at 8:30 p.m.

After losing its starting center, Brian Thornton, to injury and having its starting point guard, Dedrick Finn, dismissed from the team, Xavier continues to play on.

The Musketeers have endured nearly as much adversity as the crosstown UC Bearcats this season.

Both team's postseason hopes are hanging in the balance.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The "bomb" finally dropped on Bonds

Kudos to the group of San Francisco Chronicle reporters who so thoroughly did their jobs on this one.

This is one fine example of journalism.

Barry, the ball's in your court.

Pitching, pitching, pitching ...

Reds pitchers faced their first batters of spring training last week and the results appeared all too familiar.

Tigers catcher Pudge Rodriguez sent Ben Kozlowski’s second pitch of Thursday’s opener sailing into Lakeland’s deep blue sky. Later in the day, former Red Reggie Taylor went deep off Ryan Wagner.

Eyewitnesses believe Taylor’s home run ball might have struck the scoreboard. Others wondered if it had yet to settle onto its final destination.

Kozlowski took the mound in place of Eric Milton who was nursing a strained right calf muscle. Milton, who established a club record last season by allowing 40 home runs, quickly became the poster boy for a series of ill-fated offseason acquisitions made last winter by former general manager Dan O’Brien.

The Reds have new ownership, a new GM and new-found optimism. But the concerns for this season remain the same – pitching, pitching, pitching.

If the Reds’ starting rotation to begin spring training is any indication, Aaron Harang will start against the Cubs on Opening Day at Great American Ball Park.

Harang, who went 11-13 with a respectable 3.83 ERA last season in 32 starts, was scheduled to face the Yankees on Saturday in Tampa. This would put the burly right-hander on pace – with normal rest – to take the mound on April 2.

“Aaron Harang definitely deserves a chance (to start on Opening Day),” said manager Jerry Narron, “But, we’ll see what happens.”

Here’s how the rotation shaped up as of last week:

Harang followed by left-handers Brandon Claussen, Dave Williams and Milton and, if all goes well, the surgically-repaired right-hander Paul Wilson. Justin Germano and Mike Gosling are among those waiting in the wings in case Wilson suffers a setback.

But, Narron isn’t convinced. Not only is the Reds rotation not written in stone, he said it isn’t even set in “mud”.

Few big-league ballclubs are willing to put a stamp on their starting rotation in the first week of spring training.

But, who could blame Narron if he’s waiting for the reincarnation of Cy Young to fly into Bradenton/Sarasota Airport?

After last season, coaches Soto and Browning are as capable.

Reds pitchers ranked last in the National League with a 5.15 ERA. It was the first time since 1968 that the Reds achieved that dubious distinction. Aided by Milton, the Reds allowed 219 home runs - just 17 shy of the club record established the season before. They were the only staff in the major leagues in 2005 to allow more than 200 home runs.

Much to Narron’s chagrin, the Reds rotation probably is set. The news isn’t all bad, however.

Harang made significant strides in his development last season as did Claussen who went 10-11 with a 4.21 ERA. Claussen ended the season with two rocky starts, but he did go 4-1 with a 3.58 in August.

Williams entered spring training camp with a target placed squarely on his back. I don’t envy “The guy Sean Casey was traded for” but the best way to shed that tag is to perform well on the mound.

Williams, who turns 27 next week, appears quite capable of doing so after going 10-11 with a 4.41 ERA for the Pirates last season.

Wilson is the wild card in all of this. He went 11-6 in 29 starts in the 2004 before undergoing season-ending last June. His numbers in nine starts prior to being shut down were an atrocious 1-5, 7.77.

If Wilson returns at full strength, the Reds have a starting rotation stocked with guys capable of posting double-figures in victories. Even Milton has four seasons of 13 or more wins on his big-league resume.

Rarely is there a spring training in which a surprise performance or two doesn’t emerge. The Reds would love for that shocker to be a pitcher.

Wayne Krivsky was hired too late to delve into the free-agent market for pitching. The Reds bailed on a potential Pedro Astacio deal and young phenom Homer Bailey needs to simmer a bit more in the minors.

Unless a Gulf Coast gale blows the trade winds squarely in Krivsky’s direction, the Reds will most likely begin the season with the rotation as is.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

I've seen the best and it is good

Sure, North College Hill is the best boys basketball team in the state of Ohio. Even with O.J. Mayo out with pnuemonia, the Trojans still trump most high school teams in the country.

This weekend, the Enquirer assigned me to cover the best girls basketball team in Ohio, and the nation's 7th-best team according to USA Today - the Princeton Vikings.

Princeton has the Coach of the Year, Jill Phillips, and the Player of the Year, Ohio State-bound Lesslee Mason-Cox. Second-team All-Stater Ashlee Bridge is headed to Vanderbilt.

How good is Princeton?

The Vikings are 23-0 and have beaten their postseason opponents by an average of almost 50 points.

Aiken High School was among Princeton's victims. Final score: 89-6.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Bad news all around

Hate to end the day on a downer, but ...

-Reds pitching coach Vern Ruhle has been diagnosed with cancer. Although he would not reveal the form of cancer, Ruhle indicated that it had been detected early and was optimistic about his recovery. As it stands now, Ruhle will undergo treatment near his home in Sarasota and will continue his duties with the club. We all wish him the best.

-One of the most respected members of the local media is moving on. Fox-19's Dan Hoard has accepted the job as play-by-play man for the Red Sox Triple-A affiliate in Pawtucket putting him one step closer to his ultimate goal of broadcasting baseball full-time. The move will also allow him to "reunite" with his wife Peg who lives in Boston and is expecting the couple's first child. The bad news in this deal is two-fold - we've lost a colleague for whom we share a great deal of respect and Delta Airlines' profits just took another significant hit.

-Finally, the Reds played their first spring training game today and the results appeared all too familiar. Ben Kozlowski, who was starting in place of Eric Milton who's nursing a strained right calf muscle, gave up a towering home run to Tigers' catcher Pudge Rodriguez on the second pitch of the game. Later, former Red Reggie Taylor sent a Ryan Wagner pitch sailing up against the scoreboard to provide the winning margin for Detroit. Our favorite "Moneyball" star, Scott Hatteberg, homered for the Reds.

Don't worry, the sun will come up tomorrow.