Sunday, September 28, 2008

When does the NFL game begin?

That was the running joke among reporters in the press box Sunday afternoon at Paul Brown Stadium.

For 60 agonizingly long minutes the winless Browns and Bengals bumbled and stumbled their way through four quarters.

More than 45 minutes had been played before the first touchdown was scored. The score was 6-3, at that point.

Bengals quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who attended Harvard, which means he's smart enough to choose an alternative profession, threw three interceptions in relief of the injured Carson Palmer.

Eric Wright had one of those interceptions. He returned it 23 yards, then fumbled.

Cue the calliope.

The two teams combined for 15 penalites, and seven turnovers.

Oh, by the way, Cleveland won the game 20-12. The Bengals are 0-4 for the first time since 2002.

What a difference six seasons makes? Well, very little, apparently.

How I spent my "off-day" Saturday ...

Small, but not in stature

Cincinnati Country Day and Summit Country Day are among the smallest schools I'll cover on my high school sports beat for the Cincinnati Enquirer.

CCD has 34 players on varsity, Summit 41. Add them up, and it's still nearly 50 fewer than Division I power St. Xavier.

With tuition costs ranging from $15,000 to $18,000, the kids at CCD and SCDS are the best of the best academically.

But, booksmarts and checkbooks don't mean a thing when these two schools hook up on the gridiron. Annually one of the area's most heated small-school rivalries, CCD/Summit is as good as it gets.

Friday night, CCD clearly was the better team, routing the Silver Knights 21-0.

Although I didn't intend to be, I was included in the post-game celebration when the Indians players decided to dump the celebratory ice bucket over head coach Tim Dunn ... while I was interviewing him.

Thanks for the cold shower. I needed that pick-me-up on deadline.

My Enquirer game story:

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Ballpark battered, shattered

Shattered windows in the press box at Great American Ball Park serve as a lingering reminder of Sunday's hurricane-force winds. Still unsure whether the tattered glass could withstand an impact from a foul ball, some reporters, including your's truly, relocated to the second row.

It's an ill wind ...

Well, we could tell it was windy Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.

Debris was flying, footballs were doing dances in mid-air, and coaches, players and fans were doing their best to secure anything not nailed down.

But, it wasn't until phone calls from harried family members began pinging the press box did reporters at the Bengals/Titans game realize the extent of the situation's seriousness.

The remnants of Hurricane Ike, combined with a strong cold front, whipped up hurricane-force winds, causing more than 900,000 power outages and numerous reports of damage.

After watching the Bengals bungle their way to a 24-7 defeat, and their first 0-2 start since 2003, I fought my way through the gale and arrived at my car which was parked in a downtown surface lot.

My rear window was shattered, sirens blared as emergency vehicles raced past on streets littered with debris ranging from tree limbs to more substantial chunks of roofing. Then, the horrifying news that four people had lost their lives that day.

It's a Sunday afternoon few Cincinnati residents will soon forget.

Upset front and center

Space in the sports page is often pre-determined, but more often events dictate where a story is slotted.

With Sycamore High expected to roll to an easy victory over Hamilton, no photographer was assigned to the game, and I was planning to spin my lede toward the following week, and the Aviator's much-anticipated clash with Colerain.

But, the Big Blue had other ideas.

Hamilton's 21-14 upset caused a change of plans, with me scrambling for a new angle, and the copy desk promoting the story to C1.

St. Excellent

Few high school football venues provide the media with amenities on par with Cincinnati St. Xavier.

Printed rosters, running stats on our laptops, a live internet connection, press passes, assigned press box seat, and a pretty solid spread of food at halftime.

If reporters can survive the breathless excursion from the field to the press box, the lofty perch is well worth the trip.

First class.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Fox Sports Aruba

Ahh, Aruba. The ultimate get-away. An escape from the daily grind of the baseball season. Or, so I thought.

While vacationing in Aruba with my wife a couple years ago, we decided to sign up for a pub crawl.

Our plan: get away from the tourist traps, catch some of the local flare, consume a few Balashi's.

Near the end of our trip, and three-sheets beyond the wind, we arrive at a rickety destination in the outskirts of Paradise.

Tiny neighborhood pub with wood floors, oozing with island character, on an off-the-beaten path in Aruba, situated barely 15 miles from the coast of Venezuela.

And, what do I hear emanating from the television? No kidding, it was the all-too familiar chimings of George Grande and Chris Welsh.

Of all the satellite viewing options available to them, this random watering hole in Paradise chose Reds baseball on FSN Ohio.

For me, there is truly no escape.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Another Pulse Weekly revamp

Through the years, Pulse Weekly Newspaper has survived a major name change, shift in ownership, economic downturns, and a revolving door at its editorial offices.

Now, it's about to undergo yet another transformation by the end of the year. More information to come.

For now, visit my blog/column section at the Pulse Weekly web site:

As always, thanks for reading, particularly our loyal Downtown Cincinnati lunch crowd. What would we do without you?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Dunn's shrunken heads

Hall of Fame beat writer Hal McCoy and I were milling around the Reds clubhouse Sunday morning waiting to speak to some players when we happened upon Adam Dunn's now vacant locker.

Dunn and his possessions have since departed for Arizona, but a few remain. Namely, some ominous African artifacts still affixed to the wall.

The Cubs have the goat, Red Sox the Babe. McCoy and I decided the Reds must have the curse of "the masks".

It's that time again

I remember it well.

The time of year when the sweltering heat of two-a-days evolved into the eager anticipation of game nights.

The Enquirer today published its Ohio high school football preview.

Below is my feature on North College Hill standout Everett Horne, who became the University of Cincinnati's first commitment for the 2009 season.

Chris Gruler rights his ship

Just think, you're a No. 1 draft choice fresh out of high school with a $2.5 million signing bonus burning a hole in your pocket.

Barely four years, and three shoulder surgeries later, you're walking through Home Depot when your cell phone rings.

The caller says, "You're finished".

Chris Gruler's story is a true baseball tragedy. But, he no longer sees it that way.

By Jeff Wallner/Special to

CINCINNATI -- Chris Gruler was strolling through Home Depot one February afternoon in 2006 when his cell phone rang. The news wasn't good.

Gruler, a promising right-handed pitching prospect, had been drafted No. 1 (third overall) by the Reds in the 2002 First-Year Player Draft. But after multiple shoulder surgeries and ill-fated comeback attempts, the Reds released him.

"It wasn't something I had planned for," Gruler said. "At first it was devastating. I felt like I let my family and friends down. I can't imagine how many hours my parents put into Little League and showcases."

At Liberty High School in Brentwood, Calif., Gruler wowed scouts with a 96-mph fastball and devastating overhand curve. As a senior, he went 4-3 with a 1.49 ERA in 11 games, including seven starts, striking out 135 batters in 66 innings.

The Reds rewarded Gruler with a $2.5 million signing bonus, amid much fanfare. Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench, working as a consultant to the Reds, compared Gruler to Hall of Fame hurler Tom Seaver, saying

Gruler had "a better changeup and breaking ball" than the storied Reds pitcher.

Barely four years later, Gruler was out of work.

"I had a hard time sleeping," he said. "Things were not good in my life."

Gruler, who never advanced past Class A, went 3-5 with a 5.08 ERA in 27 Minor League appearances. He struck out 71 and walked 57 in 92 2/3 innings between 2002 and 2006, sandwiched around three shoulder reconstruction surgeries.

Gruler used acupuncture and both weight-bearing and non-weight-bearing exercises to regain strength in his shoulder, but to no avail.

Following his release from the Reds, Gruler threw for a couple of teams in Tempe, Ariz., but his shoulder couldn't withstand the strain.

"I tried everything in the book," he said. "You tend to believe what you read about guys being overworked when they're young. But, you know, I wanted to pitch. I wanted to show my stuff. There's no right or wrong. I won't play the blame game. That's not me."

Gruler, who currently resides in Scottsdale, Ariz., channeled his disappointment into a new business venture.

He has teamed up with pal Erik Averill, a former big league pitcher, to form Protégé Branding, which helps professional athletes develop and strengthen their personal brand. Protégé lists ex-Major Leaguer Roberto Alomar among its clients.

Gruler had some advice for this year's No. 1 Draft choice Yonder Alonso, whom the Reds signed late Friday.

"You have to understand baseball is a business," Gruler said. "Appreciate the opportunity that's been given to you. I had to learn the hard way."

Gruler's in the process of writing a tell-all book about his experiences in the game, but says he harbors little bitterness resulting from his release.

"It would be easy for me to say the Reds could have done more," he said. "That would be selfish. A shoulder is such a complex surgery. They did as much as they could."

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

"Dude" is a Diamondback

Early in his career, Adam Dunn's frequent use of the word "Dude" became a friendly joke among Reds beat writers. Dunn's perceived lackadaisical approach to the game and frequent defensive lapses were less amusing for Reds fans.

Truthfully, the Big Texan was his own harshest critic. Never have I encountered an athlete so self-deprecating.

I recall an interview in which Dunn was describing a sequence of pitches in a particular at-bat.

"I swung and missed," said Dunn. "Go figure."

Dunn considered himself to be an expert on few subjects - football and fishing being among them.

Side note: had the Texas Longhorns not chosen to move Dunn to tight end, he might have been playing quarterback on Sundays.

Don't misread, Dunn was bright, he just managed to stumble over his words at times.

In the visitors clubhouse in Cleveland a few years ago, Dunn overheard a teammate discussing Paris, France. Dunn bellowed, "Hey, does the Eiffel Tower really lean like they say it does?"

Realizing in an instant that he'd just confused the Eiffel Tower with the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Dunn put a pillow over his face and hid in shame. Amid much laughter, of course.

Dunn's lumbering style and prodigious power is now on display in Arizona, where he will, much like his old teammate Ken Griffey Jr. in Chicago, try to take the Diamondbacks to the postseason.

Dunn's offensive production cannot be replaced by one player, certainly not via the Reds' budget. His presence in the clubhouse, both personally and professionally, also will be missed.

The Reds are in rapid rebuilding mode. When they return to Great American Ball Park this weekend, I won't be the only reporter asking, "Who are these guys?".

Friday, August 01, 2008

Griffey departure leaves void

When the Reds return home Monday, the double-wide locker in the rear left-hand side of the home clubhouse will sit eerily empty.

For the first time since Great American Ball Park opened, Ken Griffey Jr.'s massive storage trunk and mountains of shoe boxes will be absent.

No longer will the future Hall of Fame outfielder sit at his locker and hold court (off the record, of course) with reporters and teammates, discussing life, family, and only on occasion baseball.

From that aspect, Griffey will be missed.

For the Reds, it was clearly time to move on.

Dunn, Hairston, Bruce makes more sense than scuffling a 38-year old outfielder to right field, and peering closely to uncover signs of his once glorious past. It makes more sense than picking up $16 million as a retirement option.

Griffey had earned the chance to chase his lone remaining goal - a World Series ring.

Griffey's body broke down, to no fault of his own, and the Reds failed in their promise to build a winner around him, but his eight seasons in a Reds uniform were historic nonetheless.

We saw Nos. 400, 500 and 600, and numerous other milestones.

We won't see him catch Sammy Sosa for fifth all-time, that'll happen in a White Sox uniform.

Reds fans rarely saw glimpses of the happy go-lucky "Kid" who endeared himself to baseball fans with his signature wall-crashing, highlight-reel catches at Seattle's Kingdome.

Reds fans likely will remember his spats with broadcasters, media members and them, uniform number flaps, and numerous disablings.

But, when Griffey waltzes to the podium at Cooperstown, likely as a first-ballot entrant, Reds fans should remember this:

Albeit for only a brief period, you witnessed greatness. With all its flaws.

Farewell No. 3.