Monday, April 12, 2010

'Cool Hand' Leake

On the right-hand side of the Reds clubouse there are three lockers separated from the rest by a dividing wall and a doorway that leads to a conference room and manager Dusty Baker's office.

It is no coincidence that the lockers are reserved for a trio of starting pitchers. It's also seemingly no accident that this threesome has one personality trait in common.

Actually, three -- Calm. Cool. Collected.

First, there's the Reds' five-time Opening Day starter Aaron Harang -- the ballclub's resident gentle giant, soft-spoken, unflappable.

To Harang's far left is the golden-locked Bronson Arroyo -- part-time rocker, full-time innings-eater, and Key West native.

The newest addition to the Corner of Coolness is rookie right-hander Mike Leake - the long-haired Southern California native who Baker likened to a "little surfer".

Leake, of course, became just the 21st player since the first-year player draft was instituted in 1965 to make his Major League debut without appearing in a minor league game when he started against the Chicago Cubs on Sunday afternoon at Great American Ball Park.

Leake calmly escaped a bases-loaded, nobody-out jam in the first inning then cruised through 6 2/3 innings, allowing just one earned run on four hits. He struck out five and walked seven, the most he's ever issued in a game.

"I should've kept the ball from my seventh walk as a souvenir," said 'Cool Hand' Leake.

While family and friends sweated through Sunday's outing in Section 125 behind home plate (particularly his mother who was visibly nervous), Leake kept his composure.

Had Leake buckled under the pressure and folded amid the magnitude of his moment, he would've been asked to turn in his membership card in the Reds' Joe Cool Club.

As it stands, the 22-year old is stuck between Harang and Arroyo, making him a fixture in the Laid Back Wing.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Emptying the notebook ...

-- It's a long way from Holquin, Cuba, but Toledo, Ohio is where 22-year old Reds right-hander Aroldis Chapman will make his American pro debut.

Chapman will make his first start for the Triple-A Louisville Bats against the Toledo Mud Hens on Sunday at 2 p.m.

The Cuban Cannon posted a 1.69 ERA in five Spring Training games, walked seven and fanned 15 in 12 2/3 innings. Back spasms ended Chapman's bid to earn the No. 5 spot in the Reds starting rotation.

Last year's No. 1 draft choice Mike Leake, who beat out Chapman for the 5th spot, likely will make his big-league debut Sunday as well, at Great American Ball Park against the Chicago Cubs.

-- Kudos to Yankees president Randy Levine who blatantly called out Brewers owner Mark Attanasio for "whining" about the Bombers' payroll.

Competitive imbalance, yeah I get it. But the Yanks have been lining the pockets of purported small-market owners for years. Hey Attanasio, don't spend your portion of the Bombers' $175 million gift and shared TV revenue all in one place.

-- Include me among those who believe Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski got it right.

Sure, his decision to intentionally miss a free throw with three seconds remaining gave Butler a chance to win the national title with a half-court heave. He could have made the free throw giving the Bulldogs an opportunity to just tie the score, but with a higher-percentage shot. Funny, nobody questions Coach K's move if Howard's attempt doesn't glance the rim.

Best-ever NCAA Tournament? It's close.

-- For freelance writers, it's all about the clips.

A last-minute decision to accept a work opportunity on Easter Sunday landed me a keeper for the portfolio.

A C1 piece on Aaron Harang's pressure-packed Opening Day start:

-- While we were waiting to speak to Dusty Baker prior to Sunday's pre-Opening Day workout, a local TV reporter and I were discussing the location of Brandon Phillips' locker. And, we're not the first to question it.

When they give tours of the Reds clubhouse, I wonder if visitors need to catch a shuttle bus to view No. 4's cubbie?

It's situated at the far end of the clubhouse with a dividing wall between Phillips and his nearest teammate. The lockers to Phillips' left are vacant, usually until September callups.

It's telling.

As was Phillips' decision to snub the Enquirer's John Fay during Spring Training with a "How come you haven't written about me?" diatribe. Phillips likes to smile for the cameras and for the fans, but when it comes to maturity and leadership ...

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Reds delay Chapman, avoid circus

Kudos to the Reds for not parading Cuban fireballer Aroldis Chapman out to the mound at Great American Ball Park in order to seize a "Look who we got!" moment.

This would've been too easy.

The Cuban Cannon throws 100-plus mph. Chapman most certainly would've generated a considerable spike in ticket sales, widespread media attention and more than likely help ship a few of his jerseys off the shelves.

Instead, the Reds did what's right. Or, it could be viewed as doing what's necessary since Chapman was shelved with back spasms late in spring camp.

The acquisition of Chapman and his corresponding mega-contract raised eyebrows throughout baseball, mostly because it was the small-market bottom-feeding Reds who worked the deal.

Chapman likely will make his much-ballyhooed debut at some point this season.

But, for now, the 5th spot in the rotation appears to hinge on Travis Wood or top draft choice Mike Leake. Here's betting on "Smoky" Travis Wood.

In Chapman's case, the Reds made a baseball decision in lieu of business.

No cheerleaders, exploding scoreboards and multiple mascots needed this time.

These Reds are intent on winning. Many experts believe they're on the right path toward doing just that.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A decade's worth of clutter

There are two file cabinets in my basement office containing much of what I need but mostly what I don't.

After 10-plus years covering Reds baseball, a reporter can amass quite a collection of "stuff". Of course, one person's clutter is another's treasure.

In need of some space for, you know, more junk, I decided to take advantage of a rainy spring day and clean out my closet, so to speak. But what actually transpired was a trip down memory lane. For me, it became a scenic Sunday drive.

The press release from the Ken Griffey Jr. trade - ah, remember it well. Feb. 10, 2000, a cool, drizzly afternoon throughout which this reporter prayed that the much-rumored deal would wait for another day. With a spiking fever and horrible virus, the last thing I wanted to do was venture down to Cinergy Field into a sweaty jam-packed media room to discuss the deal of the decade. But, that's what I did.

Not to be morbid, but several Reds notables have died while I was on the beat, most notably Marge Schott - I still have the funeral announcement. That was another rainy day, by the way (why do I always recall the weather?) - , Joe Nuxhall, and Glenn Sample.

Scorecards, why do I keep them? I didn't. Tossed a stack of 100 or so. Kept only those that recorded notable events or achievements. Made certain to keep any scorecards and game notes from the first game at Great American Ball Park and last at Cinergy/Riverfront.

Lots of Great American Ball Park stuff, mostly construction docs and opening game items. Kept very little. I recall writing stories for a construction newsletter, everything from the seats to the scoreboard.

Found my media credential from the Cinergy Field implosion. That was an early morning. Hal McCoy and I consumed a great deal of caffiene before the Big bang.

The sheer number of press passes found in my files convinced me of one thing: I spent far too much time away from home. Sorry, honey.

Weird stuff: the police report from Ryan Freel's DUI arrest and some legal documents/police reports from Dernell Stenson's murder.

In the end, it's all just paper. Memories can't be pitched, at least not voluntarily.

New coach, mostly same 'Cats

My first University of Cincinnati spring practice report has been filed to Sports XChange:

Initial impressions of first-year Bearcats head coach Butch Jones:

A no-nonsense football coach. Not the salesman/politician combo that was Brian Kelly, but more of a bare-bones guy. Players seem to like his open-door approach. Practices are just as spirited as they were under Kelly, and perhaps a bit more fast-paced. Jones' offensive philosophy is similar, although look for the running game to be more of a factor next season.

On a sunny, spring-like day at Nippert Stadium, you could almost smell fall.

10 weeks for 19 seconds

University of Cincinnati senior swimmer Josh Schneider, about whom I wrote two stories for the Cincinnati Enquirer in the past couple months, wasn't about to let this opportunity slip past.

With Olympic sponsorships at stake and still stinging from a poor finish at last year's NCAA Championships, Schneider chose to forgo his vices - no drinking, no late nights, no fast food, and no motorcycle riding.

For 10 weeks in preparation for the NCAAs in Columbus, Schneider "disconnected himself from the world". Talk about commitment.

The strategy paid off. Schneider, the top-seed in the 50-meter freestyle, won the event with a record clocking of 18.93.

"I feel complete" he said afterwards.

The victory could net Schneider enough sponsorship cash to allow him to train full-time for the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Good luck in London, kid. I'd keep that motorcycle at your parents' house until '13.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Moments of magnitude

Perhaps for a moment, or two, Dee Dee Jernigan considered the magnitude of what she was about to accomplish.

It was a layup, a shot she'd made countless times during her college basketball career, in high school, on the playground, or by just tossing a wad of paper into the nearest receptacle.

But this was more than just a layup, or two.

It was a chance to clinch a signature victory over top-seed Stanford in the Sacramento Regional final, thus sending the Musketeers to their first Final Four.

But, instead of instinctively placing the ball into the basket like she'd done so many times before, Jernigan guided it. No, she Google mapped it and printed directions.

In the waning seconds of Monday night's game, Jernigan found herself alone under the basket. Not once, but twice.

She missed. Both times.

Then, in an almost pre-scripted result, Stanford's Jeanette Pohlen raced the length of the court for a buzzer-beating layup to give the Cardinal a 55-53 victory.

Pressure is part of the game. It's an obstacle to be overcome, like a 1-3-1 zone that seems impenetrable.

If it was easy, those 4-foot putts at Augusta would find the cup without fail.

Xavier's gut-wrenching defeat reminded me of another local moment of magnitude - last year's Frozen Four title game between Boston University and Miami University.

The Redhawks led 3-1 with less than one minute remaining, a seemingly insurmountable deficit in hockey terms. But the battle-tested Terriers rallied for three unanswered goals to win the national title in overtime.

Redhawks goalie Cody Reichard, who surrendered BU's winning goal as a freshman, has helped lead Miami back to the Frozen Four.

The next time he's thrust into a game-saving situation, Reichard will understand. He'll brush pressure off his red sweater like a speck of lint.

Unfortunately, Jernigan's college career is over. She won't get a chance to atone for Monday night, at least not on the basketball court.

I bet the next time the East Chicago, IN native attempts a layup, she'll drain it.

When life requires a greater degree of difficulty, Jernigan will be better prepared. She now knows what it takes, to hit or miss.