LIMA — When a team compiles a record of 97-65, fans come out.
The Reds went 97-65 last year and reached the playoffs before losing to the Giants 3-2 in the first round.
Fans came out in droves and waited in line for hours Saturday at the Lima Mall to greet the Reds Caravan.
A Lima-record crowd of more than 1,300 snaked its way back and forth and along the edges of every store on the west side of the mall.
Most of the fans were on hand to greet second baseman Brandon Phillips, who has won three Gold Gloves (2008, 2010 and 2011) and been named to two All-Star teams (2010, 2011).
Most of the questions in the brief question-and-answer portion of the show were directed at Phillips. One young fan wanted to know how many more Gold Gloves Phillips expected to win.
“To tell you the truth, I have no idea,” Phillips said. “I thought I was going to get one last year. I don’t know how many I can get. The only thing I can do is catch the ball the only way I know how and hopefully they vote for me.”
On the northern leg of the Reds caravan were Hall of Fame Reds broadcaster Marty Brennaman, Phillips, broadcaster and former pitcher Chris Welsh, 1990 World Champion first baseman Todd Benzinger, minor league catcher Tucker Barnhart, assistant general manager Bob Miller and mascots Gapper and Mr. Red.
The Reds everyday lineup is set this year with Joey Votto at first, Phillips at second, Zack Cozart at shortstop, Todd Frazier at third, Ryan Hanigan behind the plate and an outfield of Ryan Ludwick in left, Shin-Soo Choo in center and Jay Bruce in right.
The starters are set one-to-four with Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo and Homer Bailey.
Reds general manager Walt Jocketty has said he plans to start spring training with left-hander Aroldis Chapman moving from closer to the starting rotation. Last year Chapman compiled a 1.51 ERA and was 38 of 43 on save chances. In 71 innings, he struck out 122 and walked 23.
“It’s a crapshoot,” Brennaman said. “I think everybody professes a lot of confidence that he will make a successful transition and I think that’s the approach you have to take.
“It’s worth a try. The good thing is if it doesn’t work he can always go back to closing. If it works, there won’t be a team in baseball, including the Washington Nationals, that will have a better starting rotation than this team.”
Another topic of discussion was third baseman Scott Rolen, who hasn’t decided if he’ll return for another year.
“He’s (Rolen) going to make up his mind this week,” Reds assistant general manager Bob Miller said. “I know Walt (Jocketty) is talking to him. I expect we’ll find out very shortly if he’s going to come back or not. (If he does), it’ll probably be more of a utility role where he’s not the starting third baseman, but he’d be a great guy to have on the team.”
Benzinger said he sees similarities between this year’s defending Central Division championship team and his 1990 World Champions.
“What we have now is a team that won the division in 2010 and 2012 and should be a team that’s a little ticked off and maybe playing with a chip on their shoulder,” Benzinger said. “When you have a good team, who is playing a little angry, that’s a great combination. And let’s hope the Reds of 2013 are like that.”
Benzinger still lives in Cincinnati and works part time for the Reds in various capacities, including spring training. He’s remembered for catching the final out of the ’90 World Series.
Does he still have that final-out ball?
“I sold that ball five or six years ago to a big Reds’ fan,” Benzinger said. “I never had it on display. I had in it in a box in my basement for 15 years. I’m not a memorabilia guy.
“I have my ring (which was on his finger). …. They could ask $100,000 for the ring and I wouldn’t give it to them. I would never sell that.”