About Me

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I am a freelance writer. I've covered the Cincinnati Reds, Bengals and others since 1992. I have a background in sales as well. I've sold consumer electronics, advertising and consumer package goods for companies ranging from the now defunct Circuit City to Procter&Gamble. I have worked as a stats operator for Xavier University, the University of Cincinnati, the College of Mount St. Joe and Colerain High School.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Ryan Freel We Barely Knew You

It was difficult not to like Ryan Freel, who shot himself to death Saturday night in his Jacksonville home at the age of 36.

One spring as I arrived at the Reds' spring training complex in Sarasota, Freel dropped what he was doing and nearly sprinted across the room to greet me.  I am about as far down in the pecking order of the Reds' media contingent as one can be but Freel did everything and, I mean everything all out.

Sometimes to his detriment.  He admitted to having at least a dozen concussions from running into walls, fences barriers and teammates to catch fly balls.  Ken Griffey Jr. had one eye on Freel and one eye on the baseball at all times when he played next to him in the outfield.  He could appear out of nowhere at full speed.  He ran the bases all out regardless of the situation, good judgement did not always enter into his decisions.  He made things happened most to the time but he also ran the Reds out of innings.  He just had one speed.

When he partied, it was also at full tilt.  He was arrested following opening day 2005 for driving under the influence of alcohol.  Even without being under the influence he wore out his gas pedal.  He had another incident in his native Jacksonville.  He gave up drinking after that one.

He would talk about anything, everything.  My worn out shoes for instance.  We had a twenty minute discussion about them.  He even offered me a pair of his.  He was one of the few baseball players that made a point out of calling everyone by name.  The only thing he refused to talk about were his statistics.  He would get a little agitated if his batting average was brought up, especially if he was going good.

He was always available for an interview.  Once while in Sarasota a radio reporter, Wildman Walker, wanted to send an interview with Freel by cell phone but his cell phone wasn't charged.  Freel used his and ran up a huge bill.

"Freel Bird" as his teammates sometimes called him told Dayton reporter, Hal McCoy and I about an imaginary friend, "Farney" one day after he made a diving catch.  "Farney said that was a great catch you made," Freel said.  "Farney, I thought you made it, if you did it was a great catch."

Freel stole 110 bases for the Reds from 2004 through 2006.

He was drafted twice, first by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 14th round of the 1994 draft out of Sandlewood High School in Jacksonville.  He attended Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee and then Tallahassee Community College before signing with Toronto as the 10th pick in the 1995 draft.

Freel spent most of his early career in the Blue Jays organization running up the minor league laundry bill.

The scrappy 5'10" ball of energy finally appeared in the Major Leagues with Toronto in 2001 playing in just nine game in April of that year but was sent back to the minor leagues and it was two years before he reached the big leagues again.

Dave Miley, who managed the Reds' Triple A affiliate in Louisville at the time recommended him to team management mostly because he was tired of wearing Miley's teams out.  The Reds signed him as a free agent in November 2002.  Freel appeared in 52 games in 2003.  Miley took over the team from Bob Boone in August of that season and gave Freel a larger role.

Reds' fans were endeared to him for the way he reminded them of Pete Rose with his all-out play.  The Reds even had a Ryan Freel T-shirt promotion. The shirt was designed with dirt marks on it.

There was a darker side to Freel.  There were days that he wouldn't talk and just stared into his locker.  Those days were uncommon, yet they were as much a part of his personality as his almost puppy-like unbridled affection moments in which he would hug anyone in sight, teammates, reporters, clubhouse attendants.

Sometimes you had to wonder what life would be like for him without baseball.

Physical injuries forced him out of the game in 2009.  Perhaps the unseen injuries that he carried became too much.

As much as we all liked being around him, we perhaps failed to get to know him.  I for one will try to pay closer attention to the people around me.

Xavier Show Support for Sandy Hook

Xavier coach Chris Mack admits to being touched personally by the tragedy at Sandy Hook.

''We decided to do this a couple days ago,'' coach Chris Mack said. ''My good friend Pat Kelsey at Winthrop was very eloquent about what happened. I'm a young daddy with first- and second-grade girls. I have been deeply impacted by the senseless killings just over a week ago. I cannot possibly imagine how the families are coping with their loss during this Christmas season.''

Kelsey and Mack are both played high school basketball in Cincinnati.  Both played basketball at Xavier.  Both coached together, under Skip Prosser at Wake Forest, then at Xavier.

Kelsey is in his first season as head coach at Winthrop. Following a loss to Ohio State last week, Kelsey gave an impassioned plea for government and private leaders to act soon to prevent further massacres such as the one at Sandy Hook that left 20 children and six adults dead at the school.

The Elder grad was an assistant to Mack when he decided to put his family first.  He left the XU staff to spend time with his own four and five year-old daughters, who he vowed to kiss, the minute he returned home from the trip to Columbus.

Mack and the University followed up with a winning gesture as the team was losing to Wofford 66-65 Saturday afternoon.

Instead of their traditional white home uniforms with blue trim, the Musketeers wore green and white jerseys to honor the school in Newtown, Conn.

The uniforms, produced by Nike, had ''Sandy Hook'' stitched across the jersey front and the school's eagle mascot was visible on the lower left front of the shorts.

''The first time I saw the jersey in the locker room, I thought it was great,'' senior Travis Taylor said. ''It shows we care about what's going on in the world.''

The uniforms will be auctioned on GoXavier.com until Friday January 4, 2013.  Proceeds from the auction will benefit the Sandy Hook School Support Fund.

A year ago Xavier was involved in an ugly incident that gained national attention with a brawl against crosstown rival Cincinnati.  The overwhelming hope is that the incident and the tragedy will be a springboard for positive change.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Junkanoo Jam

Every Thanksgiving for the last 10 years, women's basketball teams from seven or eight universities meet in Freeport, Bahamas for a basketball tournament.

The tournament has been successful in promoting interest in women's collegiate basketball on the islands.

This year the women's teams from Arizona, Illinois, Iowa State  Layola Marymount, Texas El Paso, , Texas Southern,  and Tulsa met in the tournament in two divisions.

Texas El Paso won the Lucayan Division that included Arizona and Texas Southern.  Kayla Thornton of UTEP was the Most Valuable Player.

Iowa State won the Freeport Division over Illinois, Loyola Marymount and Tulsa.  The Cyclones' Hallie Christopherson was the MVP.

Aside from basketball, the teams filled their off time by swimming with dolphins, and a beach party.

Thanksgiving night, Basketball Travelers Inc. held a buffet dinner attended by all of the teams, the staff and the referees, as well as sponsors and fans.  Hostesses Cruteisha, Lorna, Daphne and Denise were awesome ambassadors.
Junkanoo Parade

The teams were also treated to the Junkanoo Parade after dinner.

Hostess Cruteisha
Hostesses Lorna, Daphne and Denise.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Scott Rolen Still Deciding

Scott Rolen is home in Indiana deciding if he wants to put his aching body through another major league season.

"For what he meant to this organization, we owe it to him if he still wants to come back," Cincinnati general manager Walt Jocketty said.  "We will know more by Christmas.  I talked to him after the season and told him, he would have to come back in a different role."

Rolen helped the Reds transform from perenial losers to winning two division tittles in three years.

His effectiveness has decreased as years of injuries have taken its toll.  Still the Reds value Rolen's clubhouse demeanor and knowledge of the game.

"Sometimes guys just get tired of the pain," Dusty Baker said on many occasions.

Rolen has a young family and enjoys a game of whiffle ball with his sons in the backyard. 

It is also obvious to observers that he also enjoys the interaction with his teammates.

It may be the end of the line for the 37-year old 17-year veteran but there is unfinished business.

He was the last out of the Reds' 2012 playoff season.  He struck out against Sergio Romo as the World Champion San Francisco Giants advanced over the Reds.

Perhaps the stronger desire is to erase that memory and have a chance to retire a winner.

As Jocketty said, we will know by Christmas.

Hannahan Was Sold On Cincinnati

Jack Hannahan
Jack Hannihan likes the cold of his native St. Paul, Minnesota.

Unlike most players who move to Arizona or Florida once they sign a major league contract, Hannahan spends every winter in frigid Minnesota.

"I just get out the snow blower," Hannahan said at Great American Ball Park Thursday morning. "I love the cold weather. My family is there; my nieces."

But Uncle Jack wants to win a World Series.

After talking to Ryan Ludwick, who was his teammate in Toledo when both were in the Detroit organization, Hannahan decided Cincinnati was the place to be. "Luddy and I spent a year together at Toledo. He told me this team has a chance to win. He said it was a great group of guys. I've heard the media is easy to work with. My agent, Joe Speed, lives here. It came down to a chance to win a World Series," Hannahan said.

Hannahan in action for Cleveland
Cincinnati general manager, Walt Jocketty, wanted to upgrade the Reds' bench. "Jack is a left handed hitting infielder who can play several different positions," Jocketty said. "He is a good defensive player. He can come off the bench as a lefthanded bat or a defensive replacement in the late innings."

Hannahan is fine with the role.

 "I will do whatever they ask," Hannahan said. "I'm excited. My brother called me and said that i have a chance to play for Dusty Baker."

Jocketty said the Reds are pretty much finished with the roster.

"We're done for the most part," Jocketty said. "We may add another lefthanded reliever. I think we have a solid bench now. We are always looking to make improvements but I like our roster."

As they did with Hannahan, the Reds brought in Sin-Soo Choo and Jason Donald from the Cleveland organiztion.

Jocketty was asked how Choo would handle centerfield. "He played centerfield in Seattle," Jocketty said. "They switched him to rightfield because they had another centerfielder. He runs well. He moves well from side to side. Choo is willing to work with Billy Hatcher and Eric Davis this spring."

 Hannahan is a fan of Choo's.

"I can see him playing centerfield," Hannahan said. "His first couple steps are good. Everyone knows about his arm. He shows up every day to play. He's the first one to come to the park and the last one to leave. Choo hits a ton of balls the other way. You don't see a guy like him that has a lot of tools come along very often."

Hanahann was drafted by Detroit in the third round of the 2001 draft. He made his debut with the Tigers in 2006. The 32-year old spent time with Oakland, Seattle and Boston before signing with Cleveland as a free agent in 2010. He has logged four years of major league service. He played all four defensive positions, hitting .234 in 1,463 at bats with 28 home runs and 159 RBI.

This is his first National League team.

 "I'm excited about playing in the National League. I always thought I am best suited for the National League as a pinch hitter or late inning replacement," Hannahan said.

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Reds Look To Cleveland to Complete Bench Sign Hannahan

The Cincinnati Reds added another piece to its bench puzzle for 2013.  Walt Jocketty announced the signing of 32-year old, lefthanded hitting infielder Jack Hannahan for two years.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Choo - Stubbs Gregorius Trade From the Indians Perspective

My good friend and spring training colleague Chuck Murr explains the three-way trade among the Reds, Indians and Diamondbacks.

For all the Reds' fans that couldn't wait to get rid of Stubbs and failed to value defense, pay attention to Murr's comments on Choo's defense.

Scoring will increase at Great American Ball Park, if Choo has his normal productive offensive season but we will also see a bump in opponents scoring without a centerfielder that made running down potential doubles look easy.


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Chapman Gets His Chance to Start Again in 2013

The signing of Jonathan Broxton allows the Reds to move Aroldis Chapman to starting rotation.

Chapman was a starter in his native Cuba.  The Reds were preparing him to start for them but injuries created a new priority and Chapman was pressed into relief.

The 24-year old lefthander was successful enough in relief that he received votes for the Cy Young Award that rarely go to a non-starter.

The Reds obtained Broxton late in the season when they discovered that Chapman did not exhibit the stamina at this stage of his career to work effectively more that two games in a row.

Broxton allowed the Reds to rest Chapman and now allows the Reds to convert Chapman into a starter in 2013.

Chapman wants to starter.

"I enjoyed being a closer and I'm going to miss it, but I still like to be a starter," Chapman said through interpreter Tomas Vera.  "I would love to do both, but my career is so short and I always enjoyed being a starter.  That's what I want to do."

The move will require Chapman to "stretch out" his arm to build the stamina to pitch every fourth day.  He will need to build endurance to pitch a possible 200 innings.

"We haven't talked about the details yet," Chapman said through Vera, who is also one of the Reds' trainers.  "I don't have any worries about my arm. I am just going to prepare like I did before.  Nothing has changed."

Steve Watkins of the Business Courier wrote the following explaining his reasoning for the move.


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Reds Acquire Choo for Boos

Drew Stubbs heard them all year.  Boos cascaded upon the swift centerfielder for the Cincinnati Reds.

Stubbs frustrated Reds' fans with his offense while he delighted his manager and pitching staff as arguably the best centerfielder in the league.  Fans that did not watch him every day didn't understand the value of his defense.

When he was introduced to the stage at Redsfest this weekend, boos were audible at the event set up as a love fest between fans and the players.

Stubbs had his worst year at the plate in 2012, yet with him as the every day player, the Reds won 97 games, the most since 1976.  As the boos mounted his confidence was shaken at the plate.

With the tools of a leadoff hitter, Stubbs frustrated fans and management alike with an extremely low on-base-percentage and high strikeout count.  His presence in the lineup was as difficult to defend as the wrong shade of lipstick on a man's collar.

Sin-Soo Choo, on the other hand, turned down several contract extension offers from the Cleveland Indians.  The 2013 season is the last that Choo will be bound to Cleveland.

Both players will get a change of scenery and a fresh start.

One player who won't know whether to laugh or cry would be Bronson Arroyo.

The Reds veteran righthander is a fly ball pitcher, who really appreciated Stubbs ability to run down fly balls at Great American Ball Park.  On the other hand he will no longer have to pitch to Choo. The newest Red hit seven home runs against Cincinnati.  Arroyo served up four of them.

Choo can hit for power, launching 16 home runs, while hitting .283.  Choo drove in 63 runs and stole 21 bases, nine fewer than Stubbs.  But the Reds most covet Choo's ability to get on base frequently.  His career on-base-percentage is .381, contrasted to .233 for Stubbs.  Over 600 plate appearances, that translates to 90 more base runners ahead of Joey Votto and Ryan Ludwick, who re-signed with the Reds Monday as a free agent.

Along with Choo the Reds obtained Jason Donald, who will fill the role that Miguel Cairo, a free agent, held.  Donald is 10 years Cairo's junior.  Donald played secondbase, shortstop, thirdbase, left field and  center field.

The Reds also collected $3.5 million from Cleveland to balance the difference in payroll involved in the deal.

The Reds also traded Didi Gregorius, a rising star in the Reds system.  Gregorius will get his chance to play for  Kirk Gibson in Arizona.  Cleveland packaged Gregorius, LHP Tony Sipp and firstbaseman Lars Anderson to Arizona.  The Indians will welcome righthanded pitchers Trevor Bauer, Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw.

Gregorius speaks four languages and was among the top Reds' prospect, playing in eight games and hitting .300.  He is known more for his excellent defense at shortstop.

"It was very difficult giving up home-grown talent like this," Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said. "But we think Choo can fill the missing parts of our lineup both offensively and defensively.  Choo is an exciting player, and we expect him to set the table."

Cleveland general manager, Chris Antonelli, said of Stubbs, "In Drew Stubbs, we received a great defensive player of speed and power to our lineup."

Choo played mostly rightfield for Cleveland but will most likely take over in centerfield for Cincinnati.  Stubbs will compete with Michael Brantley for playing time in centerfield.

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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Xavier Bounces Back Against Kent State

Semaj Christon and Brad Redford picked up the Xavier offense when they needed it most.

The Musketeers played without their leading scorer, Justin Martin, who suffered a mild concussion late in Thursday's loss to Vanderbilt. Martin has posted double figure scoring in each of Xavier's first eight games.

Christon had 18 points and Redford came off the bench and made four consecutive 3-pointers to propel Xavier to a 62-55 win over Kent State on Sunday.

"We knew we were going to be missing a talented player," Xavier coach Chris Mack said. "But we talked about how we were going to play on the defensive end."

Xavier squandered a 13-point second half lead in the loss to Vanderbilt. They weren't going to let it happen again.

"Offense comes and goes but defense stays the same," said the hot shooting Redford. "We were able to hang together and hit some shots. We were out of sync the first 20 minutes."

The Musketeers scored just 18 points in the first half and trailed 20-18 at the break. Redford scored 11 points and Christon scored 14 of his 18 points in the second half to allow Xavier (7-2) to avoid its second consecutive home loss.

Xavier was able to hold the Golden Flashes to a season-low for a half.

"Our kids did a phenominal job on defense," Mack said. "We made a lot of adjustments and they executed them."

Kent State (5-6) was led by Melvin Tabb's 20 points and 14 rebounds, both game-highs, but lost for the third straight time.

Kent State started out like they were going to run away from the Musketeers, scoring the first nine points of the game. Xavier used a 10-2 run to get back into the game.

Xavier put the game out of reach with a 12-0 second-half run. Dee Davis scored 10 points for the Musketeers. Travis Taylor led Xavier with nine rebounds.

Tabb scored five points in a 7-0 run for Kent State to pull within five with 4:10 remaining but Xavier held on.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Vanderbilt Takes Xavier in OT

Two young teams showed jitters at the foul line down the stretch and Vanderbilt overcame a 13-point Xavier lead to win 66-64 in overtime at the Cintas Center.

Vanderbilt's entire starting five graduated and the senior-less team came to Cincinnati struggling with 2-4 record.  An equally young Xavier team was fresh off a big win on the road at Purdue, sporting just one senior transfer, Travis Taylor.

It was the Cintas debut of Isaiah Philmore, who transfered to Xavier from Towson University.  Philmore had to sit last season and the first three games of the current campaign.  Still the young Musketeers had momentum and confidence with a 6-1 record.

Xavier lost two starting guards - it's seven-foot center and it's leading returning scorer.  Two graduated. One transfered.  One was expelled.

Semaj Christon has picked up the slack.  One long time Xavier observer insists that he is the most poised freshman to play for the Musketeers in 27 years.  His play at Purdue underscores the observation.

The Musketeers put four players in double figures while building a 13-point lead in the second half.  The lone senior Travis Taylor led them with 15 points.  Justin Martin had 13.  Christon had 12 to compliment five assists and Philmore scored 11 while leading Xavier with 10 rebounds.

The game turned on a scoring drought that caused the young team to go into the tank on the defensive end.

"We talked about that after the game," Xavier coach Chris Mack said.  "It's easy to put you hands on the floor and get into a defensive stance when you've made some shots and feel good about yourself.  We have to not allow bad offense to affect our defense."

Vanderbilt, with nothing to lose, chipped away at the lead.

Kyle Fuller is still competing for playing time after a sophomore season in which he averaged less than a point per game in 18 outings.

Fuller scored a game-high 25 points.  He scored all 12 of the Commodores points in overtime, including the key shot of the game, a three-point shot that put his squad in the lead with 2:11 left in the extra period.

He followed with a layup and three free throws that allowed Vanderbilt to hold off the Musketeers.

"I knew Kendren (Johnson) was going to make a play because he always
does but it was a point in the game, when my man had to help," Fuller said. "I got
the ball and knew I had to step up. Once I made the shot. We looked
at each other and told each other that we could do this. It gave me
confidence the rest of the game."

"It was a huge win for us. We've been struggling. We're a young team
and we have to learn how to win. It is a growing point for us."

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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Cincinnati Reds Named Organization of the Year

Reds' fans have been more than a little upset that the team that won 97 games in 2012 was shutout of the individual awards.

Johnny Cueto and Aroldis Chapman received votes for the Cy Young Award for the National League's best pitcher.  None of the six finalists for the Rawlings Gold Glove Award, Joey Votto, Zack Cozart, Drew Stubbs, Bronson Arroyo, Jay Bruce and most notably, Brandon Phillips won at their respective position.  Dusty Baker finished second to former Cincinnati manager, Davey Johnson, for the Manager of the Year Award.  Todd Frazier finished third in the Rookie of the Year vote.

Only Jay Bruce scored a victory with a Silver Slugger Award as the best hitting right fielder in the National League.

But the organization as a whole was redeemed when Baseball America named the Cincinnati Reds the 2012 Organization of the Year.

It is a fitting award that was more than one year in the making.   Walt Jockety, who has been criticized for not obtaining a prototypical leadoff hitter or cleanup hitter, has filled the mostly home-grown Reds with some key free agents and minor trades.

It is no secret that the Reds cannot out-spend organizations like the Boston Red Sox, the New York Yankees, New York Mets or the Los Angeles Dodgers.  The Reds must develop its players through its minor league operations.  The Reds have done just that, culminating in a season that ended in disappointment but won the second most games in the Major Leagues, eclipsing every one but the Washington Nationals.  The Nationals had the luxury of signing the first players in the draft two season in a row.

The Reds won more than the Yankees, Mets and Red Sox, who had the luxury of throwing a lot of money at its roster.

The core of the Reds' 2012 squad was developed through the minor leagues.  Joey Votto, Drew Stubbs, Zack Cozart, Chris Heisey, Devin Mesoraco, Frazier and Ryan Hanigan are all products of the minor leaugue system.

Cueto, Mike Leake and Homer Bailey were also products of the minor league system that took the mound as part of the starting rotation.  Mat Latos was obtained in a trade but the price was paid with Cincinnati's home grown talent.  Only Bronson Arroyo was picked up in a trade.

Jocketty signed Aroldis Chapman, obtained Scott Rolen in a trade and signed Ryan Ludwick as a free agent.  The three were key players in the Reds ascent to the top of the Central Division.

The Reds have also developed depth in the minor league system with the likes of Henry Rodriguez, Didi Gregorius, Denis Phipps,Tony Cingrani, Daniel Corcino, Neftali Soto and Billy Hamilton knocking on the Major League door.

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