I have got to be honest...I used to crush Valentine’s Day.
Back in high school, when sparks were flying and emotions were running high, V-Day was my bread and butter. I was the king of homemade heart-shaped cards; picture collages with brightly colored construction paper backgrounds and poems that may or may not have always included Goo Goo Dolls lyrics.
Unfortunately, since then my V-game has plummeted.
Maybe it’s that I’m married or maybe it’s that I’m a grown man and not a misty-eyed tween, but since high school I’ve grown to hate February 14. Don’t get me wrong, I adore my wife and get a lot of joy out of doing nice things for/with her...but something about a day where those things are basically mandated by society rubs me the wrong way.
This year I’ve decided to turn it around.
The stone-faced, scroogey Reed is history ya’ll, and in his place I present to you the most oogly-eyed, sap-drenched, romance-crazed gentleman you’ll ever encounter. (Think Romeo Montague mixed with any Jude Law character, bathing in a bucket of strawberries.)
That’s right people; in the spirit of the day, I’m finally ready to love and be loved.
And I can think of no better way to consummate my transformation than by celebrating the first true love of my life, a romance I’ve cultivated since I was but a twinkle in my mother’s eye, the subject of my thoughts as I rise each morning and the leading lady in the most fantastical of my nightly dreams.
You guessed it, ladies. I’m talking about baseball.
Spring training has touched down in Arizona and Florida, saving us from the drudgery of the February sports landscape, so I feel it’s my duty as a sports blogger/romantic to help the rest of you bask in what is the beginning of one of the most glorious times of year.
In a Bleacher Report Valentine’s Day exclusive, I present you with the five things to absolutely love about the 2013 Cincinnati Reds...
Willy Taveras. Corey Patterson. Drew Stubbs.
They are the phantoms that have haunted my slumber for nearly a decade. They are a collective of underachievers who have held the leadoff spot in Cincinnati hostage for the better part of my 20s, cobbling together a .230 batting average and spawning “somebody's dating Dusty’s daughter” conspiracy theories.
This year however, a light came on.
It was like GM Walt Jocketty walked into Dusty Baker’s office, dumped a bucket of ice water on Baker’s head and yelled, “Lead off hitters are a real thing, damn it!”
In adding Shin-Soo Choo, the OBP maven from Cleveland, Jocketty sent a clear message: The primary job of the first batter in the lineup is not, in fact, to just be super fast. After all, Patterson/Taveras/Stubbs all would beat Choo in a footrace. However, it wouldn’t matter if the Flash were batting leadoff if all he did was strikeout, which is what "Pattaverubbs" did masterfully.
BONUS: Having Choo on the roster effectively takes Baker’s beloved lineup tinkering and tosses it into the Ohio River. Assuming he doesn’t slip into Mendoza territory, Choo will lead off, meaning Brandon Phillips will bat second, and so on and so forth.
Put plainly: This year, more than any other, we finally know exactly what to expect.
There is nothing worse than looking up and down your favorite team’s roster and seeing nothing but journeymen and role players; guys like Scott Hatteberg, Ramon Hernandez and Rich Aurilia.
Maybe I’m mistaken, but up until a couple years ago, the Reds have lived on guys like that, one and two-year contract type guys, 34-year-olds who will hit .260 and play 120 games.
But changes are afoot.
Now it’s great to go to a Reds game and see a slew of cornerstone players that are locked up for years and still in their 20s. With a lineup core of Jay Bruce (25), Joey Votto (29), Todd Frazier (27) and Zack Cozart (27); not to mention their talent-rich starters Johnny Cueto (26), Mat Latos (25), Homer Bailey (26) and Aroldis Chapman (24).
With these young stars, Cincinnati is set up to rule the NL Central for years.
Justin Verlander is dominant, consistent and incredibly valuable.
That being said, I think Aroldis Chapman can be better.
First of all, he throws harder. Ask any Major League hitter and they’ll all agree: 99 mph is easier to hit than 104 mph.
Second, he’s younger. Not to say younger is always better. There are tons of things we stunk at when we were teenagers (Am I right guys?), but it’s safe to say that Verlander’s current dominance is because he is in the prime of his career.
Chapman, 24, is just scratching the surface of his talent, yet he was still one of the most devastating hurlers in the game last season.
Relax guys, I know all the knocks (he may not make the bullpen-rotation transition well, he’s injury-prone, he only has two quality pitches, control-control-control), but I’m still not counting out the possibility that Reds fans may just see the best pitcher in the game slide into the five-hole in their rotation this year.
That’s about as exciting as it gets.
Last season, the Reds had four guys pitch 200 innings apiece, one guy pitch 180, and between the five of them, they never missed a start. The only imperfection was during a doubleheader when Minor League spot-starter Todd Redmond got the ball.
Other than that, a total of five guys carried the load all year long.
As a point of comparison, here’s what Reds pitching staffs have managed to put together over the last 10 years:
(Year: Number of guys getting at least one start: Number of guys with 200+ innings)
What those numbers mean (for the non-statheads) is that what the 2012 Reds rotation was able to accomplish was—in a word—incredible. (It also apparently means that 2003 was a summer from Hell.)
I hate to be a buzzkill, but 2012 will not happen again.
It just won’t.
At least one guy will get injured (if it’s only one, well then that would be fabulous), at least one guy will struggle and a handful of Band-Aid type dudes will undoubtedly be called upon throughout the year. It’s how baseball works.
Except, of course, last year in Cincy.
Luckily for us fans, the Reds have options this year.
The long-awaited Chapman Experiment should bump Mike Leake to the bullpen (or Triple-A). That alone makes for a great insurance policy, as Leake pitched 180 innings last year, had eight wins, two complete games and will only be in his fourth year of professional ball.
Possibly even more tantalizing is top Reds prospect Tony Cingrani, a lefty strikeout machine who will be waiting by the phone in Louisville.
Toss in stalwart long-relief man Sam Lecure, and the Reds have as much quality pitching depth as any team in the league.
I’m not saying the Redlegs will win the World Series. I’m not even saying they’ll get there. But outside of DC, I challenge you to find a more complete team, one that has a better chance.
You can’t. Know why?
Because the Reds won 97 games last season, second most in baseball.
Because, not only do the Reds return every main contributor, they've also added a leadoff man with a career .381 OBP, replacing a player, Stubbs, who was as close to an automatic out as the Majors had.
Because Mat Latos and Homer Bailey were only beginning to put things together at the end of last year, both have “ace” talent.
Because the best pure hitter in the game, Votto, was injured for almost two months last season, but is now fully healthy.
Plus, Aroldis Chapman will be starting games.
I’m am not going to guarantee the Reds will win their first ‘chip since 1990; I’d hate to be so bold.
But today, Valentine’s Day, a day where the color red is painted across the world and romance abounds,
I have to be honest: I love their chances.
Thanks for reading! For more from Reed Domer-Shank, visit his blog: J O U R N E Y M E N . You can also follow Reed on Twitter: @ReedDS20, or contact him directly at Reed.Domershank@gmail.com.