LEXINGTON, Ky. -- The ink has only recently dried on his sizable contract and his team is coming off a division title. That could be construed as a heap of pressure on the shoulders of 23-year-old Reds right fielder Jay Bruce. Maybe to anyone but Bruce. "You know what? Not a ton," Bruce said from the southern leg finale of the Reds Caravan at The Shops of Lexington Center.
"Obviously, with the extension, I know where I'm going to be for the next six-to-seven years. But expectations wise, it's the same. We're trying to go out and have a better season next year. I'm trying to improve as a player in order to help my team win. We have a great thing going now. I'm really excited about it." Since hooking up midway through the four-day Caravan on Saturday, Bruce has been a popular draw. For fans still celebrating the 2010 season, he provided the signature moment with his walk-off home run against the Astros that clinched the National League Central for the Reds on Sept. 28. On Saturday, Bruce was with the traveling party at some stops in the Cincinnati metro-area. He was at the Reds' season-ticket select-a-seat event at Great American Ball Park and also stopped by the Reds Hall of Fame to loan the game ball from his walk-off homer, along with his batting gloves. The Hall of Fame launched a new 2010 season exhibit last week and Bruce's items will be there throughout this year. Also on Saturday, Bruce attended the groundbreaking at Covington, Ky.'s Pioneer Park -- winner of the Reds Community Fund's Home Field Makeover contest. There was also a stop deeper in the Bluegrass State in Bowling Green, Ky. "It's great to come and interact with the fans," Bruce said. "Everybody at every stop, they're the ones that really push what we do anyway. They're the ones that drive this whole sport. Fans make it what it is." Last season, Bruce set career highs across the board offensively as he batted .281 with 25 home runs, 70 RBIs and a .353 on-base percentage. Defensively, he had seven assists. In December, Bruce signed a six-year, $51 million contract that avoids all of his arbitration years and two potential free agent years. He's one of several players that were locked up long term by Cincinnati during the offseason, which has energized the fan base even more. "There's a little more buzz," Bruce said. "Everybody, instead of hoping, they're expecting us to do it again. It's great. I'm up to that challenge and I think that's how it should be. We put more pressure on ourselves than anyone else could, I'll tell you that. Pressure isn't the right word. Expectations are a great way to describe it. We expect a ton out of ourselves."