"It's a swing city, really," Reds chief operating officer Phil Castellini said during a stop at Polaris Fashion Place mall in Columbus. "It has historically been Reds country. You have to give them reasons to come south. Most of those reasons, hopefully, will be winning."
The Indians established an additional foothold in the area a few years ago when they added the Columbus Clippers as their Triple-A affiliate. But the Reds aren't limiting their pursuit of Columbus fans to only a winter visit. As they have in past regular seasons, they are also holding a Columbus/Franklin County Night at Great American Ball Park on May 26, when Cincinnati hosts the Rockies.
On the northern leg with Castellini were Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco, general manager Walt Jocketty, former Reds pitcher Tom Browning, Minor League outfielder Ryan LaMarre and broadcaster Thom Brennaman. Reds CEO Bob Castellini also dropped in to attend the Saturday stop in Columbus.
"It's always nice to get to see the fans and how many people come out for us and support us," Mesoraco said. "It's been a very good trip so far."
Approximately 500 fans descended to the section of the mall where the Reds held a question-and-answer session followed by autograph signings and pictures.
Square in the heart of Ohio State territory was LaMarre, a former star baseball player for the University of Michigan.
"They might boo me once they announce that. It could be tough," LaMarre joked before stepping on stage.
Apparently a Wolverine could make friends (temporarily) with Buckeyes. There was no ill will shown, as all of the Reds in the contingent were warmly welcomed.
Like at other stops along the caravan, there was considerable buzz about the rash of roster improvements made in the past month. Jocketty has traded for a new starting pitcher in Mat Latos, a reliever in Sean Marshall and brought in free agents like new closer Ryan Madson and outfielder Ryan Ludwick. The GM got to hear the feedback about the moves directly from the fans.
"It's a lot better when it's positive," Jocketty joked. "It's been good. I enjoy listening to people. You have fans that are real avid fans. You can tell they've been fans since they were little kids. They're excited about our organization. People were so dismayed for a while."
For Mesoraco, the Reds' No. 1 prospect
as ranked by MLB.com -- who could catch regularly in the Majors this season -- it's the first time he's been one of the main attractions on a caravan after being on the trip the past couple of years.
"I get more questions now, it seems like," Mesoraco said. "In the past when I was with Brandon [Phillips], he'd get all the questions. More people know who I am, I guess. A few years ago, some people would ask, 'Who are you?' There are some very knowledgeable fans out there that know stuff you wouldn't think that they would. It's fun to see some of those people."
The northern leg made stops in Athens, Ohio, on Thursday, Marietta, Ohio, and Parkersburg, W.Va., on Friday and was headed towards western Ohio for stops in Findlay and Lima later on Saturday. The group wraps up its tour on Sunday in Dayton.
"We were blown away with Redsfest this year and how many folks turned out for that. We continue to be pleased with these stops," Phil Castellini said. "They're great so far. The other routes have had huge crowds as well."