BATAVIA, Ohio -- Reds right fielder Jay Bruce and team CEO Bob Castellini found themselves together at a rural youth baseball field on a sunny Wednesday afternoon, fulfilling separate promises in one dynamic gesture. They were at the Batavia Township Community Center, where the Reds announced plans for the construction of Brian Wilson Field. The field will be used this summer when the Reds Rookie Success League moves its games to Clermont County from Warren County. Beginning in March 2013, when the renovations are complete, the facility will be used by the University of Cincinnati-Clermont College baseball team. "These are really two independent stories that merged into one in a fantastic way," said Charley Frank, the executive director of the Reds Community Fund.
Upon his rookie year debut in 2008, Bruce told the Reds he wanted to begin a full-scale philanthropic effort after he became established with a long-term contract. Once his six-year, $51 million contract was signed in December, 2010, the first thing Bruce proposed was to fund the renovation of a field to honor Wilson, the scout who signed him. "It was something we thought was very impressive and very thoughtful," Frank said. "We loved that idea and had since been on the lookout to find the right project." The Reds and Bruce decided on the Batavia location because the 25-year-old felt it captured Wilson's essence by being in a rural area. Wilson was residing in rural Texas when he died from a heart attack in June 2006 at the age of 33. He left behind a wife and three daughters. Part of the organization for 13 years as a player, coach and scout, Wilson's baseball legacy endures. Besides Bruce, current Reds players Drew Stubbs, Sam LeCure and Logan Ondrusek were also signed by Wilson. They were all with Bruce for the announcement. "Brian was a very big part of my life and a huge part of me being here today," Bruce said. "He was my true first impression of the Reds, and it was a good one. I know he probably wouldn't want it, as far as the dedication. But I know he would want these kids to have an opportunity to play on a field like this and be able to continue what they love to do." In March 2011, Castellini spoke at a luncheon for the Clermont County Chamber of Commerce and was taken to task for his team not doing more in that community. Castellini immediately pledged to do more. That spawned the decision to bring in the Reds Rookie Success League, a free baseball program for boys and girls ages 7-10 that would otherwise be unable to play or afford to get instruction. The program, which is underwritten by the Reds Community Fund, has been in operation for 10 years and has franchises running in Butler County, Louisville, Ky., and Dayton, Ohio. All expenses and transportation are paid for by the Reds Community Fund. "You know how to get things done, and so do we. It makes for a great partnership," Castellini said, referring to the people of Clermont County. "Jay generously committed a portion of his contract to the Reds Community Fund because it was important to Jay that he gives back to the fans that are supporting his career. We are extremely proud to call him a Cincinnati Red. And we're extremely proud to have a portion of Jay's legacy reside in Clermont County." Since 2006, the Reds Community Fund's field-renovation program has resulted in the upgrade of over 300 youth fields in urban and rural communities in seven states. The field in Batavia will get a new grass infield, dugouts and outfield fencing. The financial commitment Bruce is making to the project is deemed significant. "When our players have donated money for fields, it's ranged anywhere from the low $30's to the mid-$50,000 range," Frank said. "This will clearly be on the north end of that. It'll be the biggest we've done along these lines." Bruce was 18 when he was the Reds' first-round Draft pick (12th overall) in 2005 out of Beaumont, Texas. Wilson made frequent visits to his home during the process, and Bruce recalled when the scout came over for dinner with the family upon signing. "He always told me to be yourself, but in the most Texan way I've heard -- 'Dance with who brung you.' That's always going to stick with me," Bruce said. "It's sad he didn't get a chance to really see this, the fruits of his labor, pay off."