CINCINNATI -- Wind chills made it feel like zero degrees outside of Great American Ball Park early Thursday morning, but that was no problem. Baseball was still in the air.
Members of the Reds gathered at the team’s Hall of Fame to kick off the 2013 Reds Caravan.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the fans. That’s what it’s all about,” said Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips, who does a leg of the caravan each winter. “That’s why I love doing these things. It’s to give back and let them know what type of person I am. They ask me all kinds of questions because they can’t [usually] get to me. I’m looking forward to that and all these cool cats on the bus.”
The caravan actually divides and conquers, so to speak, by breaking into three separate legs to make 15 fan stops in four states while covering more than 2,800 miles.
Parts of Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia and Indiana will have a Reds bus cruise its roads over the next four days through Sunday.
“It’s a good one. It’s the kickoff to the season,” right fielder Jay Bruce said. “Reds fans are not just in the city, or not just a state. It’s a region. I believe it’s imperative for continuing the support we have to reach out to different states. The Reds do a great job of putting these legs together. It’s another thing that speaks to our organization.”
The southern leg will zip through West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky and carry third baseman Todd Frazier, reliever Logan Ondrusek (Thursday and Friday only), top Minor League prospect Billy Hamilton, broadcasters Jim Kelch and Jeff Brantley, vice president of baseball operations Dick Williams and mascot Rosie Red.
On the western leg that will make stops in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, Bruce will appear on Thursday and Friday only, while pitcher Homer Bailey takes over for Saturday and Sunday only. Also on the bus are general manager Walt Jocketty, chief operating officer Phil Castellini, catcher Corky Miller, Minor League outfielder Ryan LaMarre and mascot Mr. Redlegs.
And then there is the northern leg, which has again dubbed itself as “The Rock Star Tour.” That bus will cruise through Ohio and West Virginia and feature Phillips, Hall of Fame broadcaster Marty Brennaman, broadcaster and former pitcher Chris Welsh, assistant general manager Bob Miller, Minor League catcher Tucker Barnhart and mascot Gapper.
“Let’s be honest, it’s a self-proclaimed deal,” Brennaman said of the tour’s rock star status. “But what it’s done, I think people understand how much fun we have with this whole thing. I think it’s something that indicates, at least the group we’re with, we don’t take ourselves too seriously.”
Phillips, Brennaman and Miller have been on caravan trips together for the past several years, along with front office members Jamie Ramsey and Ryan Rizzo. Only former Reds player Lee May is missing this year because he is taking part in a Reds fantasy camp this week in Arizona.
Last season, the group made things interesting when it bestowed upon themselves with the “Courage and Camaraderie Award,” complete with an actual trophy and certificate. On Thursday, Brennaman revealed his group was going to get the Great American Bus Award from radio personality Bill Cunningham. Of course, there is no actual Great American Bus Award in existence.
“We just have a good time with it. I don’t even know how it evolved,” Brennaman said. “We just let our imaginations run wild in terms of what we talk about and what we do.”
“If you’re not on the Rock Star bus, then you’re missing out. The other buses are lame!” Phillips joked. “When we make our stops, everyone knows we’re there.”
All fan stops are free and open to the public. At most of the visits, fans will have opportunities for questions and answer sessions, the chance to pose for pictures and get autographs.
Each stop will also feature a raffle of two tickets to the April 1 Opening Day game against the Angels at Great American Ball Park. Tickets to the season’s second home game against the Angels on Apr. 3, also known as “Opening Night,” will be on sale at selected fan stops.
The caravans will also visit over 20 of the Reds on Radio affiliates during the trip.
“It’s like Redsfest. Every year you think it can’t get any bigger and it does,” Brennaman said. “I might be the only guy that compares to what it was back 40 years ago when we had one bus and went out for two days. All the stops were basically in Ohio. Now it’s grown into what it is today. It gets people talking about baseball. It gets writers writing about it. It gets radio and TV stations talking about it.”
Reds CEO Bob Castellini, who will make appearances at stops on different legs, sent the groups off with encouragement. Castellini was still beaming from Wednesday’s announcements that Cincinnati would host the 2015 All-Star Game and that it would have a Major League Baseball Urban Youth Academy be completed that same year.
“What a great way to celebrate this honor by visiting fans in their hometowns for the next four days,” Castellini said.