CINCINNATI — The 146th Opening Day in Cincinnati was a historic return to some normalcy. It also was quick to signal good and bad changes which have come and may be in store for the Reds franchise as it embarks on the 2022 season and beyond.
For the first time since 1990, the Reds had already played its first game of the season prior to hearing the roar of its home crowd as it went onto the field on Tuesday.
Similarly to that season’s campaign, it wasn’t the Major League Baseball schedule makers decision, but rather a lockout which delayed the start of the season and caused the traditional spot in the schedule to take place in another location.
“It still feels like a Reds’ Opening Day,” manager David Bell said prior to the game. “Just driving in and seeing all the people dressed up in Reds gear, it still gives me chills coming to the ball park.”
“It does feel different,” first baseman Joey Votto said. “We’re in the middle of the regular season. It’s still special, but it does feel different.”
It’s been a few years since Cincinnati could celebrate the kind of joy Opening Day may bring together with its fans as it had done so many times in years past.
The scenes in downtown Cincinnati for the Findlay Street parade, returning for the first time in three years, along with those who flocked to the side streets next to Great American Ball Park during pregame festivities continued to bring a newfound energy for the city following the NFL’s Bengals run to a Super Bowl appearance in February.
A global pandemic still is ongoing, but the seats in the stadium were filled at all levels with no restrictions, just as it once was and should be again.
“Things are feeling back to normal,” Bell said. “We’ve all experienced what it’s like to be in a ball park where the fans are in the game and are excited. Our fans here in Cincinnati have experienced this for a long, long time.”
It’s admirable to see local fans remain excited with the franchise itself not acting with much regard to their feelings.
Expectations for the team have crashed as the organization prioritizes getting its payroll in good shape only six months removed from being the last team eliminated from a position in the National League’s postseason.
Three days after the lockout ended in March, one of the Reds’ top pitchers in Sonny Gray was shipped out the door to Minnesota. A day later, two of its best three potential returning hitters were also confirmed to be leaving as Jesse Winker was traded to Seattle and Nick Castellanos signed with Philadelphia.
What not to do to comfort the fanbase is going about how team President Phil Castellini spent his pregame on Tuesday. During an interview on local radio WLW, he dared the fans to spend its time in another way.
“Where are you going to go?” he told WLW’s Mo Egger. “Let’s start there. … You want to have this debate, if you want to look at what you would do with this team that would have it be more profitable, make more money and compete more in the current economic system that exists, it would be to pick it up and move it somewhere else. So be careful what you ask for.”
Castellini may be right in that Cincinnati is not one of the largest MLB markets, but stating twice profits being the priority before winning isn’t going to win the hearts of anyone who isn’t an accountant for the team.
In the meantime, 43,036 fans did indeed show up because it’s Opening Day. They were able to provide a loud ovation for Votto as he was introduced in the starting lineup, as well as rookies Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo, the latter to make his debut on Wednesday.
It’s a tradition on the calendar for the Reds to begin at home. But the lockout caused 2022 to be just the sixth time since 1890 the team did not hold a 0-0 record when the first pitch was thrown. It can’t be ruled out the Reds starting away from home could become a more common occurrence.
Several conventional baseball standards are already being removed. The designated hitter is now in use for all 30 clubs. Interleague play is becoming more prevalent. Tuesday’s game was the third time an American League team visited the Reds on Opening Day, and starting in 2023 the overall number of cross-league games will increase from 16 to 46.
Bell noted he never gets tired of the festivities and believes Cincinnati has the best environment in baseball for Opening Day. But if the leaders in charge of the game are changing so much to fit modern times, who is to say how long one of its longest standing traditions will continue to last.
Once the game got underway Tuesday, all of those thoughts could be put aside by those in attendance as there was on-field action to focus attention onto once again.
Tyler Mahle threw a first-pitch fastball for a strike to Cleveland’s Myles Straw at 4:13 p.m., and baseball got back underway in Cincinnati.
And on Opening Day the good will always outweigh the bad.
Contact Steven Wright at 937-502-4498 and follow on Twitter @Steven_Wright_.