The first Reds fan arrived at 7 a.m.
By 10 a.m., a full half-hour before the festivities were supposed to begin, the bottom floor of the Lexington Civic Center Shops was pretty much packed on Sunday, camera-ready autograph-seekers ready for this year's edition of the Cincinnati Reds Caravan.
Only this year, there was a little different feeling in the air.
"We've got a lot of unfinished business," said third baseman Todd Frazier, sitting in the tour bus he shared with minor-league base-stealing phenomenon Billy Hamilton, broadcasters Jeff Brantley and Jim Kelch, plus the team's Assistant VP Dick Williams. "We all know that and we're ready to get back in the playoff run and take care of it."
Indeed, the Reds won 97 games in 2012, taking the NL Central title for the second time in three years. But a 2-0 lead over the San Francisco Giants in the NL Divisional Series turned into three straight losses at home. The Giants advanced not only to the NL Championship Series but the World Series, where they beat the Detroit Tigers for their second title in three years.
The Reds think they could have/should have been the Giants last year. They believe they can this upcoming year, thanks to the nucleus that returns, including the 26-year-old Frazier, the New Jersey native who after hitting .273 with 19 homers and 61 RBI last season is expected to replace Scott Rolen as the team's regular third baseman.
Not that Frazier is treating this off-season any different. Oh, well maybe a little different.
"I got married about a month ago," he said. "And I bought a house."
OK, well, aside from that.
"Got some big things out of the way," he joked. "I just work out five days a week — two days a week I work running, footwork and agility. Then the other three I try to get as strong as possible. Then I hit and field as much I can in between. I work out early in the morning, try to get the body going."
A year ago, Frazier was fighting for a roster spot he didn't get coming out of spring training. Once he was called up from Louisville, however, Frazier was in Cincinnati to stay. Now that he's a starter, he wants to keep the same scrappy attitude that got him there in the first place.
"Keep doing what I'm doing because I know the guy below me is trying to get right on my tail," he said. "I was once that guy. So now that I'm there, I want to stay there and belong. I want to make those contracts like the big guys are doing, so it's time to step up."
He's quick to say team goals are more important. If the team does well, the individual goals will care of themselves. Team goal: Not just get back to the playoffs, but win a playoff series, and more.
"It's something I want to get back to as quick as possible," Frazier said. "I remember being at bat and getting a walk with the bases loaded and I couldn't even hear myself think, that's how loud it got. It was so exciting. Those are the things that you never forget."
Speaking of walks, the Reds traded with the Cleveland Indians for leadoff hitter Shin-Soo Choo, who hit .283 with a .373 on-base percentage last season.
"I think it's huge," said Frazier. "He gets on base almost 40 percent of the time. That's something we need. He's a left-handed bat and we've got some left-handers on the bench again and that helps out."
It could be the factor that puts the Reds over the top.
"This is the first time I've been to Lexington," Frazier said. "The whole tour it's been non-stop autographs and non-stop laughs. Everybody's got that itch to go. They're excited. We're excited. We're ready to go."
John Clay: 859-231-3226. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv.