When the floor was opened for questions at the Reds Winter Caravan on Sunday morning, first came a comment.
"I go back to the Crosley Field days," said the fan with the microphone addressing a panel that included Bob Castellini, Walt Jocketty, Jay Bruce, Tom Browning, Yasmani Grandal and Joe Morgan.
"And, I would just like to thank Mr. Jocketty, Mr. Castellini, all of you all," the man continued, "for bringing fun, excitement and winning back to the Cincinnati Reds."
A crowd of hundreds burst into applause.
Indeed, as much as anything, this is the Cincinnati Reds Appreciation Tour. Not so much for the Reds to show their appreciation to the fans — who lined up all the way out the door to get autographs at The Shops at Lexington Center — but for the fans to show their appreciation for an organization that has brought winning baseball back to Cincinnati.
The caravan — there are three separate legs — that visited Louisville drew a reported 1,500. A crowd of 750 greeted the Reds' stop in Bowling Green.
"It's all been very upbeat," said Castellini, the Reds' owner, as he was eating a Subway sandwich before the event. "It makes me feel like we have to do everything we can not to let 'em down."
Castellini became Reds' CEO in 2006. Last season brought the team's first division title since 1995. In an era in which small-market owners are more about what they can't do, Castellini seems more about finding a way to can-do.
"It's not about me," he said Sunday.
Sitting across the table, eating his own Subway sandwich, Joe Morgan jumped into the conversation.
"Well, let me say it then," said Morgan. "I've been on a lot of caravans with different teams, and with the Reds. I've never been on a caravan with an owner before. He's putting himself in the line of fire, where you can ask him questions, whether it's about ticket prices or whatever. He's here."
He's here, all right. It's Castellini that gave the OK to contract extensions for Joey Votto (three years, $38 million), Jay Bruce (six years, $51 million) and Johnny Cueto (four years, $27 million).
It was Castellini who made the single best move in recent Reds history: Coaxing Walt Jocketty into being general manager.
"And I tell you, the division has gotten tougher this year," Castellini said Sunday of the NL Central. "But in a way that makes it more exciting. Every game means so much."
It makes every signing more important.
"That was extremely important," said Castellini of the new Votto, Bruce and Cueto contracts. "Fans are going to know who they are coming to see."
The goal is to attract more fans to Great American Ball Park. The Reds drew 2.06 million in 2010, their highest total since 2004. Still, that ranked 12th out of the 16 National League teams. But now that Reds Country has seen success, and the steps Castellini and Jocketty have taken to continue success, better crowds should follow.
"It's imperative," Castellini said. "All the other top-line revenue is pretty well spoken for; we know what that's going to be. The only other way we can increase that top line is to get folks in the stands."
That's where places like Lexington come in. This was once huge Reds Country, back when the Reds were huge, back when they were winning. Now, they are winning again.
"Lexington and Dayton are the two biggest cities closest to Cincinnati," Castellini said. "We have a lot of really good fans down here."
Sunday morning, they were appreciative fans. And optimistic ones.
Said the owner, as he finished up his sandwich, "We're ready for the challenge."