Cincinnati Reds

Enthusiasm runs high at Reds Caravan

Jay Bruce looks up while signing autographs for fans with Yasmani Grandal, left, and Hall of Famer Tom Browning during the Reds Caravan event at The Shops at Lexington Center in Lexington, Ky., Sunday, January 30, 2011. Photo by Matt Goins 11410
Jay Bruce looks up while signing autographs for fans with Yasmani Grandal, left, and Hall of Famer Tom Browning during the Reds Caravan event at The Shops at Lexington Center in Lexington, Ky., Sunday, January 30, 2011. Photo by Matt Goins 11410

The Shops at Lexington Center, adjacent to Rupp Arena, have seen plenty of Big Blue traffic when the University of Kentucky basketball team is home.

Sunday, though, was all about the Big Red.

The Cincinnati Reds' annual goodwill caravan came to town and, when the show got under way at 11 a.m., the line of fans waiting for autographs and photo ops snaked all over the ground-floor food court. Others looked over railings from above.

Enthusiasm is high after last year's National League Central championship — the team's first division title since 1995.

Right fielder Jay Bruce, whose dramatic first-pitch, walk-off home run beat Houston 3-2 and clinched the title last Sept. 28, noted the difference that a year has made to the Caravan mood.

"There's a little more buzz," Bruce said. "Now everybody, instead of kind of hoping, they're expecting us to do it again, and that's great. I'm up to that challenge, and I think that's how it should be. It's great to be a part of this."

Just don't confuse these Reds with some other Reds.

"These guys are creating their own legacy, they're creating their own names, and I think that is what's special," said Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan, a cornerstone of the Big Red Machine and now the team's special advisor to baseball operations. "And, bluntly, I don't think there'll ever be another Big Red Machine — the Benches, the Roses, the Fosters, Perez and all those guys. There's not going to be a team like that anymore.

"But these guys are going to build their own legacy because there are a lot of great players on this ball club."

A year ago, a few fans might have been anxious to see how Bruce would come back from a 2009 season that saw him miss two months because of a broken right wrist.

No need to worry.

After a 1-for-19 start to the season, Bruce hit .290 the rest of the way. He finished with career highs in nearly every category and led the team with 133 starts. He finished with a .281 batting average, 25 homers and 70 RBI.

His homer to the Great American Ball Park berm in right-center was the fifth walk-off homer in major-league history to clinch a title.

Since then, Bruce has signed a six-year, $51 million contract extension that includes an option for 2017. In all, the Reds put up $151 million to lock up Bruce, MVP first baseman Joey Votto (three years, $38 million) and pitchers Bronson Arroyo (three years, $35 million) and Johnny Cueto (four years, $27 million).

"I think cost certainty is key, obviously, for our organization, our franchise, because we're a smaller market team," Bruce said. "And the people that we have in place right now are obviously people that can get it done because we've done it."

Bruce said his expectations haven't changed much in a year.

"With the extension, I know where I'm going to be for the next six or seven years. But, expectation-wise, it's the same," he said. "I mean, we're trying to go out and have a better season than we did last year. And I'm trying to improve as a player in order to help my team win. We have a great thing going in Reds country. I'm really excited about it."

Judging by the Caravan turnout, plus a reported 10 percent-or-so increase in season-ticket sales, fans also are excited.

But will the Reds be able to repeat?

"It's always difficult to repeat because everyone is shooting at you," Morgan said. "The Cubs, the Cardinals and the Astros have made improvements in their ball clubs to try to catch the Reds. So the real key is that the Reds themselves — our players — are going to have to go out there with the attitude that last year's gone and this is a new year. We start fresh."

Fresh begins Feb. 16, when pitchers and catchers report.

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