Hope not only springs eternal, it winters well in Reds country.
The Cincinnati Reds' annual winter caravan hit Lexington on Sunday.
All-Star second baseman Brandon Phillips and catching prospect Tucker Barnhart were on the Shops at Lexington Center dais. So were Reds Hall of Famer Lee May, Hall of Fame broadcaster Marty Brennaman, broadcaster and former pitcher Chris Welsh and assistant general manager Bob Miller.
Team mascot Gapper worked a crowd that promised to need all three hours allotted for questions and autographs (one per person, Brennaman warned, so that all may be served).
Fans of all ages came from near and far.
One family of three generations drove from Jasper, Ind., to meet the caravan.
Ryan Persohn, a Reds fan "my whole life," was accompanied by his father, Ray, plus sons Nick and Alex.
Nick, 6, came outfitted in a Scott Rolen jersey. The Reds third baseman is a native of Jasper.
Alex, 5, went with a uniform touting Joey Votto, the 2010 National League MVP.
Leading off the autograph line was Noah Delaney, 27, from Richmond. He won a radio contest to gain VIP access for himself and girlfriend Tabitha Hardy.
"I think we have a really good shot, especially with Pujols and Fielder gone from the division," Delaney said, referring to free-agent losses of Albert Pujols from St. Louis and Prince Fielder from Milwaukee. "I think this year's looking good for the Reds, and I just hope we catch some magic and go to the playoffs again."
That's pretty much how the Reds feel, too.
Significant additions via off-season trades include No. 2-projected starter in the rotation, Mat Latos (from San Diego); left-handed setup man Sean Marshall (from the Cubs), and shortstop Wilson Valdez (from Philadelphia).
"I think we addressed our needs," Miller said. "We made a plan right at the beginning of the off-season — who we wanted to get. And we actually were able to get the ones we wanted to get, so we're pretty happy with that. Madson also then fell into our lap, too, so that was a nice addition."
Free-agent pickup Ryan Madson, 4-2 with 32 saves for the Phillies last year, replaces Francisco Cordero as closer.
Phillips said he's "very happy" with what General Manager Walt Jocketty has given Manager Dusty Baker to work with this season.
"It's all about us going out and producing on the field because we have no excuses," Phillips said. "Last year, we didn't fill in the gaps. But now Walt Jocketty and Dusty did a great job of bringing the guys in, and I think it's going to be a big year."
It promises to be a big year for Phillips, win or lose. Winning all-star, Silver Slugger and Gold Glove recognition last season, Phillips ranked among the National League's top dozen players in batting (.300), hits (183), doubles (38) and runs (94).
In November, the Reds picked up his $12 million option for this season. He'll either get a sweet deal to stay longer or take his talent to the free-agent market. Either way, he's not concerned.
"Let's just worry about 2012 and go out there and try to win a championship for the Queen City," Phillips said. "I'm going to have my day regardless of the fact."
Miller assured fans that the Reds will continue trying to close a deal with Phillips. So, too, with Votto, whose contract is up in 2013.
"It comes down to looking at future budgets and looking at future revenues," Miller said. "We're trying to win this year and next year, and hopefully increase our revenues.
"The biggest problem we have right now is, the Cardinals and Brewers each draw over 3 million (fans), and we're down in the low twos. If we're able to win and get our fans back and increase our revenues, we'll probably be able to keep them. That's the plan."
Later, Miller said: "Come and see the Reds. We're going to win this year."
At least, that's the hope.