Players, fans share thrills
Dayton crowd applauds Reds stars, who appreciate their days as Dragons.
By David DiCenzo
Sunday, April 05, 2009
DAYTON — The familiar smells of summer waft through Fifth Third Field. Pizza. Hot dogs. Beer.
But it's batting practice that has fans buzzing. When second-year Red Joey Votto takes his cuts, he hits a towering shot that easily clears the 402-foot sign in right-center field. The ball caroms off a rail and falls to the concrete. Many members of the red-clad crowd on the lawn scramble for the souvenir.
The day is already memorable for thousands of fans eager to watch Cincinnati's present and future crop of stars.
"It's really neat," said 29-year-old Batavia resident Christy Holcombe, decked out in a Reds T-shirt with matching necklace. "To see the future players against the current players, some of the prospects coming up through the farm system, it's going to be amazing to see them play."
A serious fan, Holcombe is carrying a folder with a sampling of the approximately 2,500 photos she shot last season.
"This is my condensed version so I can get them signed," Holcombe said, adding that Bronson Arroyo is her favorite Red.
Friends Zach Balsinger, 12, and Daniel Gnau, 11, get a close-up look at BP from a temporary seat in the second row, down the first-base line. It was a long winter for the pair from Centerville and Gnau in particular is pumped with the new season just days away.
"I'm ready," he said.
Balsinger attended about five Reds' games last season, but being able to see his team close to home is meaningful, especially because of the familiar faces of former Dragons like Jay Bruce and Homer Bailey.
"It sure beats the drive down to Cincinnati," Balsinger said. "It's great to see the old Dragons because we've had season tickets since the first year."
Hours before the game, Bruce and Votto recalled their time playing at Fifth Third Field.
"This was a big stepping stone for me here in Dayton," Bruce said. "I have a lot of great memories. I was telling guys on the way here, this place is amazing to play (in) as a minor league baseball player."
"I don't think I've ever played for a team that had such a great fan base," Votto said. "Diehard fans."
Those diehards also gave a rousing ovation to Cincinnati legends Eric Davis and Ken Griffey Sr., honorary coaches for the futures team. Longtime Reds' supporter Chad Hall, 35, said it was a treat to see Griffey throwing BP.
"Where else can you see these stars in a stadium so close?" said the New London resident, alongside his 5-year-old son Caleb, who was seeing the Reds for the first time.
"It makes for a great day."