June 14, 2006
By GEOFF HOBSON
Bengals take batting practice
Just hearing two great Cincinnati voices, the cool Hall of Fame diction of Reds announcer Marty Brennaman and the spikes-on-the-gravel passion of Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, tells you what season it is. On Wednesday at Great American Ball Park, they were talking to each other as the Bengals took batting practice in a power summit on the river.
“I’m a big fan of yours. It’s good to see you out here,” Brennaman said as he shook hands.
“Same here,” Lewis said. “We’re going to have you guys over to the stadium on a Friday for celebrity field goals.”
“I’ll be there,” said Brennaman, who will no doubt bring along “The Bad Boy,” sidekick Steve Stewart himself.
It truly is a new day. The National League Central-contending Reds have a plan and the defending AFC North champ Bengals have the man and Cincinnati’s two professional sports teams hope to work a little more hand-and-glove. So when Lewis called Phil Castellini not long ago with the idea of bringing his team over to take some hacks, the deed was done.
“It’s always nice when both the Bengals and the Reds are doing well," said Castellini, the Reds senior director of business operations and the son of Bob, the club’s new owner. “We’re big fans. Dad has had season tickets for years and Marvin’s done such a great job.”
In his never ending quest to bring the team closer together, Lewis came up with a Riverfront Walking Tour for Wednesday, the day before the Bengals three-day minicamp closes the spring sessions.
Call it the Long Orange Line.
Wearing black shorts and orange T-shirts with simply “Team” written on the back, about 70 players and coaches trekked from Paul Brown Stadium next door to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.
(Just imagine what Aunt Bertha visiting from Pittsburgh would have thought.)
After about a 45-minute tour, they kept walking to Great American to take the Reds’ batting practice time before the 12:35 p.m. Business Day special against the Brewers.
“A dream come true to get down there and hit. I bet it was for a lot of guys,” said left tackle Levi Jones, most certainly the biggest pitcher-first baseman in Eloy, Ariz., history. “It’s cool when we do something like this as a team. You get to know guys a little better. I bet a lot of guys didn’t know that Kelley Washington played some ball.”
Washington, the fourth-year wide receiver, played 295 minor-league games to be exact as a 10th-round pick of the Marlins. He may have hit .213 lifetime, but on Wednesday he rocketed a few deep shots off World Series hero Billy Hatcher and admitted a part of him will always miss baseball.
“It’s something you always love,” said Washington, who hadn’t picked up a bat in two years. “You don’t forget it.”
Funny what baseball does to you. For guys already living the dream, walking on a big-league greensward is still special.
Like he was a third-grader back in Staten Island going to Yankee Stadium, secondary coach Kevin Coyle brought his glove from home. Shaun Smith, the tough 320-pound defensive tackle, said his day would be made if Ken Griffey Jr., signed his baseball. Linebacker David Pollack, the star of the day who hadn’t picked up a bat since seventh grade, ripped five homers that included an upper-deck job.
“Can’t explain it. I just gripped it and ripped it,” said Pollack, who looked like a Junior Jose Canseco with the jet black hair and quick chop stroke. “Hey now, he’s only throwing about three miles per hour.”
But Tim Burman, the Reds long-time lefty who has been serving up BP homers since Pete Rose made out the lineup card, wasn’t throwing underhand, either.
“Pollack’s got a nice smooth swing. He didn’t jump at it. He stayed back,” Burman said. “The ball went off Kelley Washington’s bat like he knew what he was doing. It sounded like when the Reds hit it. I couldn’t recognize a lot of them. Yeah, I saw Chad.”
How could Burman miss Pro Bowl wide receiver Chad Johnson? He was first in line and although he’s made the celebrity tour with these things, he had trouble lifting the ball.
“Contact, but I can’t get it in the air,” Johnson said, shaking his head.
“He’s a guy that likes to hit and run,” Burman said, but when Johnson tried to leg out a grounder, he had to stop to adjust his cell phone.
The Reds’ star power remained in the clubhouse, but the Bengals found their way to Griffey’s locker. Griffey, it should be no surprise, turned out to be the gracious host. The Cincinnati Kid has long followed the Bengals, so Smith had no trouble getting his signature. And neither did anyone else.
“Great player. Hall of Famer. Laid back guy. Nice dude,” Smith said. “He wanted to know if anybody knew T.O., and what kind of guy he is.”
Safety Anthony Mitchell has been looking for something for his basement to go next to the Brett Favre helmet, the Julius Erving jersey, and the Deion Sanders cleats. Now he’s got it with an Adam Dunn bat signed by the Reds outfield of Dunn, Griffey and Austin Kearns, left to right.
“I’m going to come over and bum-rush you guys two hours before you have a game,” Griffey joked.
“Good guy,” said Mitchell, who also left with a signed hat and ball. “Oh yeah, he’s a fan. He had a Bengals hat in his locker.”
Linebacker Marcus Wilkins got a chance to catch up with Dunn, his former Texas teammate, and it’s amazing how time flies. They found out both are living in Houston.
“The only reason he didn’t play quarterback is because they gave the job to Chris Simms,” said Wilkins of Tampa Bay’s current quarterback. “They moved (Dunn) to tight end and the next thing you know, he’s outside the dorm one night packing up his truck. Then the next thing you know, he’s in the major leagues hitting home runs. It didn’t take him very long.”
Wilkins, who also left with a Dunn bat, is a Lewis veteran who buys into this sort of day.
“I like being a fan,” Wilkins said. “I like being a fan with these guys. We don’t get much of a chance to do it. It’s fun.”
The two franchises haven’t always seen eye-to-eye. But the Reds long ago replaced the Indians in Bengals president Mike Brown’s baseball heart, and whether it has been at Wilmington or Georgetown, a day at training camp isn’t complete until you hear Brennaman’s baritone wafting through his dorm room. The Bengals own a luxury suite at Great American, and on Wednesday they bought about 50 to 100 tickets so players could watch from the new Front Gate section high behind the third-base line.
And on Wednesday the Reds rolled out the Redlegs carpet. While manager Jerry Narron huddled with Lewis, his bench coach, Bucky Dent, politely had his picture taken with a long-suffering Red Sox fan now working for the Bengals.
(It will be recalled that Russell Earl Dent, the one-time Yankee shortstop, personally kept alive “The Curse of the Bambino” with his three-run homer into the Fenway Park net during the 1978 playoff game that ignited New York’s 5-4 victory over Boston.)
But 28 summers later, Dent couldn’t have been nicer to the pathetic soul next to him yammering about how it was a routine fly ball in Yankee Stadium. Plus, he also took time to shake hands with some of the Bengals coaches who double as Yankee fans.
When Lewis got into the cage against Hatcher, the players got a chance to double as coaches and yell some of the things Lewis yells at them.
“Move your hips,” said tight end Reggie Kelly after Lewis missed a low pitch.
“Sacrifice," screamed Chad Johnson as Lewis ticked one off the roof of the net.
Thankfully, Lewis’ day went off better than his hitting. The visit to the Freedom Center had added significance since the museum plans adding an exhibit in September that honors the roles of Marion Motley, Bill Willis, and Bengals founder Paul Brown in the integration of pro football.
“It’s something different. It’s good to get out and do something different as a team," Lewis said. “We’ve got a great relationship going with the Freedom Center and that’s an important thing coming up in September, so it was good to get over there at this point and see what’s going on.”
By 11 a.m., the day campers were done. The Long Orange Line headed out the centerfield fence to Mehring Way under a hot sun, and back to PBS.
“Good workout,” Lewis said to some of the guys. “Low impact.”
Maybe low impact. But, as always, it was a day Lewis made some kind of impact.