Reds have leadership qualities
Players feel 2007 squad has excellent team chemistry
PHOENIX -- Manager Jerry Narron's benching of third baseman Edwin Encarnacion in Wednesday's win over Arizona was a sharp reminder of just who is in charge in the Reds' dugout.
When Encarnacion didn't run to first base on a first-inning popout to second base, Narron didn't immediately notice. Action was delayed until he watched a video replay in clubhouse, but once he saw the transgression, the manager did not hesitate to demonstrate leadership.
"I don't care if we lose every game," Narron said, before adding that Encarnacion would likely start at Chicago on Friday. "They're going to hustle doing it."
Intangibles, such as team leadership, are considered massively important but are often difficult to quantify in the bottom line of wins and losses. But leading is also not a task that exclusively belongs to the manager.
Amongst themselves, players have to demonstrate leadership, too.
"That's huge in winning a ballgame," center fielder Ryan Freel said. "I think for the most part, everybody gets along here. That's because these guys have been around a while."
The components of quality player leadership seem to be at hand this season. The Reds' front office added veterans like first baseman Jeff Conine and reliever Mike Stanton, who are expected to complement team leaders like relievers David Weathers and Eddie Guardado, infielder Juan Castro and first baseman Scott Hatteberg.
"I think the one thing we have is, other than [Ken Griffey Jr.], is not a lot of superstars," Weathers said. "That's one of the keys for a team to maximize its potential. You have to have a bunch of guys that are hungry and know how to play the game and play hard. I think we've got that in here and that makes us a good club.
"That's what carries you through the tough times -- guys that still get after it. Even though they're not doing well themselves, they still bring something to the table. They play defense every day or encourage somebody and think of somebody other than yourself. That's what makes a good team. We have a lot of those guys."
Last season's club had veterans also, but the 2006 roster underwent a massive in-season reconstruction under first-year general manager Wayne Krivsky in an effort to become competitive quickly.
It worked for a while. The Reds were at or near the top of the National League Central most of the season before a steady fade from playoff contention came during the final six weeks.
While the players were losing, they weren't leading. Some complained the dugout and clubhouse got too quiet when times got tough and that teammates didn't encourage each other enough. Newcomers didn't feel comfortable enough to speak up about team issues.
"Baseball is just so screwy," Hatteberg said. "You could lose three days in a row and be overmatched or just get beat. A lot of teams, and we did this last year, will go, 'We stink. They've caught up to us. We're not the team we thought we were.' The confidence factor is gone."
The early reviews of team chemistry and leadership on the 2007 Reds have been positive.
"Now I think everybody realizes we're pretty good," Hatteberg continued. "Regardless of how bad you're doing at the time or losing games, if we win tomorrow, we're not too cocky or too low."
"Last year, I think we had something here and something there," Freel said. "We really weren't clicking as a team. But I think what Wayne did [a great thing by] signing Eddie Guardado when he's hurt and bringing him back. He's a great clubhouse guy. We brought Weathers back and got Stanton and Castro. These guys have been around. They know how chemistry is supposed to be. They're going to keep us in check this year. It's my fifth year, but I don't have the years those guys do. They know what a clubhouse is supposed to be like."
A test of the quality of the Reds' intangibles has already arrived during the season's second week. After a 4-1 start, the Reds have dropped three of their last four games. That included losing two of three games in the club's first road series at Arizona. Following Thursday's off-day, the road trip resumes Friday in Chicago. Narron already attempted to nip one potential issue in the bud quickly with Encarnacion's benching.
Other issues are sure to come up with over 150 games left, and players will be needed to step up to prevent issues from festering.
"It'll be more obvious over the course of the season," Hatteberg said. "I think we'll have less valleys and stretches where we can't pull it together and less slumps. I think we'll be more consistent this year."