For now, big time is the last thing on Homer's mind

By Eric Crawford
The Courier-Journal

How hard does Louisville Bats righthander Homer Bailey throw?

Every time he blows a fastball by a batter, they can feel the heat all the way up in Cincinnati.

Cincinnati Reds manager Jerry Narron called it "Homer Hype" during spring training, but it began blooming around this 6-foot-4 Texan long before this year.

As the Reds' first pick and the seventh overall in the 2004 first-year-player draft, the consensus National High School Player of the Year got the second-largest signing bonus in team history, $2.3million, and signed on for some major expectations in his major league destination.

The Cincinnati Enquirer runs a "Homer Watch" every time he pitches.

Bats ticket pre-sales have spiked around games he's expected to pitch, like tonight's 7:05 start against Norfolk in Louisville Slugger Field. (The Bats will wear Virginia Tech hats to be auctioned after the game to benefit victims of the Virginia Tech shootings.)

Reds fans check his pitching lines like they check their stocks. And they've seen plenty of growth. He dominated in Class A and Double-A ball. In two starts this season, he's 1-0 with a 1.74 ERA, giving up two runs and four hits in 101/3 innings.

Usually buffered from the hype by distance from the parent club, Bailey got a close look at it during the Reds' spring training this year. He gave up two runs in three innings in his first exhibition start and surrendered six runs in 41/3 innings in his final start.

Focused on the present

Not his most impressive numbers. But here's the impressive thing to come out of that experience: He showed he has the head to handle it. All of it the hype, the frustration. He might have had some rookie moments on the mound this spring, but he was a pro about them in the clubhouse.

"It was really fun going through that experience," he said. "It was kind of frustrating at times, not really understanding the hype and expectation that everybody had, because I didn't have any. I was just going out to play. Now that the season has started, all of that stuff has gone into the background, and you just go out and try to win games."

Which begs a question. With everyone in baseball talking about what kind of major leaguer Bailey is going to be, how does he keep from getting caught up in that speculation?

On the bus back from Richmond last night, Bailey said exactly what he thinks about: "Right now I'm thinking about tomorrow and the first pitch that I throw."

Patience for excellence

Bailey says wanting to win keeps his thoughts from straying too far up Interstate 71. He was always on winning teams as a kid, but when he got to Class A Sarasota, "We were losing. And I didn't like it. ... Fortunately we have a good team here and should have success, and that's what I try to look at, the team and how I can help them win."

It's just a matter of time for Bailey. He has a good enough arm. He has a good enough head. He just needs more innings, more competition, more experience. He didn't come to Louisville with a long checklist from the parent club.

"I'm just trying to do everything better," he said. "Nobody goes out to pitch saying, 'I'm going to work on this and this.' I'm just going out to win."

The good thing about Bailey is that while his fastball may push 100 mph, he's in no rush. You can't say that about a lot of 20-year-olds.

Then again, most don't have his kind of confidence.

An avid hunter, he killed a 13-point buck in Texas last year. But Bailey says it's not nearly big enough.

"I have every intention of bettering that," he said.

Bailey knows he has bigger game in his future. To his credit, he also knows that he can't have it on his mind.