THE BE(A)ST OF THE EAST: MY TIME ON THE 2016 #REDSCARAVAN
You folks who followed the 2016 Reds Caravan on Reds.com and here on Better Off Red are probably familiar with the friendly rivalry the “Rock Star Tour,” spearheaded by “Mercury” Marty Brennaman, has with the other three legs of the Caravan. His daily recaps that appear on BOR, which help capture the pro-wrestling-like competition, must be read the same way they were written – with tongue firmly planted in cheek and with a suspension of disbelief. Marty free-styles his soliloquies on the bus while I sit nearby and type them word-for-word. In between belly laughs and paragraphs, another tour-member or two might add something or change a word/sentence for editorial purposes. It’s easily one of the tour highlights as Marty’s live audience (everyone on the bus) sits backs and braces itself for what he’s about to say next.
But I’m here today to fill in the blanks, separate reality from fantasy and provide another glimpse of what I saw/experienced on the East Tour of the 2016 Reds Caravan – (WITH PHOTOS!)
First, I have to say that the guys on this year’s bus formed one of my all-time favorite groups. With three Caravan “rookies” added to our bus this year, I wasn’t sure how they’d react to our traveling band of merry pranksters but as it turned out – they fit right in. The rookies, Dmitri Young, Nick Krall and Amir Garrett joined “rock star” veterans Tucker Barnhart, Ryan Rizzo, Chris Welsh, Mercury Marty and yours truly to cover over 900 miles of highway and several hours of hijinks.
From Thursday through Saturday, our tour went East towards West Virginia. Our main stops included Athens (OH), Charleston (WV), Parkersburg (WV) and Ashland (KY) with radio affiliate stops in Maysville, Portsmouth, Rio Grande, Middleport, Grayson, Pikeville and Logan (WV) sprinkled throughout. Our schedule is rigid and precise and built on punctuality.
A typical stop involves the guys signing a lot of autographs, posing for a lot of photos and answering a lot of the same questions. But let’s face it – how hard can that be? The guys were naturals at interacting with the media and the fans and answering mostly amusing but sometimes challenging questions. I was very impressed with our team, especially Reds assistant GM Nick Krall, who gracefully answered the lion’s share of those challenging questions. Marty even acknowledged on the bus that Nick changed his mind on some of the more traditional opinions that the veteran Hall of Fame broadcaster held on baseball and the Reds team.
During the middle of Day Two of the Reds Caravan, things start to become routine and formulaic. It’s easy to catch yourself going through the motions and taking for granted what the Caravan is out to accomplish. However, on two separate occasions in two separate cities, I heard two separate young men say the following while interacting with our panel: “this is the greatest day of my life.” Of course, I considered the hyperbole of such comments but even still, both times I was taken aback. Normal everyday people, who are simply involved in a game called baseball with varying degrees of celebrity, have the incredible ability to touch someone so profoundly by simple interaction. Those grateful fans were my personal highlight of this trip and they, in turn, made me thankful for my small role in this big production.
Not to overstate it but I love my time on the bus with the guys on the Caravan. The stories, the laughs, the camaraderie combine to create magic…especially when you have the perfect blend of personalities (and we did). I loved getting to know Amir Garrett. He’s such a class act and a great kid and I’m going to root my heart out for him. Tucker and I picked up right where we left off the last time we saw each other and he’s one of the few Reds players I consider as a personal friend. Like Amir, Tucker’s a world class guy and easy to cheer for and I’m especially excited about his new nickname (Bingo). Like I said earlier, Nick Krall was fantastic and I was very proud of his performance on the trip. He was a welcome addition to our crew. Dmitri is a very special person and a very special friend of mine. He was asked to join our group at the eleventh hour and without batting an eye, he agreed to postpone his busy schedule to travel with us. Dmitri is a good man and the experience, guidance, expertise and enthusiasm he brought to our bus was unmatched. And then there is Ryan and Chris and Marty – three of my favorite dudes who help make this annual voyage an absolute pleasure for me. Few people can make me laugh as hard and as much as Riz, Creeper and Mercury.
A huge thank you to all of the folks who did the actual heavy lifting on our leg of the RedsCaravan; the real rockstars: Mike Middaugh, Kayla Parsley, Christian St. Pierre, Nick Kulik, Nick St. Pierre, Sherry Rowland, Pam Owen, Jackie Reau and Lori Salzarulo.
And a very special thank you to all of the fans and affiliates in Ohio and West Virginia who hosted us!
So enough of my maudlin ramblings. Let’s get to the photos, shall we?