Here’s another report from Indianapolis, from Redleg Nation member Richard Baker.

Graham and Richard Baker with Mr. Redlegs. Photo: Richard Baker

Graham and Richard Baker with Mr. Redlegs. Photo: Richard Baker

It’s been cold, grey, and snowy in Indianapolis–that doesn’t count as news. But the Reds Caravan is coming to Castleton Square Mall on Saturday morning–and that does, at least to me and 500 or so Reds fans in Indy.

So early Saturday morning, I put my nine-year-old son, Graham, in the back seat, slide down the driveway (didn’t get a chance to shovel the couple of inches that fell yesterday), and off we go. Graham has his Homer Bailey, Corky Miller, and Ryan LaMarre cards (you can get anything on the internet) in his hands, and his Reds cap on his head. I know that Walt Jocketty and Phil Castellini, are supposed to be there too, but they don’t have cards, and anyway, it’s been hard enough to get Graham interested in any player besides Joey Votto.  I don’t want to push my luck with front-office people, or even introducing him to the idea of front-office people.

You want to give your kids good things, things that have meant something to you, have given you fun and pleasure in life. But I haven’t been able to make him a baseball fan yet. Oh, we play catch in the yard, but when I call him over to watch a game with me . . . well, pretty soon, within an inning usually, he’s asking me if he can play Skylanders (an elaborate video game complete with real-life action figures: when you stand one in front of the TV on something called “the portal of power” it becomes your player in the game), or play Wii, or watch the Disney Channel. I’ve yet to convince him that Great American Ballpark is the real portal of power. So we’re off to the mall.

We get there early, or so I think.  Fifteen minutes before the scheduled 9:30 start–and the line already stretches from Macy’s back towards J.C. Penny. Zach Bonkowski, the Reds’ Director of Events, makes an announcement: it’s a great turnout; they’ll start a little early, so everyone can get autographs. The caravan will have to pull out on time to make the next stop later in the day.

Thom Brennaman says good morning, introduces everyone: Corky Miller, Ryan LaMarre, Homer Bailey, who (Brennaman tells us) is replacing Jay Bruce on the caravan, and Phil Castellini. Walt Jocketty, it turns out, is in St. Louis for Stan Musial’s funeral. Time for a few questions from the fans. A little boy comes up. Thom sits him on his lap, and holds the microphone in front of him. The boy hesitates, then looks up at Brennaman. Plaintively, tears rising in his voice, “Why has Homer Bailey replaced Jay Bruce?”

The crowd laughs. People repeat what he said to those weren’t listening. Thom looks down the table at Homer. Homer can only look sheepish, grin and shrug. But it turns out the boy thought that Bruce was no longer a Red–that somehow Homer took his spot on the 25-man roster. Once his dad clears him up on that point he’s fine with Homer being here this morning. Another boy, a little older, asks Homer how it felt to pitch a no-hitter.

“Well, at first, when I did it, it didn’t really sink in, but then–the next couple of days–it felt really good.” The boyish smile he flashes is an agent’s dream: it was made for endorsements.

Another boy, a little older still, asks Homer if it was the first no-hitter he ever pitched.

“Professionally, yes”

“In your whole life?”

“Well, I might have pitched a couple growing up.”

The boy, who looks like he might have pitched one or two himself in Little League, looks pleased with this point of identification.

A grown-up asks the players what they would be doing if they weren’t playing baseball.

Coaching baseball,” Corky Miller says with a big grin, as he hands the microphone to Homer.

“Being Corky’s assistant coach,” Homer says, smiling that smile again.

Autograph time.

Zach Bonkowski clearly loves his job.  He’s walking up and down the line, talking to people, taking pictures for them, helping Mr. Redlegs find his way around, taking pictures of kids and dads with Mr. Redlegs. I ask him how the trip’s going.

“Oh, it’s a great time, we’ve got a great group. The bus trip’s been the highlight–watching movies, telling stories, listening to Corky Miller tell stories. It’s been great. I’m telling you, we’re going to give Corky Miller a lifetime membership on the Reds Caravan.”

The line keeps moving. We’re past the Forever 21 now, next to the Lego store. Graham likes the Lego store.

I find the little boy who was worried about Jay Bruce. His name is Eddie and he’s four–almost five–years old. His dad tells me that they’re on their way to Bowling Green to catch Todd Frazier as part of the southern tour. Eddie has been featured in The Perfect Place, a documentary about the Reds, and they want Todd to autograph the movie poster.

Everyone in line is Reds-midwestern friendly, smiling at the kids, talking quietly. The most animated conversation I hear is about whether it was a good idea to keep Ryan Ludwick, and even that ends on an I-guess-we’ll-just-have-to-wait-and-see note.

We’ve been in line a little over an hour; we’re getting close. Graham’s perked up, asking me all kinds of questions. I know what this means: he’ll be tongue-tied when we get up there.

Players in autograph line. Photo: Richard Baker

Players in autograph line. Photo: Richard Baker

Almost to the autograph table.

When we get there, Homer signs, smiles, gets Graham to smile. Corky, who’s sporting long hair and big Fu Manchu, cuts up and signs. Ryan defers to Corky and signs. Thom asks Graham his name, how old he is, and guesses right that he’s in the fourth grade.

We’re back walking in the mall. Graham seems happy. I’m thinking about when we might take in a game. The Reds open at home against the Angels; Thursday April 4th is a day game; school yes, . . . but that week might be Spring Break . . . and depending on how Dusty sets the rotation, Homer could be pitching . . . it would be fun to see Mike Trout . . .

“Hey, Dad, can we go in here?”

The Game Stop store. He goes right to it. Right in the front of the rack, for only $14.96, is CRUSHER, who is not only a Skylander, but a Skylanders GIANT.

You want to give your kids good things, things that have meant something to you, have given you fun and pleasure in life. But whatever you do, they grow up, go to high school, get a driver’s license, and then . . . they’re off. I’m learning that with Graham’s older sisters, and truth be told, it’s not easy. I buy him CRUSHER.

Spring will come. Opening Day is only two months away.

— Richard Baker