Between 2006 and 2007, I found Hope.
Between tangling with my own Jim Stark-esque teenage demons and brandishing my diverse musical palette by blasting The Police, Lil Wayne, and everything in between from the stereo of my 2000 Nissan Maxima, I found Hope.
Hope was Johnny Cueto.
Hope was signed as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2004 and began his ascent with the Reds in 2005, pitching most of his 49 innings for the Reds rookie affiliate in the Gulf Coast League before a cup of coffee atÃ‚Â High-A Sarasota.
I locatedÃ‚Â Hope in 2006, my first year playing fantasy baseball. Anyone worth their salt knows that research is king in fantasy baseball, and that itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s impossible to avoid prospect rabbit holes when conductingÃ‚Â said research. In 2006, Cueto logged 138 innings across two stops (Low-A Dayton and Sarasota) and posted a 3.00 ERA with 143 strikeouts and just 38 walks. I took notice, feeling like I stumbled upon a buried treasure that no one else knew existed.
Hope was meaningful because, frankly, the Reds were dreadful. The franchise was in the midst of its own Lost Decade — seriously, check out at the horrific starting rotations those Reds teamsÃ‚Â trotted out — and I was constantly searching for optimism to graspÃ‚Â on to. (Homer Bailey and Jay Bruce soon joined Cueto on the Hope Train.)
Cueto exploded onto the scene in 2007, rising through Sarasota, Double-A Chattanooga, and Triple-A Louisville, pitching 161.1 innings — only 22 of which came at Louisville — and sportingÃ‚Â an ERA of 3.07 with 170 strikeouts while walking under two batters per nine innings. As a 22-year-old, Cueto was insertedÃ‚Â in the 2008 Reds rotation. Young Johnny Beisbol dazzled in his debut and eventually evolved into one of baseballÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s premier starters.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“You know, when you get old in life, things get taken from you. I mean, thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s…thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s…thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a part of life. But, you only learn that when you start losing stuff. You find out lifeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s this game of inches.Ã¢â‚¬Â — Al Pacino, Any Given Sunday
On July 19, I journeyed down to the friendly confines of Great American Ball Park to pay witness to what became CuetoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s final home start as a Red. Subconsciously, I was also coming to terms with another fact of aging as indicated by Pacino.
Prior the game, the latest iteration of the USS Cincinnati was announced. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s too bad the ship wasn’t built yet; IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m sure all parties involved wouldÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve rather seen Cueto dip out of town before he walked six and struck just two in four labored innings.
(Heavy precipitation was a fitting undercurrent that day, as Cueto never could muster the type of national recognition that matched his output — like in 2014 when he was overshadowed by a 76-86Ã‚Â Reds outfitÃ‚Â and by Messrs. Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner. KershawÃ‚Â registeredÃ‚Â an otherworldly regular-season performance to snatch the Cy Young away from Cueto, and BumgarnerÃ‚Â deliveredÃ‚Â one of the greatest postseason performances by a starter in baseball history.)
Cueto was finally traded Sunday, and thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s certainly a tough pill to swallow. But as time goes on, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll remember the good times. When IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m reminded of Cueto, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll remember how he was part ace, part entertainer. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll remember the sliding mid-90s heater. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll remember the shimmies and shakes, the tricks and twists.
Because in life, things are taken from you. But that doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t mean you canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t remember the good times. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s all part of growing up.