Early this morning, my friend, Sean, and I made a short 10-minute drive to the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton to attend one of the final stops of the Reds Winter Caravan.
Armed with a bag full of baseballs and a poster of Great American Ball Park that we hoped we would have some ink on them by the end of the day, we arrived at the museum around 10 a.m., about 30 minutes before the event was scheduled to start.
Neither of us had attended a caravan stop before, and we had no idea what to expect. But two things became clear to us as soon as we pulled into the parking lot: 1. We should have left his apartment earlier than we did, and 2. People are really excited about the Reds this year.
We parked about a half a mile away from the entrance, and followed the herd of fans through the hallways of the museum until they opened up to a great, open hangar, which was buzzing with a massive group of fans decked out in Reds gear. We stood toward the back of the hangar and took in the crowd, then spotted a table where fans were signing up for a chance to win Opening Day tickets and decided to get in line, which snaked back through Korean War exhibits under the wings of giant, historic aircraft.
As we neared the front of the line, I bumped into a co-worker of mine from the Dayton Daily News, reporter Greg Billing, who told me that fans started arriving to the museum at 6 a.m., and that the 450 autograph tickets that were distributed to ensure fans that they would be able to get something signed were all gone by 9 a.m.
Just then, the group took the stage, and when Hall of Famer Marty Brennaman took the microphone, it seemed as though the energy of the crowd would bring the old airplanes to life. Brennaman introduced the guests on northern leg of the tour, which he dubbed the “Rock Star Tour.” He said a few sentences about each member of the panel—Assistant GM Bob Miller, CEO Bob Castellini, broadcaster Chris Welch, ex-Red and ex-Dayton Dragons manager Todd Benzinger, and minor leaguer Tucker Barnhart—and then finally got to the real rock star of the group, whom he introduced by simply saying “Finally, Brandon Phillips.”
The crowd erupted when DatDude, the man everyone came to see, took his seat on stage, and he kept the fans laughing during the Q & A session that followed. One submitted question asked if Phillips “Will you please marry my daughter,” to which he replied “Where she at? What’s up girl?” Another asked if Phillips would hit a grand slam home run this year. “I hope I hit more than one!”
The only time the crowd came close to matching its enthusiasm for Phillips was when Brennaman fielded a question about Pete Rose’s Hall of Fame prospects. Brennaman, in his typically eloquent way, responded that if Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are on the ballot for consideration, surely Pete should be too.
After a few minutes, the autograph session began. Those with tickets had first priority, but others could wait it out with the hope that they could make it to the front of the line in time. Sean and I decided against waiting.
If the crowds at the caravan stops are any indication, GABP should see a surge in attendance this year. After record stops in Lima and Columbus, there were reportedly over 2,000 fans in Dayton, an all-time high for a single caravan stop. It was great to see such passion and excitement from Reds fans, and it made it seem like the season was closer than two months away. I highly reccommend all fans to check it out next year.