Outfielder cherishes Cincinnati memories, but enjoys new home
CINCINNATI -- For the last two years of his tenure with the Reds, Drew Stubbs lived directly across from Great American Ball Park, in a complex constructed above a cluster of new bars and restaurants.
Any time he ventured out of his apartment, he earned the admiration of fellow downtown dwellers or ballpark-goers. The camaraderie in the heart of Cincinnati reminded him of his hometown, albeit on a smaller scale.
Stubbs' native city of Atlanta, Texas, a village of about 6,000, embodies the prototypical small, blue-collar town where each citizen is on a first-name basis. Residents constantly tell Stubbs' parents about how they follow their son's every Major League move.
"Everybody knows each other," Stubbs said. "It's so small that if you don't know somebody personally, you still know who they are."
Stubbs noticed a similar bond between Reds fans in Cincinnati, a relationship he grew to appreciate. He also knew, however, that he needed to escape it.
Stubbs exited Cincinnati with mixed emotions. He had developed a healthy rapport with manager Dusty Baker and the rest of the Reds' coaching staff. When the Reds traded the outfielder to Cleveland in a three-team, nine-player blockbuster in December, each coach reached out to Stubbs to wish him well. Pitching coach Bryan Price even delivered him a hand-written note.
"That meant a lot to me for those guys to reach out and say that they enjoyed their time with me and wish me the best of luck," Stubbs said. "I have the utmost respect for all of them for doing that."
Still, Stubbs knew his relocation was for the best. His batting average had plummeted to .213 during the 2012 campaign, and he reached base at a .277 clip, a number ever-magnified because Baker often penciled him in near the top of his batting order.
The luster had worn off for the former eighth overall selection in the 2006 Draft. Stubbs welcomed the change of scenery.
"After a rough year last year, to clean the slate going into a new setting and getting a new opportunity," Stubbs said, "I think, for a lot of players, that's the best thing that can happen."
The Indians and Reds squared off five times during Spring Training, so Stubbs had ample time to reconnect with former teammates. On Monday, though, he walked into the visitors' clubhouse at GABP for the first time and admitted it felt awkward.
Tribe manager Terry Francona endured a similar experience over the weekend, when his club visited Boston, where he served as skipper for eight seasons. Francona said he arrived at Progressive Field on Wednesday at 9 a.m. ET -- 10 hours before first pitch against the Tigers -- because he figured he would be bombarded all day with questions about his impending return to Fenway Park.
"I didn't want the game to sneak up on me," Francona said. "I think that's the biggest thing, when you're coming home or back to a city, is to make sure you get your work done, because the game is ultimately why you're here. If you do the other things on the periphery, you don't want that getting in the way."
Sitting in the visiting dugout, Stubbs fielded questions on Monday morning from reporters hailing from both corners of Ohio. He routinely expressed that the four clashes against his old squad this week won't differ too much from the other 158 games on the schedule.
"I've tried not to let myself fall into that trap," Stubbs said. "If you put any more emphasis on this that what it actually is -- it's just another ballgame -- I think that's when it starts to take away from what works well for you. I think the closer I can keep this to just another game, the better."
Francona suggested that mindset isn't always easy to maintain.
"I think Drew will enjoy trying to show his former team," Francona said. "That's human nature. Your old teammates, as much as you like them, you want to beat them bad."
Stubbs, whose batting average, on-base and slugging percentage have all improved in 2013, spent four years in Cincinnati and seven years in the Reds' organization. As a member of the Indians, he's only a four-hour drive north on I-71 from his old stomping grounds. He'll always cherish Cincinnati, but he's thankful to have found a new home.
"You always hear that [a change of scenery] was the best thing for a guy's career. I can see why," Stubbs said. "I felt like when I got over here and got around some new faces, it was a clean slate and I got to come in and prove what I can do to some new people and get a fresh start.