The winter months that the Reds and their fans spent apart faded away quickly on a recent Reds Caravan stop. The same rapport that the players and fans achieved at Redsfest carried over into the team's second fan engagement opportunity of the offseason.
Appropriately enough, at the Miami University Hamilton stop, the main attraction was Billy Hamilton.
Questions for the speedster, who is slated to take over center field responsibilities from the departed Shin-Soo Choo, ranged from the silly to the serious.
The first question of the fan Q&A came from a young female fan who wanted to know whether Hamilton has a girlfriend.
The answer was no, in case you were wondering.
A few questions later, Hamilton was asked whether he is faster than a car.
Billy's answer? "If it's in park, then yes."
Hey, curious minds wanted to know.
Others asked how Hamilton is coping with the pressure of taking on a full-time role with the club.
"I've been working on my hitting and bunting," he said. "I know it's going to be a different level. It's the big leagues, everybody plays great. I've got some big shoes to fill, [especially in] on-base percentage. I've got to show the people I'm ready for the season. I'm looking forward to starting every day in the big leagues. It should be fun. It's going to be an interesting year and I'm grateful."
Former players and North Tour trip mates Jeff Brantley and Tom Browning offered Hamilton some advice.
"He's just going to have to find a way to slow everything down, because at the big league level, everything comes at you fast -- and that includes the outfield stuff. But he should be fine," Browning said.
Brantley kept his words of wisdom short and sweet.
"Play hard, work hard, keep your nose clean," Brantley said.
In the meantime, Brantley and Browning worked the room like pros.
"I think the biggest point for me is the amount of people that have come out," Brantley said. "I'm not used to this kind of weather. We don't have snow like this where I live, the blowing wind. It looks like the Alaskan tundra out there. But yeah, we still had a ton of fans come out. Everywhere has been packed. Everybody is excited and has a lot of questions. We've been answering back and forth, signing a lot of autographs, taking pictures, kissing babies."
Playing the politician, eh?
"It just goes with the territory," Brantley said. "When you're a representative of the team, you've go to do the best you can to let everybody know what's going on, try to explain the situations, try to explain the difference between making huge trades, between huge signings and between standing pat with the club that you have."
Brantley went on to discuss a few of those nuances.
"I think the biggest question is that people want to know about a backup shortstop," he said. "People want to know if we're going to sign Homer Bailey. People want to know if Johnny Cueto is healthy. And then I think a lot of people want to know why the Reds are standing pat, and then you explain that this is a core group of guys that have been together a long time. And you don't always have to have a huge free-agent signing to be successful."
Browning stressed that this year's core Cincinnati club is in good shape.
"I expect them to win the division this year," he said. "I think we've got too good of a pitching staff, all the way through the rotation and the bullpen, to not win a lot of games. And I think our offense will have a little better success this year than they did last year. I hope they bring home the Central division crown."
Meggie Zahneis, winner of the 2011 Breaking Barriers essay contest, earned the job of youth correspondent for MLB.com in the fall of '11.