Reds grounds crew: MLB's best (& only) fans

From noisemakers to buckets on the head for celebrating homers

September 22nd, 2020

There’s no debate about it: The Reds have the best fans in baseball this year. And that’s because they have the only fans in baseball -- at least, inside the stadium. With cardboard cutouts and piped-in crowd noise the only things giving the feel of a normal day at the ballpark, the Reds’ grounds crew saw its chance. The crew members took over the seats down the right-field line in Great American Ball Park and started making a ruckus to let the hometown nine know there were people pulling for them.

It started inauspiciously enough. Grounds crew member Kevin Hoffstedder (called, unofficially, The Mayor of the Banks) kicked things off by making some moose antlers for new second baseman Mike Moustakas. Nothing too big, just the kind of goofing off you’d normally do with your friends at the ballpark.

But first baseman Joey Votto and manager David Bell noticed -- and they liked it.

“Joey and David Bell come up to us and say how much they loved what we're doing,” grounds supervisor Christo Wallace told “And you know, that that was only the beginning of the shenanigans. From there on out, we've just kind of taken it and run with it.”

Votto didn’t sit back. He wanted to make sure the crew had everything they needed to be heard over the artificial crowd noise. So Votto went online and ordered a few boxes of goodies for the group to play with.

“He told us, ‘Hey, in a couple days, I got a big surprise coming with a lot of noisemakers and whatnot,’” head groundskeeper Steve Lord said. “He showed up with like six boxes that he had ordered. And we’re just trying to figure out, ‘What are we going to [do?] What can we use?'”

With the extra push from the team, the crew went wild, with a rotating group of about six to eight showing up -- and socially distancing -- in the stands with something new every night.

When Pirates pitcher Derek Holland -- a huge University of Michigan football fan -- took the field, the section showed up with some choice Big 10 rivals.

They bring out the brooms -- and goggles and rakes and whatever else is around -- for sweeps.

And when there’s a home run, well, you do the only sensible thing: You put your head into a bucket and have your friends pound on it with drumsticks.

Like all good ideas, it came from idle chatter.

"We're sitting there and saying, 'Hey, you know, after someone hits a home run, let's put a bucket on his head and then celebrate that way.' And then we started hitting it with the drumsticks," Wallace said. "And sure enough, like two batters later, [Nick] Castellanos launches one over the left-field wall and off we ran."

With players used to some 30,000 fans screaming their names, somehow having about a half-dozen grounds crew members doing the same has been equally important.

“Home team definitely loves it,” Wallace said. “I mean, they have told us countless times that they support us in anything that we do. If anyone ever says anything to us, they will back us 100 percent and take anything on for us. They seem to really enjoy it, so we're just gonna keep doing it.”

In addition to helping get the field ready to the Reds' specifications, the grounds crew can help push the home-field advantage by getting under the opposition's skin.

They yelled “Hi Paul!” when the Cardinals’ Paul Goldschmidt came to the plate. After learning that the Royals’ Ryan O’Hearn is a big ping pong player, they made fun of his table tennis abilities.

“No, it's not talking bad about anybody's momma's or anything like that,” Hoffstedder said. “It's all good fun. Good, clean family fun.”

Still, there are some players who don’t enjoy it.

“We've got a couple different groups tell us we're annoying,” Lord said. “A couple of groups tell us, ‘Just shut it,’ that kind of thing. But for the most part, everybody gets it. We're the only folks in here doing anything for the team. It's just one more funny thing to keep them listening. Keep them going. Whether it's visitors or the home team.”

One of those who found the humor in it was the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo. When one of the crew members, Alex Polnow, suggested a jersey swap -- exchanging his own crew polo for one of Rizzo’s jerseys -- the Cubs first baseman loved the idea. After the conclusion of that series was rained out, Rizzo brought it up the next time the Cubs were in Cincinnati.

Sure enough, after the game, they exchanged their shirts, with Rizzo writing, “To Alex, best crew in the league!”

With the league’s lone cheering section behind them, the Reds got hot at the right time -- winning eight of nine games entering Tuesday -- and are now in the thick of the postseason race.

“Kind of an honor, really,” Hoffstedder said about being able to support the team during such a strange season. “As someone who's grown up three or four miles away from Cincinnati my whole life, and been a big Reds fan, it's really cool to finally be playing meaningful ballgames in September and be a small part of that. Shame they won't be getting any playoff games here, but I'll take what I can get at this point.”

The grounds crew won’t be traveling with Cincinnati to any of the postseason games in the bubble should they advance that far, but they’ll be supporting them back home.

“For the most part, we do what the game asks of us,” Lord said. “At this point, we’re getting to be the only fans there. But I can’t imagine next year we’re going to have the chance to have a grounds crew section just like this year. It seems like a once-in-a-lifetime situation for us. Obviously, we’ll be cheering, but it’ll be a little less visible.”