GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- As the Reds begin preparation for the 2014 season, MLB.com reporter Mark Sheldon spoke with the team's chief operating officer, Phil Castellini, who talked about the optimism and challenges facing the Reds this year.
MLB.com: How optimistic are you, your father [Bob Castellini, president and CEO] and the family about what is to come for the 2014 season?
Phil Castellini: Very. First and foremost, the move with Bryan Price is a fantastic one. The more we in the front office get to be with Bryan and better understand his philosophies and approach to the game, it is great. I think we had a great team last year. I think we have a great team this year. A few changes, but I think some good ones. If we can stay healthy, I think we can compete at any level in either the National or American League.
MLB.com: What specifically have you grown to like about Price?
Castellini: His understanding of the two sides of the business -- the business operations and the gameday experience and the business of running a baseball team. He has a good understanding of how those two have to connect. We've got to be very open and understanding of how we work together in terms of making connections between players and fans, and we make sure we don't abuse that ability to make those connections in terms of being respectful of the ... routines on a game day and all those kinds of things, but at the same time being very open to doing those things we ask them to do in the community.
His approach to how he looks at the baseball side -- it's a very "business" approach in terms of that it's a job. It's about being prepared, getting yourself prepared in the offseason, during the season getting prepared for a team at a time, giving your best effort all along, good and smart baseball. I don't think you'll see him jumping up and down, screaming in the dugout. That's because he's very thoughtful in everything that he does. The pitchers, who have the most experience with him, talk about his approach and they communicated it as being positive. That approach is positive in all aspects of the baseball business. I think he's going to get the most out of this team.
MLB.com: How are season ticket sales as you get about six weeks away from the regular season?
Castellini: They're very good, actually. We've got some pretty robust goals. We're a little bit under our forecasted goal. The select-a-seat event went very well. The weather that we've had in January, we didn't have as many park visits as we hoped. We do very well usually closing season ticket sales when we can get fans to come down to the park and walk around the park and pick their seats. We do that all winter long. There are still a lot of brokers involved in the business. Any given season, brokers come and go pretty rapidly. There aren't quite as many brokers signed up as we hoped. In the same sense, we're over last year, but just not as many as we projected.
MLB.com: Some fans have complained that they didn't like the lack of changes on the field -- no big signings or trades like in the past two offseasons. Has that been a challenge to marketing the team?
Castellini: On the ticket side, there is no question we got a positive lift from the Shin-Soo Choo announcement [of the trade]. But for me, I'm just as excited to see what Billy Hamilton is going to do in that spot. ... In terms of how the team is going to perform and how fans will buy tickets once the season starts, I think he's going to be electric in that regard. We still very much have positive momentum. In all categories, our sales are over from last year. We're enthusiastic about it. For us, the bigger challenge besides team signings had to do with the execution of making calls that generate a site visit that turn into a sale -- weather took more of a bite out of us than the lack of a big trade if you ask me.
MLB.com: Will there be anything new for fans when they get to Great American Ball Park this season?
Castellini: We did a lot in the offseason last year with the team shop, the Machine Room and renovating half of the suites. This year, we've done the other half of the suites. Every fan will see a huge 80-foot-long bar on the third base concourse, first level. It will be dedicated to craft beer and the history of craft beer in the city of Cincinnati. We're doing a new social media area right near the FS Ohio pre-and-post game booth. Where we had the video wall, we're enhancing that with a little more focus on social media. Those are the two primary things fans will see. We're going to come back at it big time between 2014 and '15 to do a bunch of stuff to concessions and other areas of the ballpark -- enhancements that will be ready for the All-Star Game.
One of the frustrations I had in executing the gameday presentation here at the ballpark was our inability to show close replays on the videoboard. One of the biggest benefits in the league dipping their toe in this replay arena more than for just home runs is that they have lifted the ban of showing replays [of controversial calls] on the big videoboards. To me, that's been one of the key differences between being at home and watching on your 60-inch plasma or being at the ballpark. Now it takes away that difference in the at-home vs. ballpark experience. I think it's going to be a huge benefit to ballpark-attending fans. I think that's the thing I'm most excited about in what's new this year at the ballpark.
MLB.com: This is the fifth year the Reds have held Spring Training in Goodyear, Ariz. Are you still happy with the arrangement?
Castellini: We're very happy with Goodyear, especially for the players. The facility, the cooperation we get with the Indians -- it's been great sharing the facility with them. There is no question that it's a different program for fans to get to Arizona than to Florida. The availability of flights and the like create a further challenge. Trust me, I'm the guy that worries about that as much as I worry about how good it is for the team. As Walt [Jocketty, the GM] reminded when we first made the decision to go out there, Spring Training is about getting the team ready to play baseball. It's great you have facilities that fans can come out and enjoy and engage with the players in the spring time. It was a great tradition in Florida, but ultimately it's about getting the team ready. Those facilities are best in class. The weather is much more cooperative and it's been a great move for the team to be out there. Hopefully in time, more and more fans go out there and check it out and come back home and tell everybody how cool those facilities are in the desert climate and the access to the guys. We respect that it will take some time.
MLB.com: Cincinnati has the All-Star Game in 2015. How close will your club be monitoring preparations for the '14 game in Minneapolis?
Castellini: By design, the league has the next year hosting city participate in the execution of the current year. We will start to get engaged in the next month or so in monthly meetings that Minnesota will have. We will have in the neighborhood of 25-30 people from our staff actually work the All-Star Game this year in our preparation for next year. Literally the tent folds in Minnesota, the planning for Cincinnati begins in earnest and Major League Baseball gives you 100 percent of [its] attention. From the middle of July this year until next year, it really will be a full-time job. We will be benchmarking and learning from the execution by the Twins.
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon.