For the first time since 2020, the Reds Caravan is back on the road.
Always executed with the purpose to visit and engage with fans spread out across Reds Country, this late January has also served as an unofficial kickoff to the new season with pitchers and catchers set to report in the weeks ahead.
This year’s Caravan will travel over 2,500 miles over six days and include visits to four states: Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia.
For the players, alumni, broadcasters and members of the front office, each day is spelled out with a specific timeline in the hopes of meeting as many folks in Reds Country as possible.
So what’s it like to be a part of the Reds Caravan? Let’s take a behind the scenes look at a jam-packed first day.
Monday, Jan. 23, 2023
Participants: Manager David Bell, Reds shortstop Jose Barrero, Minor League outfielder Austin Hendrick, Reds broadcaster and former pitcher Jeff Brantley, former Reds catcher Corky Miller, Reds broadcaster Brian Giesenschlag
Caravan participants arrived to the ballpark at 8 a.m. for the day’s first event, a season ticket member breakfast in the Reds' clubhouse. The team's representatives, joined by former Reds pitcher and 2023 Reds Hall of Fame inductee Bronson Arroyo, mingled with fans over coffee and an array of breakfast items, signed some autographs, took pictures and participated in a Q&A session.
From there it was up to the ballpark’s Bally Sports Club for the Reds on Radio Affiliate Luncheon, where the group fielded some more questions. Reds CEO Bob Castellini and general manager Nick Krall attended the luncheon as well. Before lunch, Castellini addressed the crowd.
“What we want to do is when we get back in contention, we want to stay there,” Castellini said. “In order to do that, we have to really rely on our pipeline, our Minor League scouts and our Dominican activity, especially. And we intend to do that. So stick with us, believe in us. We are here to win.”
After the luncheon, the actual “caravan” aspect of the day began. The group piled into a charter bus to head off campus with the first stop on the GPS being Fairview-Clifton German Language School. Upon their arrival, they met with some “star” students who earned the opportunity to be VIPs and do a private meet & greet, where they received autographs, took pictures and hung out with the Reds' celebrities. There was one youngster who was shaking with excitement the entire time, commenting on how he couldn’t believe he was sitting with and talking to Major League Baseball players.
From there, it was on to the gymnasium, where the group took the stage behind a curtain with about 600 kids waiting on the other side.
As the curtain drew open, the noise level that was reached by the student body could likely be heard all the way down at Great American Ball Park. The contingent fielded some questions, threw some souvenirs out to the crowd, took a group photo and retreated to the bus.
“I felt like a kid, myself, when that curtain opened up,” Barrero said. “I loved being there with the kids, and I hope to do more of that here in Cincinnati.”
“That was pretty loud, right?” Hendrick said. “That was funny. They were really excited.”
“I think that ovation was for Rosie Red,” Bell joked.
Bell had a point -- Rosie was the center of attention throughout the day.
From Clifton, they ventured west for a visit at Rapid Run Middle School. Another group of VIPs selected by Rapid Run teachers spent time with the players before another gymnasium full of eager students awaited. After another Q&A, group picture, a barrage of souvenir throwing and some on-court selfies and autographs, it was back to the bus.
The next stop was a change of pace as the Caravan headed to 700WLW headquarters to do a couple of live radio segments with Eddie Fingers and Rocky Boiman. The drive from Rapid Run to Kenwood was one of the day’s longest, but all found that time to be enjoyable. While all the guys had the Reds' name to tie them together, not all of them knew each other that well.
“It’s just a different kind of time spent,” Bell said. “When we’re in Spring Training or the season, we’re working. So it’s an opportunity to get to know people on a deeper level. Sometimes on these Caravans, when you go out with a certain group, you have different kind of relationships with them the rest of your life because it is different and fun.”
“It was just fun hanging out,” Hendrick added. “I was able to hang with David, got to know Jose and Corky. Corky, you can never go wrong with him, he’s great. Same with the Cowboy.”
Following the WLW trip, the day’s final destination was Spooky Nook Sports Champion Mill in Hamilton for a two-hour event. Before Monday’s finale, Bell spoke about what it was like to be back on the Caravan after a two-year hiatus.
“It’s been great to be back out here,” Bell said. “You realize how much you miss it the two years we weren’t able to do it. We get to meet people around the ballpark and community, but to be able to reach out and meet this many people that are supporters and fans, it means a lot to us. And it’s very unique, there are not a lot of teams that do this. I’ve personally never experienced this with any other organization I’ve been with. It’s been a great day. The schools were fantastic, being able to meet the younger generation of fans. We’re looking forward to tonight’s event.”
The nightcap did not disappoint, as Reds Country showed up in a big way with over 500 fans estimated to be in attendance. The current and former players answered some more fan questions, ranging from how the new rules implemented by MLB this year will affect the game to what the players like on their pizza. Then fans lined up to meet the Reds and have their favorite memorabilia signed.
The last autograph was signed around 7:15 p.m., about 11 hours after the day began. Before returning to the bus for one last time to enjoy some pizza on the way back to the ballpark, perhaps inspired by the young fan’s question earlier that evening, the players looked back on a fun and eventful experience.
“I had a great time being out with the fans and meeting so many people,” Barrero said. “My favorite part was visiting with the kids. And the bus has been fun, everyone’s been talking and I’m having a good time getting to know everyone, so it’s been a great experience so far.”
“Today was awesome,” Hendrick echoed. “Seeing some of those little kids’ faces, spending time with the fans, and seeing how much they get into it was really cool. I really enjoyed today. It was a good time, and I’m glad I came and saw this. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
The Reds Caravan will continue making its way through Reds Country with the final day of festivities taking place this Saturday. The East Tour will make its way to West Virginia on Wednesday and Thursday while the North and South Tours chug through parts of Ohio (Columbus, Lima and Dayton) and Kentucky (Louisville and Lexington) on Friday and Saturday.
Be sure to visit reds.com/Caravan for a full schedule and see if the Caravan is heading to a location near you.