CINCINNATI -- Catcher Luke Maile has spent seven Major League seasons with four different organizations, but the Park Hills, Ky., native who grew up minutes from downtown Cincinnati has yet to play at Great American Ball Park.
That will change come Opening Day after the Covington Catholic High School graduate signed a one-year, $1.175 million contract with the Reds on Monday. Maile, who can earn an additional $25,000 in performance bonuses while backing up regular catcher Tyler Stephenson, understands what the annual opener means to fans in Greater Cincinnati.
“I don't think it's truly sunk in how excited I'll be for that,” Maile said on Tuesday. “I'd like to think that I might soak it in for a minute and then get right back to baseball. I'm sure I'll find a way to do that. I'm very aware of how cool Opening Day is in that stadium and in that city. Everything from the stuff that leads up to it and all the way to the opening ceremonies and the game.”
Maile, who will turn 32 on Feb. 6, grew up rooting for the Reds.
“That was my team,” he said. “That was my whole life, really, since the time I can remember. I started going to Reds games at Riverfront Stadium when I was really, really little. I stopped going pretty much when I graduated high school and left town to go to college.”
An eighth-round selection by the Rays in the 2012 Draft out of the University of Kentucky, Maile played for Tampa Bay (2015-16), Toronto ('17-19), Milwaukee ('21) and Cleveland ('22).
A .207 career hitter with a .582 OPS, Maile batted .221 with a .632 OPS and three home runs in 78 games last season for the Guardians. He has a reputation for stronger defensive skills.
“The last two years, as a backup, he's been league-average offensively as a catcher,” Reds general manager Nick Krall said. “Catcher OPS has been around [an] .660 OPS, and he's been right there around the same. Being able to get a guy who works well with the staff that can be a solid backup is a really good thing for us.”
Cleveland non-tendered Maile on Nov. 18, which made him a free agent.
"Cincinnati was one of the first teams to reach out, which was pretty cool for me,” Maile said. “There was never really a season where Cincinnati came very seriously into play. So when they approached in that first wave right after the tender deadline, I thought there was a real chance to make something happen with that.”
Like Stephenson, Maile is a right-handed hitter. Krall did not rule out the Reds adding a third catcher to the roster that is a lefty or switch-hitter.
“There is a chance. We've got a DH spot and you can mix and match,” Krall said. “You can always, with that extra roster spot over the last year, it is something that's a little bit different. You could work with three catchers, especially with the DH.”
Maile makes his offseason home in Palm Harbor, Fla., but most of his family remains in the Cincinnati area.
“They were pretty ecstatic and I think that’s kind of an understatement,” Maile said. “I kind of kept the negotiation process to myself because I didn’t want anybody to get too excited.”
Maile also heard from his CovCath alma mater.
“I think the whole school has reached out to me,” Maile said. “It's been a really, really cool 24 hours here. It's really difficult to put into words. I think, as you guys know, Cincinnati and that area is the type of city where it's big enough to have its sports teams and it's small enough where everyone kind of knows everybody. Kind of circling back and experiencing that has been really amazing.”
Maile was also attracted to the Reds because he will get to work with some of the club’s younger pitchers -- namely starters like Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo and Graham Ashcraft.
“Watching it from afar -- there is a lot there. I can’t wait to see it in person,” he said. “It’s definitely too early for me to really talk specifically about what I’m excited about because I haven’t caught them yet, but I’ve heard nothing but great things about them. I really am looking forward to seeing what they have to offer and how we can improve upon it.”