An event allowing the Bearcats baseball team to follow the Reds at Great American Ball Park represents a perfect fit not only for both organizations, but for a collection of players enjoying a dream scenario.
[Details of inaugural Reds Collegiate Invitational]
Bearcats junior outfielder Justin Glass happened to catch wind UC would play a game following the Reds at Great American Ball Park this season much before Reds COO Phil Castellini took to the podium at the Riverfront Club on Friday night to make the formal announcement of the Reds Collegiate Invitational between UC and Louisville.
Glass couldn't tell anyone. With news of this magnitude, keeping a secret proved harder than hitting a curveball.
"It was tough holding it from my teammates," Glass said. "I think we all dream of playing on a major-league field at some point. To do that in front of this community and we have to do it against Louisville, our rival, too, makes it even better."
The game will take place Sunday, April 6, 30 minutes following the conclusion of the Reds 1:15 p.m game against the Washington Nationals. An idea which originated inside the Bearcats licensing department and caught momentum once Castellini and the Reds took hold of it will be the first collegiate game held at GABP.
When ideas with this many benefits come along, the initial response from nearly everyone connected with its inception sounded like a small variation of the same question: Why has this not happened before?
Two teams who wear the name Cincinnati across their chest serve as a perfect match. A Reds organization that invests as much in the community as any sports team in the country relishes an opportunity to cultivate baseball inside the city. When the Castellini family took over six years ago, they funded nine youth baseball teams. Today they fund nearly 500. In the same respect, the Reds Community Fund grew from $500k to $2 million over the time span.
To continue to connect with the city while drawing more attention to their own elite product only ices the cake.
Having lived in Cincinnati only 16 months, it didn't take long for UC AD Whit Babcock to understand the dynamics of this area. This is a Reds town. They're as beloved and engrained in the fabric as chili on spaghetti. Babcock's been searching for as many ways as possible to forge a partnership.
"Obviously the Reds are so well established," he said. "I really like the energy, I like everything about coming down to the ball park so we want to align ourselves with them. And the big buzz word these days is branding, I want our brand to align with the Reds brand and hopefully they can get some mileage out of it, too, because it's another way for them to give back to Greater Cincinnati."
Babcock even briefly explored the concept of playing a football game at GABP, possibly around Thanksgiving, before the logistics became impossible.
"That would work as long as the field is 85 yards long," he said. "Then we could do it."
In an era of forced events for publicity like shoving the corner of an end zone against the ivy at Wrigley Field or condensation on the basketball court of an aircraft carrier, this combination fits snug. The list goes on: feasibility, beneficial for both sides, promotes baseball, connects the city, grows the brand, helps recruiting and draws national attention to Cincinnati.
Oh, and too often forgotten in the business landscape of college athletics, this event makes for one heck of an experience for a collection of young baseball players.
"You pick up a glove, you want to play in the big leagues," said baseball coach Brian Cleary, the Bearcats all time wins leader with 412. "Most of our guys won't get a chance to do that but they will now have a chance to play in a big-league stadium, same place the big-league guys do, like the big-league guys do."
Of course, that may come with the task of calming down players dreaming of hitting a home run at GABP instead of focusing on the job of beating a Louisville team ranked No. 4 nationally preseason by Baseball America. A great problem to have thanks to an idea Babcock hopes will continue for years to come.
"We try to turn our focus back to the student-athlete experience," Babcock said. "For them to get a chance to play out there will be a great experience. If we can beat Louisville, even better."
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