Elly De La Cruz, Brandon Williamson, and Matt McClain on the Rookies Roundtable at Redsfest in December.

Photo by David Miller/Loveland Magazine © 2024

The training wheels are off!

by Chris Ball

Loveland, Ohio – Before the 2023 season there were many who believed the Reds might lose 90-100 games after going 62-100 in 2022. Most gave them virtually no chance to even have a relevant season and were simply counting down the days until the Bengals’ season rolled back around. 

And the beginning of the ’23 season did very little to change those perspectives. There were rumors that the gates were opening and that the Reds were turning their young players loose on the major leagues. And why shouldn’t they? It was a lost season anyways. 

Matt McClain

Matt McClain was the first, to be eventually followed by the likes of Christian Encarnacion-Strand, Andrew Abbott and Noelvi Marte. The league likely expected these rookies to take their time adjusting the the big leagues, but they shattered expectations by, in many cases, playing well above their age and experience levels. And no one epitomized this more than Elly De La Cruz. 

In the eyes of Reds fans Elly was a superstar from the moment he stepped onto the diamond wearing that red helmet. And he soon proved to the world exactly why he was held in such high regard. From the iconic cycle, to stealing home, to the walk off home runs, the man was a human highlight reel for half a season. 

Elly De La Cruz with a young fan at Redsfest in December.

And suddenly, the city of Cincinnati went from spending the summer dreaming about the upcoming football season to packing Great American Ballpark and hanging on the edge of their seats all the way through the fall, praying for one of the most improbable postseason berths in recent memory. 

It may not have come to pass, but there can be no doubt that 2023 gave Reds fans something they haven’t had in quite a while: legitimate hope that the team can contend. But there’s something different in the air this time around. The young core of this team has shown that the Reds’ ability to push for the playoffs, and maybe even more, won’t just be limited to one or two desperate seasons, but rather, could span years of sustained success that could likely make Reds baseball the main event during those hot Cincinnati summers. 

What are the keys to making that a reality? In 2024 the training wheels are off, the expectations are high, and the fans aren’t just praying for relevance, they are expecting growth, maturation, and most of all, wins. 

Christopher Ball is a longtime Loveland resident and an attorney. He graduated from Loveland High School in 2003 and was a member of the football team before going on to become a coach’s assistant at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana. He has been following and rooting for the Reds and Bengals since the early 1990s and has been through the many ups and downs that fandom has wrought over the years.

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