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02/18/10 7:35 PM EST
Reds in awe of new Arizona complex
Pitchers, catchers and early-bird players marvel upon arrival
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Gaped mouths, heads turning and guys getting lost. Yes, the Reds have definitely started Spring Training at their brand-new complex in Arizona.
Physicals were taken on Thursday morning, and just after noon local time, pitchers and catchers walked out as their spikes clanked on sidewalks on their way to the practice fields. The biggest news of the day was Cuban lefty Aroldis Chapman being among the pitchers that threw in bullpen sessions. Otherwise the day's sights were familiar with players stretching, running, playing catch, hitting and performing conditioning drills. After 12 years in Sarasota, Fla., at a facility that had grown worn-down and confining, the place in Goodyear has received rave reviews. Two thumbs up all around. "I knew it would be beautiful, but this is beautiful," catcher Ramon Hernandez said. "When you walk in, it makes you want to play baseball, you know?" Early-arriving position players Paul Janish and Jay Bruce walked into the spacious clubhouse and their eyes immediately lit up two steps inside the door. "Man, everything is top-notch," Janish said. "We didn't know what to expect. Me and Jay drove here and got lost on the way over. It's kind of out in the middle of nowhere, but you couldn't ask for everything to be nicer. We have TVs everywhere. In the back equipment room, everything is roomier than it was in Sarasota." On their chairs in front of each locker, players were given a map of the facility so they could navigate their way around. "I still get lost and turned around and go the wrong way," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "I have trouble finding [equipment manager] Rick Stowe sometimes. It's like moving into a new house. It's exciting." "It's unbelievable," pitcher Aaron Harang said. "I was here last Friday and came in Saturday morning. I went in and worked out and all that stuff. I was trying to leave, ended up on the wrong side in the Minor League side. I was lost over there." Hoping to make it the type of place where players want to arrive early and leave late each day, the Reds are attempting to make their spring home comfortable but also a place where more work could get done. Instead of four full practice fields in Florida, there are six in Arizona. There used to be one field for infield and now there are two. There are larger indoor batting cages and covered bullpens. Something that wasn't available in Sarasota but open for use now, grassy areas for agility drills and an incline where players can do cardio work on a hill. On Thursday morning, assistant general manager Bob Miller showed off some of the office space inside the 43,000 square foot, two-story building. One of the bigger differences in what the Reds had compared to what they have now is access to video. A dedicated video room contains about a dozen screens for Major and Minor Leaguers, and large flat-panel screens are on the wall. The video room in Sarasota was a laptop perched on top of a wood board over a laundry hamper in a hallway next to the showers. The instructional league field has cameras set up as do the batting and pitching tunnels. All of it is available to view inside the building or remotely. "So we can watch them from home," Miller said. "We can watch instructional league, extended spring. We don't have 20 cameras to follow the ball, but you can see the pitcher and hitter." The main practice field, to be used for instructional league, is set up like it would be at Great American Ball Park. The only difference is the outfield dimensions because of the higher altitude and dryer air in the desert. "It's the exact same lines, all the inserts and cutouts," Miller said. "The infield is the exact same depth." Goodyear, a sprouting suburban town located about 20 miles west of Phoenix, is the Spring Training home of two teams. The Indians, who moved west in 2009, have their nice, new place next door to the Reds. The two teams will share Goodyear Ballpark for their home exhibition games. There are now 15 teams in the Cactus League, with 13 of them located in the Phoenix metro area. That means less travel time for games -- and for "road" games against Cleveland, no travel at all. In Florida, the only team reasonably close to the Reds was the Pirates in Bradenton. "Besides the facilities, they'll end up liking the weather a lot better," said 2009 first-round pick and pitcher Mike Leake, who lives in Phoenix and played for Arizona State. "You have to get used to the dry heat and make sure you're well hydrated. Once they get over that, they'll love it." Cincinnati will debut in the Cactus League with a March 5 home game vs. the Indians. For most of the offseason, the Reds were relatively quiet and made few notable moves. That changed by mid-January with the surprise signing of Chapman to a six-year deal worth $30.25 million. Chapman, a Cuban defector, could very well begin the season in the Minors but will be given a shot to compete for the fifth spot in the rotation. On Feb. 1, the Reds felt they solved their shortstop situation by signing free agent Orlando Cabrera to a one-year contract. On the same day, center fielder Willy Taveras and infielder Adam Rosales were traded to Oakland for utility player Aaron Miles. With most of the lineup, rotation and bullpen spots set, there will be competition focused mostly on two spots -- left field and the fifth starter. In left field, Chris Dickerson, Laynce Nix, Wladimir Balentien, Josh Anderson and top prospects Chris Heisey, Todd Frazier and Juan Francisco will seek to win jobs. The fifth spot will be sought by Chapman but also Micah Owings, Justin Lehr and lefty prospects Matt Maloney and Travis Wood. Only two players weren't in camp in time for the first workout. Pitchers Enerio Del Rosario and Pedro Viola were delayed leaving the Dominican Republic and missed their flight connections in the United States. Both were expected in town later in the day. Although we don't yet know who will win these battles, or any camp surprises that might await the team, there is one thing that is crystal clear. The 58 players in camp will be whittled down to a final 25-man roster that heads back to Cincinnati for an April 5 Opening Day vs. the Cardinals. But for now, the Reds are getting to work and enjoying their work space. "This place is great," reliever Nick Masset said. "They did a really good job. I'm excited. This is by far the best complex I've ever played at. It's awesome, inside and outside, the fields, the mounds. You get that feeling coming to camp, you're always excited to get in and get started. When you come into a clubhouse like this, it makes it 10 times better."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.