Two years after the Cincinnati Reds made the postseason in the shortened 2020 season, the team tore down their roster to “rebuild” by neglecting to sign their impactful free agents to cut payroll.
The passionate Cincinnati fans who wanted to pursue a winnable NL Central who were frustrated with the ownership’s direction had made “Sell the team” cries that led to the president, Phil Castellini, saying probably the bluntest and diabolical “rich white guy” quote on the radio, which was “Well, where else are you going to go? Sell the team to who?”
The energy around the team that looked like it had no direction and incompetent, wealthy buffoons running their operation, much like many other ownership groups that have been in the sewers for years on end because the consistency of having a ballpark in the summertime for fans and families is ALWAYS going to be profitable, spending money on a winning team or not, was at an all-time low for a fan base that genuinely cares about winning baseball.
Not only has baseball ownership’s refusal to spend been a recurring atrocity, but we’d also seen a thread of service time manipulation, where an organization would have a prospect ready-made for the bigs immediately as a rookie but would keep them slotted in their minor leagues as much as necessary so as to prevent from having to pay them sooner. After Kris Bryant won the NL Rookie of the Year being manipulated and changes were made to the CBA, more teams were capable of calling up their young talent earlier, and it completely changed the outlook of their organization. Juilio Rodriguez was called up and led the Mariners to their first postseason berth in over twenty years last season before signing a 12-year megadeal. Adley Rutschman has the Orioles in potential playoff contention not even two years in the league and exudes “franchise guy” leadership at just 25 years old. Corbin Carroll is 22 and had played just 32 total games before signing an 8-year extension, and now he looks like an MVP candidate for a Diamondbacks team that leads the NL West. Taking a chance on your young talent early on and creating a sense of hope with a cornerstone franchise guy to believe in might be all it takes.
Enter Elly De La Cruz in Cincinnati. The 21-year-old rookie shortstop, that’s 6’5 and built like an NBA superstar rather than an MLB player, was the 4th highest-rated prospect in baseball heading into the year with an unbelievable sprint speed and power, and they finally called him up earlier this month after he continued to tear it up in the minor leagues. Absolutely nothing you say about him is hyperbolic.
Next to Shohei Ohtani, no one has been a more exciting face in baseball in such a short amount of time.
He is a video game character; you give every skill XP the maximum as possible when you’re creating your avatar. He is if you gave the terrifying speed and aggression of the
Predator the strength of Thor wielding Mjolner. He quite literally signs his autographs as “The fastest man on the planet,” and that might be true in the sport, at least, as he’s averaged the fastest sprint speed in the league by HALF A FOOT. He runs out of infield singles that should have been easy ground-outs and aggressively turns doubles into triples. He hits the ball with an insane exit velocity on laser beams, his first home run coming at 458 feet and 114.8 mph. They’re absolutely absurd highlight reel plays that you have to see to even take in the impact that it has from an energy standpoint on the crowd, the team, and their chances to win through belief as he dances and flashes his chain afterward.
Oh, and in a win over the Braves, the best team in the NL, he became the youngest player since the Richard Nixon administration to hit for the cycle.
It turned into a 12-game win streak for the Cincinnati Reds as they now are the sole leaders in the NL Central and went from possibly finishing fourth in the division to potentially buying at the trade deadline to build a playoff-contending team. They decided to call up four of their top six prospects now with Elly to try and win with urgency despite being considered what many thought to be a rebuilding team. The shots of the crowd in Cincinnati are sell-outs, and the players have even hailed themselves as “America’s Team” because of how likable and exciting the energy is right now in the Queen City. It’s must-see television in June.
Just by calling up Elly, it’s as if the thought of the Reds being owned by a greedy and frugal owner have dissolved into thin air, and the team’s vibes could not be better at the moment. Elly could be the face of the team that turns their direction around entirely for the next decade, and all it took was taking a chance on a prospect.
It also can’t be overstated how impactful the hope of calling up the youth movement can be in the locker room with the veteran players as well. Joey Votto was the grizzled veteran of the Reds that is going to be one of the most-memorable Cincinnati baseball players in the organization’s history when it’s all said and done, but he had never gotten the World Series accolades that could potentially put him in the same pantheon as legendary ballplayers with postseason success or rings. There had been talk of moving Votto to a contending franchise to do right by him late in his career rather than have him finish out his waning years in a rebuild, but he wanted to stay loyal to the franchise.
Now. he’s back from injury, and the Reds Mania has made him more ecstatic and livelier than ever. He’s not just the veteran mentor grandfathered into the lineup- it’s energized him to continue to play his best as he told the media, “I’m just a Reds fan.”
The baseball talent has never been more exciting and talent-rich at a young age that De La Cruz serves as a symbol: that in a sport where players are celebrating home runs with Samurai helmets and Viking coats and everything else because they just need something to rally around, belief is the most important statistic.
How could you not be romantic about baseball?