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Billy Reed: This true fan is grateful to baseball (and to Reds) for providing a link to our previous normalcy

During World War II, President Roosevelt allowed professional baseball to continue as usual because he felt it was a way of boosting morale both at home and with our troops overseas. It also was a way of thumbing our nose at our enemies.

Now, more than ever, I appreciate FDR’s wisdom. Here in the age of Trumpism and the Coronavirus, baseball has again provided us with a link to our previous normalcy. It has provided a form of escapism that has helped me and millions of others get through the worst summer of our lives.

I thought about this late Friday night as I watched the Cincinnati Reds celebrate a victory over the Minnesota Twins that guaranteed them a playoff berth, the team’s first since 2013. They have been a maddening team to follow, one that lives or dies by the worst scoring offense in baseball and the best starting pitching.

Billy Reed is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame and the Transylvania University Hall of Fame. He has been named Kentucky Sports Writer of the Year eight times and has won the Eclipse Award three times. Reed has written about a multitude of sports events for over four decades and is perhaps one of the most knowledgeable writers on the Kentucky Derby. His book “Last of a BReed” is available on Amazon.

Not so long ago, I was among those who thought manager David Bell should be fired and veteran first-baseman Joey Votto retired. I was frustrated that everybody in the starting lineup seemed to be swinging for the fences all the time instead of being content to manufacture runs by bunching together a lot of singles and doubles.

But somehow, just when they seemed ready to fold, the Reds put together one of the best comebacks in franchise history. The pitching – mainly Sonny Gray, Trevor Bauer, and Luis Castillo – gave them a chance to win in every game, and the offense found ways, usually home runs, to assure the pitchers’ good work did not go for naught.

I admit that following the Reds has been a pleasure tinged by guilt. I am against playing contact sports until the virus is under control, and I was ready to rip baseball if an epidemic broke out on even one team. But, happily, the virus was never a factor, probably because baseball is essentially a non-contact support with built-in social distancing. It also helped that the games have been played in empty stadiums.

Largely because outfielder Shogo Akiyama, the Reds’ first Japanese player, this has been the most culturally diverse team in Reds’ history. The players come from 12 U.S. states, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Venezuela, Canada and Japan.

It also is sprinkled with newcomers: Akiyama, shortstop Freddy Galvis, second-baseman Mike Moustakas, right fielder Nick Castellanos, shortstop Jose Garcia and others. It took a while to mesh all the backgrounds and newcomers into a team. But Bell and his staff finally did it.

Still, I have a problem with the Reds’ hitting coaches, mainly that they cannot teach players to manage the strike zone, bunt, and go for line drives instead of swinging from the heels on every pitch. Consider third-baseman Eugenio Suarez, who leads the team in homers and runs-batted-in despite a .190 batting average.

In fact, the Reds don’t have a single player hitting .300 or higher for the season. At one point, they scored 19 consecutive runs with home runs only. This is hardly characteristic of a solid offense. But somehow the Reds made it work.

I gave up on Votto the night he took a third strike looking with the bases loaded, then was thrown out of the game for arguing something or the other. I’ve been a fan ever since he joined the Louisville Bats 12 or so years ago. From the time he joined the Reds in 2008, he has been one of the game’s best hitters.

But the last couple of years, he turned into a defensive hitter who choked up on the bat and seemed more interested in drawing walks than getting hits. However, after he hit his nadir this season, he began swinging the bat like the Votto of old. That seemed to give his teammates a boost.

Today, the final game of the regular season, the No. 1 question for the Reds is who they will meet in the playoffs. The outcome of today’s games will figure into that. By day’s end, the playoff matchups will be set.

So my guilty pleasure will continue a while longer. It has taken my mind off the virus and Trumpism, if only for a few hours almost every day. I’m grateful for baseball. Once again, it has served our nation well.

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