The Reds haven't been in the opening day spotlight this way for years. The last time Cincinnati was at baseball's epicenter was 2015, when the Reds hosted the All-Star Game. The Reds then traded away their stars, including Home Run Derby champ Todd Frazier, and plunged into a rebuild that brought them more consecutive 90-loss seasons than any other franchise in the majors.
They're celebrating a big year in history on Thursday and opening a season with hopes for better days when they host the Pittsburgh Pirates, a team they'd like to leapfrog this season in a climb from the NL Central basement.
"Opening day is an honor for everyone," first-year manager David Bell said. Last year's opener provided the major leagues' first rainout. A game against the Nationals was pushed back a day, the first time since 1966 that Cincinnati called off its opener because of the weather.
Things didn't get much better when the skies cleared. The Reds went 3-15, prompting manager Bryan Price's firing. The Reds lost 95 games, the fourth straight season with least 94 losses. The front office hired Bell — whose grandfather and father played for the Reds — to lead their attempt to climb from the basement. Three trades overhauled the rotation and the outfield, bringing Yasiel Puig and others to a new-look roster.
For the first time since 2015, Reds fans have a reason for excitement as a season opens. "This is a big day for the fans in Cincinnati and they deserve it," said right-hander Luis Castillo, one of the holdovers from last season who will make his first opening day start.
Commissioner Rob Manfred is in town to launch the 150-year celebration of baseball's first all-professional team, the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings. He's grand marshal of the pregame parade, which began 100 years ago. All major league clubs are wearing a "150" patch on their caps for opening day.
On the field, the Reds and Pirates will pick up where they left off. The Pirates won 6-5 in 10 innings at Great American last Sept. 30, finishing fourth with an 82-79 record. The Pirates are hoping that a deep rotation led by Jameson Taillon can help them be more competitive in the NL Central, where Milwaukee, Chicago and St. Louis are the top contenders for playoff spots. Taillon was Pittsburgh's best pitcher down the stretch last season, allowing three earned runs or less in each of his last 22 starts.
"It's a big honor to kick off the season for the boys, try to set the tone," said Taillon, who grew up in Houston. "Obviously, I care about the body of work, but it's a big honor. "Growing up as a fan of baseball, there was a certain (aura) about being the opening-day starter. I always looked forward when teams announced their opening day starter, always looked forward to who the Astros' starter was when I was a kid."
The game also marks the start of the final season for two long-time broadcasters. Marty Brennaman, the Reds' play-by-play broadcaster, and Pirates color commentator Steve Blass are retiring after the season . The teams also end the regular season together in Pittsburgh on Sept. 29.
"I've always tried to live a life of anticipation, so I'm looking forward to it," Blass said. "I know I'm going to miss it."
AP freelance writers Gary Schatz in Goodyear, Arizona, and John Perrotto in Bradenton, Florida, contributed to this report.
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