Before talking to Scooter Gennett, I just felt I had to make amends.
“I have a confession to make,” I said when I approached his locker in the corner of the Reds clubhouse.
I’m not sure he knew what to make of that, so I went on to explain I was standing in that same spot on Opening Day when I found out the guy I previously knew only as a semi-regular Milwaukee Brewer was a fellow Southwest Ohio native.
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The Reds, it turns out, were his team since he was a wee lad. He grew up wanting to wear that wishbone C, to follow in the footsteps of guys like Barry Larkin, whose replica glove he wore as a youngster.
“That’s pretty cool,” I thought then. “Too bad it won’t matter when he’s just a bench player here.”
The good-natured Lebanon native chuckled at that — although I’m not sure he was completely amused — and thanked me for my honesty.
Then we talked about what has been a dream season for him as a member of the team he grew up dreaming he could be part of.
A surprise homecoming
To recap, Gennett became a Red on March 28 after the Brewers put him on waivers.
He hit .279 in three-and-a-half seasons in Milwaukee, blasting 35 home runs in 456 games but not being known as a power hitter.
He didn’t waste any time making an impression with his new club, regaling reporters with the story of how he got his nickname (his real name is Ryan) from a chat with a Lebanon police officer when he was very young.
He also swatted a 2-run homer in the ninth inning of a 4-3 loss to the Phillies on Opening Day.
“When I first got claimed by the Reds I felt like I was dreaming a little bit, like this is crazy, very surreal,” he said. “But I’d say after about a month or so that kind of wore off and it was back to normal baseball and doing whatever I can to help the team.”
He hit two more home runs in a two-game series in Pittsburgh to start the second week of the season, but his coming out party was June 6.
That was an unforgettable night at Great American Ball Park as Gennett hit a franchise-record four home runs and added 10 RBIs as the Reds routed St. Louis 13-1.
After getting playing time all over the diamond early in the season, he became the Reds regular second baseman mid-July.
And Gennett kept slugging, easily topping his previous career high of 14 home runs.
Through Monday, Gennett had 27 homers and 94 RBIs while hitting. 298.
People like me might not have seen this coming, but at least I’m not alone.
“He’s absolutely a surprise considering I felt like I had a pretty good idea of the type of player he was from the time he played against us in Milwaukee,” Reds manager Bryan Price said last week. "He’s exceeded our expectations really beyond anything I would have ever fathomed.”
As for Gennett? He felt confident coming into the season.
“I started doing a new workout routine with my cousin, just one-on-one stuff (last offseason), and just last year I made some big strides with my approach offensively,” he said, noting an oblique injury slowed him for part of 2016 in Milwaukee. “I knew that if I put those two pieces together I would have success.”
He also knew he would have to bide his time before moving into the starting lineup.
Although Gennett can play multiple positions, the Reds opened the season with prospects or established major leaguers at all of them.
Gennett had no choice but to make the most of playing time Price could find for him.
“I think I just went in with no expectations other than to be ready and be prepared to play every day, and I thought if I stuck with that mindset then things would work out,” Gennett said.
Along the way, he became an important player inside and outside the lines.
“I certainly didn’t expect him to impact us in such a significant way not just as a player but as a fixture in the clubhouse, a guy who really is a piece of the fabric here of a strong nucleus of position players,” Price said.
Gennett has also worked hard to give back to the community, an effort that paid off when he was named the Reds’ winner of the Roberto Clemente Award for off-field contributions.
“It’s always been a priority of mine, even with the Brewers,” Gennett said. “As big-league ball players we’re in a position to impact others, and I know it’s a priority for me and quite a few guys in here who do take the time to sign autographs and do stuff in the community.
“A lot of us find time whether it’s a couple hours a week or 20 minutes a day we try to find time to do whatever we can.”
Gennett might not have known exactly how the season would unfold, but he did believe in himself even though he started the season as a bench player.
Gennett is under club control for two more seasons, though he already knows from being let go in spring training by Milwaukee one never knows that the future might hold.
“It’s all up to them,” Gennett said. “I would love to be here for a long time, hopefully the end of my career, but ultimately it’s up to them what they want to do. I just hope I’ve shown them enough this year that I’m in their mind when it comes to this kind of thing. Really the ball’s in their court.”