Meeting Mr. Red


CLEARWATER, Fla. — Strange day at Ed Smith Stadium.

The game between the Pirates and Reds was marked by sloppy defense and ineffective pitching. It was a slow-paced game, and took 3 1/2 hours to wrap up. The Pirates blew a couple of one-run leads, fell behind, rallied for four runs in the ninth, then gave up two runs in the bottom of the inning for a 12-11 loss.

Left-hander Zach Duke made his first start of the spring and yielded five runs (four earned) on six hits in two innings. He did well against right-handed batters but served up long homers to a pair of power-hitting lefties, Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn.

Manager John Russell graded Duke’s outing as “OK” — hardly a strong endorsement for Duke’s bid to stay in the rotation.

But, it’s still early.

When the starting pitcher comes out of a spring training game, the drill for the media is simple. We wait until the pitcher finishes running sprints in the outfield, then interview him in the clubhouse while the game is being played.

Today, we tromped down to the clubhouse entrance and found two stadium workers manning the sign-in sheet. The steel door was locked, and neither worker had the key, so one of them began banging.

Why it’s necessary to have two people guarding a locked door, I can’t say.

Finally, we got in. As we waited for Duke to arrive, the Cincinnati mascot, Mr. Red — picture somebody in a ballplayer’s uniform with a giant baseball for a head, just as big but not as cuddly as the Pirate Parrot — wandered through the clubhouse. I don’t think Mr. Red had to sign in and I’m not sure how he got the door open. He never knocked.

Duke stared incredulously as Mr. Red strolled past. Once the mascot was out of the way, the interview — finally — could begin.

Ah, spring training.