Over the Rhine Celebrates 25th Anniversary at Washington Park

Over the Rhine, the band, played a free show last night in Over-the-Rhine, the Cincinnati neighborhood, in honor of their 25th anniversary as a band. Despite the oppressive heat, Over the Rhine kept things low-key and cool while promoting songs from their latest album Meet Me at the Edge of the World. The show was held in Washington Park across from Cincinnati’s historic Music Hall.

Over the Rhine performs at Washington Park across from Music Hall in Over-the-Rhine
Washington Park and Music Hall serve as the backdrop to Over the Rhine

Besides getting to enjoy great, new music for free, I was impressed with what Cincinnati has done to make Washington Park a beautiful venue for outdoor shows. While there’s no official “seating” outside a few tables and chairs, you can bring lawn chairs or blankets or just take advantage of make-shift seating such as decorative walls or steps winding throughout the park. Excellent concessions were also available at this particular event, including food from Washington Platform and Taste of Belgium, a local Over-the-Rhine restaurant. The park concessions featured a nice variety of craft beers as well – though this attendee was sad to find Moerlein’s OTR Ale was not available. You give us Over the Rhine in Over-the-Rhine, but we can’t partake in some OTR? Would’ve been the perfect trifecta if you ask me.

Quibbles aside, the entire experience was excellent and people really seemed to enjoy themselves. Kids – and even some adults – stayed cool by wading through the beautiful Washington Park fountains. Linford Detweiler (half of the Over the Rhine songwriter duo) even offered up dry shirts for the fountain frolickers at what he called “the 1989 price of $15.”

Over the Rhine was slated to play from 6 PM to 8 PM, but they went on late and left early, so they only ended up playing for an hour or so. But they made that hour count. Over the Rhine’s subtle nuances, intricate harmonies and excellent musicianship shined bright and kept the audience rapt – while leaving us all wanting more. Many of the songs came from their new album and I was particularly struck by a couple of them.

“All Over Ohio” was presented as a love song – in more of a “one love” tradition than the more syrup-y love ballad kind of song. It made me appreciate how the band has stayed true to their Ohio roots. Plus it’s pretty darn catchy.

“Favorite Time of Light” is just a gorgeous tune that expresses, musically, the emotions we often feel when we experience the beauty of nature. In this case, a sunset spreading across fields of wheat as it gives warmth to everything it touches.

Because I’m not native to Cincinnati, I may be less likely to take a scene like this for granted. But given the history of Washington Park and Over-the-Rhine in general, perhaps it’s time for locals to revisit this renovated gem. Sure, Over the Rhine won’t play the venue every Sunday, but regardless of the band, Cincinnati has provided a great performance venue – scenic, sonic and safe – inside Washington Park.

View of downtown Cincinnati from Washington Park
Great view of downtown from Washington Park

If you’re interested in checking out Washington Park for yourself, let me recommend the Cincinnati Celtic Festival being held the weekend of September 5-7.

Let’s just hope they have Guinness.

—Ryan Varney

Cincinnati Reds at the 2014 All Star Break

Cincinnati Reds Logo courtesy of MLB.comHeading into the All Star break, the Reds were hot – winning seven of their last ten. Despite not having Joey Votto or Brandon Phillips (and even Skip Schumaker), the Reds managed to gain some ground on Milwaukee, St. Louis and Pittsburgh. Jay Bruce hit three homeruns during that stretch and was primed for one of his team-carrying hot streaks.

Then the break came and the Reds broke.

Since regular season baseball resumed, the Reds have dropped four straight. And it’s been ugly, ugly, ugly. Dropped pop-ups, flubbed grounders, base running blunders and an inability to hit with RISP have put serious doubts into whether the Reds should be buyers or sellers in the second half.

Oh, and Jay Bruce is 0 – 11 with 5 Ks since the break.

But the fact remains, this team is only three and a half games out of first place. They’re still over .500 and the starting pitching remains above average – if not superb. The bullpen has improved, though both Broxton and Chapman have been touched up a little as of late. And for the amount of money being spent on those guys (see my previous rant on that for more details), well, they’d better improve. Only JJ Hoover can’t seem to get it together (see below for my thoughts on him).

They’re not getting Phillips or Votto back anytime soon, but if they can snap out of this little funk before leaving the land of brats and cheese wheels, I think the Reds should still be buyers. Cautious buyers, but buyers nonetheless.

Please don’t give up top-end prospects to land a mediocre rental player. Trade a guy you’re probably not going to re-sign that’s proven to be successful.

This mostly consists of pitching as the Reds can’t afford to lose any position player that can even hit at least .240. Now this is a very limiting strategy, I’ll admit, but this Reds team is probably not worth mortgaging the future.

Alfredo Simon, as much as I love what he’s done this year, might be a flash-in-the-pan as a starter. His arm might not be used to this many innings. Deal him while he has value. If you truly believe in Homer Bailey (money talks), and you trust Mike Leake and pray to God that Cingrani seasons well, you still have a solid staff. And in the playoffs, you’ll only need Cueto, Latos and Bailey.

However, if the Reds get swept out of Milwaukee or lose three or four games over the next seven, I’d start selling.

Should be easy, right? Who wouldn’t want the likes of Ryan Ludwick, Chris Heisey, Zack Cozart, Ramon Santiago, Brayan Pena, Donald Lutz or Skip Schumaker? Teams are probably salivating to take on the contracts of Brandon Phillips or Joey Votto. GASP – did I just say to unload Joey? Yes. Yes I did.

Of course, none of this will happen. The Reds will continue to get diminishing returns on BP and JV, and no contender is looking to part with prospects for the rest of the gang.

All we can do is hope these guys continue to play as a cohesive unit and that somehow, someway, someone picks up the slack.

If only the Todfather had a daughter. And it was the day of her wedding. Every day. And he had to grant all us Reds fans our wishes: more bombs (of the three- or four-run variety), the healing touch on Votto and Phillips and a post-season berth. Surely the Home Run Derby runner-up has the clout.

Final Thoughts on JJ Hoover

JJ Hoover Meme

Seriously, though, Hoover’s stats are horrific. He’s given up 8 homeruns in 34 appearances (41 IP) and 25 earned runs for a 5.49 ERA, all leading to a 1 – 7 record. He might have good stuff and may eventually become a quality reliever, but right now? He’s killing the Reds. Get on the phone, call Louisville and tell them they have a project on the way.

JJ Hoover statistics

—Ryan Varney

Routines

It’s funny how in memories the mind makes correlations between events that really aren’t related, at least in space and time. But I think our brain, in hindsight, understands life beyond the tangible. It ties together moments by fusing feelings and emotions, though the events they are attached to appear incongruous.

***

For years, as a child, I begged my parents for a dog though deep down I knew it was a lost cause. I’d broach the subject every so often on the off chance they’d cave. Alas, the answer was always no, the idea brushed aside like crumbs from a table.

Then one Christmas, I was told there was a final gift to open but I didn’t see any presents left under the tree. Up from the basement my dad bounded with a box in his arms. Oddly, the lid and box were wrapped separately – and that’s when it clicked. I pulled off the lid and out popped a puppy. Bouncing around with its tongue and tail wagging, it looked like a wind-up toy. I couldn’t help myself from exclaiming, “Is it real?!?”

BarneyJake

(L) Our first dog Barney; (R) Our second dog Jake

A few years later, my dad bought a truck. This was a man who’d owned a succession of Hondas because he believed in the value of miles per gallon. Sure, the truck was manual transmission and foreign-made (a Nissan), but it would never get the gas mileage an Accord or Civic would. So even with my limited financial acumen, I was quite surprised.

From the first moment I saw that truck, I knew I wanted to drive it more than anything in the world. Steel gray, over-sized tires; it was a thing of beauty in my sixteen year-old mind. It was also a vehicle much too expensive to let a newbie driver get behind its wheel.

Nevertheless, I still got jealous watching him pull out of the drive on his way to work wishing it was me instead. He worked at Toledo Hospital as a pharmacist (still does) and that commute was the primary purpose for using the truck. I can still picture the route now, twenty years later, timing the lights just right, the twists and turns as familiar to me as childhood.

I’m sure he’s quite sick of that route these days considering he’s been taking it for thirty years (has it been that long?!). But I will always feel envious of that drive because day in and day out, he made it with that truck and I so desperately wanted to take the reins.

But then came prom, senior year, and there was my dad handing over the keys. While I’m sure my date didn’t appreciate having to hike up her dress in an attempt to climb into the cab, I was in seventh heaven driving the twenty miles to pick her up and take us to the dance. Gradually, he let me drive it more often, until I eventually went off to college.

I majored in Communications because my dad wouldn’t help out with tuition if I followed in his footsteps as a pharmacist – the position wasn’t in high demand then as it is now. I got a job out of college working for a radio broadcaster in Chicago. Roads are narrow there, parking spots tight, so there was no need for a truck. While I spent a decade in the Windy City driving mid-sized sedans, it was always in the back of my mind to own a truck like Dad’s.

It was during my life in Chicago that my dad got rid of the old, gray Nissan. But he replaced it with a newer, maroon version – an automatic transmission (gasp!). Also during that time my surprise Shih Tzu puppy also went into the clearing at the end of the path. But his going, too, was supplanted with a newer version. I met them both on various visits home and it reminded me that while things change, they also stay the same.

Maroon Nissan FrontierGray Nissan Frontier

(L) Maroon Nissan Frontier passed down to me; (R) Dad’s third Frontier

Perhaps that thought is a key driver in how I approached my life. My parents were stable, reliable and consistent in word and deed. The Nissan Frontier changed color and year and the Shih Tzu went from Barney to Jake, but by and large things looked the same. I, on the other hand, was always moving in and out of relationships, looking for the next great thing and doing my best to fly my wax wings too close to the sun.

Eventually the fun ran its course in Chicago; it’s a young man’s metropolis. It was time to settle down and grow up a little. I moved with my wife to Cincinnati, a nice small town as my old boss Paul Harvey would’ve put it. We bought a house in the near suburbs (only two and a half miles from downtown across the river lest you think I gave up on fun completely) and started life as mostly responsible adults – like our folks – except with two cats instead of a dog.

One day, my dad says he’s interested in a truck down by where I live and asked if I’d come check it out with him. I obliged and we went to look at a practically new steel gray Nissan Frontier. It was even more beautiful than the one that stirred my teenage adrenaline. He bought it and, to my surprise, gave me his old maroon one. I finally had a truck! Only took me thirty-five years.

Around that time I also got a new job working for Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. No – I didn’t go back to pharmacy school. I manage the hospital intranet on the research side of things, but still, I’m working at a hospital. Like my dad. And commuting streets in a truck. His old one.

There are mornings I walk outside, open the pickup cab, turn the ignition and make my way to the hospital and I think to myself after all these years I’m doing the exact same thing Dad does. Actually, this happens Every. Single. Morning. When I get to my hospital I sometimes don’t want to cut the engine and remove the key lest the connection between my dad and me is severed. It’s a ridiculous thought, I know, how can a stupid truck affect a relationship?

That’s where hindsight becomes 20/20 and the link between father and son, truck and dog start to become clear.

Looking back, I see that my dad has always been steady and consistent – replacing the old with newer versions only when he has to because he appreciates what he had or has in those things. And yet, he swore we’d never have a dog and that it wouldn’t be prudent to own a gas guzzling truck, the things he has maintained consistently for over twenty-five years now. But to get there, he broke from his ideals – and surprised a very malleable young boy in doing so.

It is the nature of all children to rebel against their parents to one degree or another. I am certainly no exception. I spent my life trying to do all things I felt my parents never did.

But getting up every morning and performing the same routine as my dad, I have a new perspective on things. I’m filled with pride to know that in some small way I’m following in his footsteps.

I’ve come to see that the responsibility and steadfast routine he’s demonstrated ever since I can remember – the thing I’ve probably rebelled against the most – is something I should run to, not from. Because being responsible and consist doesn’t mean being boring and predictable.

My dad broke his credo of no pets and got a dog. He set aside his cost-consciousness and got a truck. He found surprise and change inside his routine. Turns out, father may know best after all.

Eventually he’ll retire, his truck will die, I’ll get a new job and my truck will die. But I know the connection between father and son won’t be broken because some shared routines were. No – these days I’ve realized the connection comes from knowing I’m becoming the man he already is.

And, just maybe, for him, knowing this will be a surprise as pleasant as getting a puppy for Christmas.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.


From L to R: Ryan, Dad, Jenn at the Cell in Chicago

—Ryan Varney

2014 Reds First Quarter Review

2014 Reds Bullpen
2014 Reds Bullpen

Somebody needs to get fired…and it’s not Bryan Price. Whoever decided to drop $22.5 million dollars on the Reds bullpen this year come get your pink slip.

You. Failed.

Every time I see Price picking up the phone to the pen, I think “Who you gonna call? Winbusters?”

Reds upper management paid a combined $22.5 million to a group of “pitchers” to produce the following:

  • 5.77 ERA (worst in baseball)
  • .274 Batting Average Against
  • 4 Blown Saves
  • 3 Saves
  • 90 Innings Pitched (fewest in NL)

The only saving grace for the Reds bullpen is the fact they’ve worked the fewest innings in the National League so far this year. Can you imagine how much damage they could do in 120 IP? Well, give them time. You won’t have to imagine.

I’d also like to point out the number of blown saves versus saves. Surely, leaving the starters in could produce the same results? Reds starters are already pitching more innings than any other staff, so what’s a few more? BTW – Reds starters are only making $12 million more than the Reds bullpen collectively. Go ahead and put that in your back pocket for a bargaining chip next off season, guys.

Except you Homer Bailey. We’d like your $105 million back.

Better idea: just move him to the bullpen. He’ll fit right in.

Too bad the Reds can’t hit off their own bullpen. Currently, only Brandon Phillips is hitting higher than all National Leaguers batting against the Reds. He’s at a whopping .276. Everyone else is vying for the Mendoza Line. They could really use the lift of batting against their own pen.

$22.5 million. Could’ve added a bat to the lineup. Maybe pick up some extra runs to cover the ones the relievers are giving away.

Looks like I picked the wrong year to buy season tickets.

—Ryan Varney

Homer Serves Them Up At An Alarming Pace

Homer Bailey bobblehead

David Dewitt Bailey. His nickname, and the name you know him by is “Homer” – not a bad nickname for a baseball player. Except Homer Bailey is a pitcher and unfortunately for the Cincinnati Reds, a team that just shelled out $105 million for his services, Homer is serving them up at a rate of 1 every other inning in 2014.

It’s early, and that number will no doubt get better as the season progresses, but it’s alarming nonetheless. Besides the long balls, Bailey’s ERA this season at 8.16 is almost double his career average of 4.32. His WHIP is nearly a point higher, too.
Homer Bailey career statistics
Further, the Reds gave Bailey SEVEN years to reach the potential they felt he had in him – which they thought they saw realized in the pair of no-hitters he tossed in one calendar year. Hence the deal for a cool $105 mil over six years. That’s an average of $17.5 million per year. In other words, that’s ace money.

While I do think Homer Bailey has shown improvement over his first seven seasons, he’s no ace. People will quibble over the definition of what an ace is, but everyone agrees, an ace is the team’s best option when they need a win – someone you can bank on virtually every appearance. You can’t bank on Bailey. Like most of the Reds staff, he’s just too inconsistent and his career stats bear this out.

Too often the trend in baseball has shown that players receiving huge contracts have rather suspect performances the ensuing season. And with the Reds anemic offense, they really need Bailey to rise above the norm. Based on the early returns, he is not.

But it’s not all doom and gloom Reds fans. The team was smart enough to back load the contract with Bailey getting $9 million this year, $10 million in 2015, $18 million in 2016, $19 million in 2017, $21 million in 2018 and $23 million in 2019. Plus they set a buyout price at $5 million. So if Bailey doesn’t get back to his 2013 numbers, they can get out of the deal without taking too big a hit.

I certainly hope Bailey gets back into form in short order. He’s got dynamic stuff and he’s fun to watch. Plus, the Reds have enough guys in the bullpen willing to give up bombs – good thing Uncle Walt spent so much on such quality middle relievers (it’s enough to make you think he’s still on the Cardinals payroll – but that’s a post for another day).

I digress.

As does Homer.

—Ryan Varney

Review of the Twentieth Century Way at the Know Theater in Cincinnati

The Know Theatre in Cincinnati presents the Twentieth Century WayI was invited to a production of “The Twentieth-Century Way” at the Know Theatre of Cincinnati this past weekend. Starring Jens Rasmussen and Michael McKeogh, this two-man play is a whirlwind of activity designed to answer the question, “Who am I, really?”

In order to answer the question, the playwright, Tom Jacobson, has his characters don masks (in the form of improvisational role-playing as part of a movie audition) to reveal their true selves. While not a novel concept, Jacobson uses it effectively and the actors displayed his vision veraciously.

You can read reviews of the script to get the full story elsewhere. Here’s what you really need to know.

It’s worth the admission price ($15 in advance; $20 day of show).

Rasmussen and McKeogh are tremendous. Though it’s only a two-man show, each actor performs as five or six different characters. These characters appear as part of different scenes, and the seamless transitions made by Rasmussen and McKeogh immediately place the audience in the scene. Watching them go from character to character is as impressive as Jacobson’s script.

It’s funny. There is a nice blend of physical comedy, laugh-out-loud moments, and subtle quips – all which help swallow the heaviness at the heart of the play.

It’s at times graphic, but don’t let the homosexual nature of the play distract you from its heart. If you are put off by man-on-man action (as I am), some moments are tough to watch. But this play is not really commentary on homosexuality – it’s merely the vehicle Jacobson uses to make his point.

And finally a word of caution (and possible spoiler alert):
MEN GET NAKED AND TOUCH. After watching the play my mind went to the scene in Role Models where Kuzzik says, “Now let us gingerly touch our tips.”

Because. That. Happened.

They might have kissed, too, but my eyes were averted by that point (plus the technical director was kind enough to dim the lights quite severely).

Now that you know the pros and cons, go see it. The Know Theatre warrants support for bringing in two wonderfully talented actors.

—Ryan Varney