About 10 minutes after the annual Cincinnati Reds Legends baseball camp started at 10 a.m. Monday at Patriot Park in Marietta, Mike Wagner's cell phone rang.
Answering it, the longtime Reds Legends camp director smiled and breathed a deep sigh of relief. The caller was Jeff Hopkins, who was in Charleston, W.Va., to pick up Ryan Freel at the airport.
Freel's flight had landed and the former Reds utility player was expected to arrive at the camp in Marietta at about noon, Wagner said.
Wagner had good reason to feel good about this, because a couple of years back, he'd received a similar call from Ken Griffey, Sr., who never did make it to Charleston, and ended up not getting to the clinic. Naturally, the youngsters and adults in attendance at VFW Field (as it was called then) were disappointed - most were wearing Griffey T-shirts - but Wagner was able to secure a rain check from Griffey.
Someday, Griffey, Sr., will make an appearance in Marietta - at least, if Mike Wagner has any say in the matter.
"I actually ran into him (Griffey, Sr.) in an elevator at a hotel in Cincinnati a couple of months later," Wagner said, "and reminded him."
Ah, such are the ups and downs of a Reds Legends camp director. It's a fun but not exactly an easy job, trying to coordinate everything and getting everything just right.
This year, Wagner had to do some fast shuffling of his old Cincinnat Reds baseball cards when he learned that original headliners' Chris Sabo, Eric Davis, Eddie Milner and Don Gullett would be unable to attend the camp for one reason or another.
He still had Ron Oester and the reliable Leo "Chico" Cardenas in tow, but who was going to step up for the other missing Reds?
Wagner thought Clay Carroll would be one of the replacements, but that fell through.
He believed too that Jim Maloney might be persuaded to come back again, but that also didn't pan out.
Then, Wagner got the idea of phoning Steve Swisher in Parkersburg.
Even though Swisher wasn't an ex-Red, he was a former major leaguer and had been a guest instructor at the Marietta camp a few years ago.
Problem was, Swisher was going to be in Cincinnati this week to watch his son Nick of the New York Yankees play against the Reds at the Great American Ballpark.
Well, to make a long Reds story short, Wagner kept calling, kept emailing, and finally was able to assemble on short notice a cast, which included Todd Benzinger, Herm Winningham and Dave Parker to go along with Oester, Cardenas and Freel.
All six are veteran instructors at the Reds Legends camp in Marietta. Parker is expected to arrive today.
Anyways, for Wagner's sake, all's well that ends well. He got his Reds, and the camp was humming like a beehive.
Even the diamond at Patriot Park looked great and nicely groomed, despite Sunday night's rainfall. Steve Hill and his crew were at the ball field at 6 a.m. Monday getting it ready for play.
"When they first got here, it was a lake," Wagner said.
When the clinic got underway a little before 10 a.m., it was nice and sunny. Hopefully the weather will hold for the next two days as well. The kids - all 185 of them - looked like they were enjoying the time of their lives, rubbing elbows with and learning from the Reds legends.
Ron Johnston is the Marietta Times sports editor, and can be reached at 376-5441 or at firstname.lastname@example.org