First Posted: 12/15/2008 11:01:36 AM | Last Updated: 12/15/2008 11:01:36 AM
By Columnist Jeff Wallner
Ramon Hernandez didn't exactly arrive in Cincinnati incognito, or under a shroud of darkness.
Instead, the newly acquired catcher was introduced Saturday before thousands of fans, spotlights and cameras at Redsfest.
The setting proved ideal for Hernandez, who's looking forward to a fresh beginning with a new team.
"It's a new start, new team, new division," he said. "It's a new start for everything. It's really exciting. It feels pretty good to start the season with a new team."
Last week the Reds announced they'd acquired Hernandez from the Orioles in exchange for oft-injured utility man Ryan Freel, and minor-leaguers Justin Turner and Brandon Waring.
The trade was executed during baseball's winter meetings at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.
The 32-year-old Hernandez made 133 appearances, including 119 starts behind the plate, last season, batting .257 with 22 doubles, 15 home runs and 65 RBI. He finished strong, hitting .285 after the All-Star break.
In 10 big-league seasons with the Oakland A's, San Diego Padres and Orioles, Hernandez hit .263 with 137 homers and 602 RBI. He was an American League All-Star in 2003.
The Venezuelan native made 22 career post-season appearances with the Athletics and Padres and was a member of Venezuela's World Baseball Classic team in 2006.
The popular Freel made just 48 appearances last season due to a torn distal tendon in his right hamstring that required surgery July 23. Freel missed the last 103 games of the season.
"Ramon was a guy that was very high on our list," said Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said. "We felt this was the best fit for us for a number of reasons. He provides good offense, good defense and I think he'll provide leadership."
Hernandez will be entrusted to manage a promising Reds pitching staff, anchored by youngsters Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto.
Hernandez relishes his role as mentor.
"I've done it before in Oakland, San Diego and in Baltimore," he said. "I think it's going to be a lot of fun. They pitched last year, so they're getting more experience. It's all about having good communication. That's the base for everything."
Hernandez likely will be the Reds' starting catcher Opening Day, with Ryan Hanigan as backup. But, Hernandez made it clear he wants to play every day.
"When you sit down, you miss something," he said. "The only time you're competing is when you're playing. To be a part of something, you have to be competing."
Hernandez was pegged with having a bad attitude last season. It was an unfair criticism, he says, and a direct result of his frustration with the Orioles' lack of success.
"When you're used to competing, and when you get to June and you're already out of contention ...." he said. "There's nothing to fight for anymore. It gets worse and worse and never gets better. It's frustrating. It makes you sad. I just tried to do my best. I can't keep my head down."
Hernandez says he prefers a leadership-by-committee approach.
"I think you can't have one leader," he said. "Everybody has to be a leader on the team. Everybody needs to come together. You need to win as a group, lose as a group. When you work as a team, you make everything easier."
Jeff Wallner is a frequent contributor to Pulse, the Cincinnati Enquirer, MLB.com, Associated Press and Sports XChange. E-mail him at Wallner@CinciPulse.com.