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Reds fans couldn't be happier, except when they're miserable


"Love the team this year, have really enjoyed the regular season, and am not looking forward to being swept (in) the NLDS.''

The Cincinnati Reds are going to the playoffs for the first time in 15 years and the town is just incredibly stoked. Enthusiasm is rampant, expectations are off the charts. Fans are giddy.

"The sense that many of these young guys will leave when they reach free agency hangs over like a cloud.''

It's contagious. Reds fans hang on every pitch. Downtown is awash in red. You don't know confidence until you come to the Queen City and experience the unwavering optimism the town has for its baseball team. It's humbling, actually.

"I'm loving this season, even as I'm dying with each goofy Dusty decision and every first pitch swing and the next Coco meltdown which is surely coming.''

It is possible, in an old-school baseball town where for a decade winning was a concept, that some folks are actually enjoying the winning. They're like the Japanese soldiers from World War II, holed up in caves on Borneo, a decade after the war ended.

I don't know them. I know the people quoted above. They post on my Cincinnati Enquirer blog, The Morning Line. I asked them Thursday to take their playoff temperatures. That's representative of what I got back.

Is Cincinnati happy for its baseball team? Yep. In its own, Cincinnati way. At various times during a year in which the home team has been in first place 105 days, and every day but two since Aug. 2, fans have celebrated the scrappy local nine by demanding that half the Everyday Eight be demoted, traded, waived or otherwise banished.

Manager Dusty Baker has done a nice job keeping his team's psyche at a low boil. Baker remains not just a player's manager, but a player, too, in attitude and attire. Dig the wristbands, big guy. You pinch-hitting tonight?

Baker has kept his young players confident while letting his vets run the clubhouse. It's a calm, loose place. The Reds have overachieved. Everybody gets along. If that's not partly Dusty's doing, then why have a manager?

Fans obsess instead on Baker's lineups, his affection for older, underperforming players, and the time he spends worrying about egos and psyches. The only difference between a Reds win and a Reds loss is the amount of second-guessing Baker hears. And believe me, he listens.

Not long ago, I asked Baker if he'd pondered replacing closer Francisco Cordero with Aroldis Chapman. Chapman throws 103 miles an hour in the bullpen; lately, Cordero is a Stephen King novel.

It was a legitimate question. Baker decided the whole world was against him.

"Some people didn't like the (stuff) I was doing from the start of the season. They didn't like whatever the hell they didn't like. Those people don't manage this ball club. They don't understand the psychological dynamics. There were people that wanted (since-traded Chris) Dickerson to play, people that wanted (Jay) Bruce sent to the minor leagues. There's people that wanted (reserve outfielder Chris) Heisey to play every day, people wanted (set-up reliever Nick) Masset out of here.

"I ain't worried about what people say. Let's enjoy what we have instead of thinking about what we don't have. How 'bout that?'' Baker said.

That's not how it works in Cincinnati. We're not great at living it up around here. We don't trust success, maybe because we don't see it very much, and when we do, it's just passing through. Bob Huggins was a rare consistent winner here. We dumped him. Brian Kelly got famous and got gone. The Bengals are the Bengals, you know?

We think like a hitter: If we're successful three times out of 10, we're batting .300, and that's pretty good. Success is not trustworthy when your town's athletic resume looks like a banana peel.

"Look at the Reds record vs. winning teams (BAD). Look at the Reds record vs playoff teams (WORSE). So...exactly... what's to get excited about?''

On paper, the Reds would seem the least attractive NL playoff representative. They do have losing records against all potential October foes. They don't have a big-time No. 1 starter. Cordero has been a foot in the shower, waiting for a renegade bar of soap.

The Reds will win the weakest division in the National League, maybe in all of baseball. They're ker-bumping to the finish line, having lost 12 of 21 this month. As a small-money team, they'll always be up against the payroll wall.

But the last time they made the playoffs, O.J. Simpson was being acquitted. The morning of Game 1 of Reds-Dodgers in the 1995 divisional series, I stood with the alternately tense and festive masses outside the federal courthouse in L.A., awaiting the verdict. Years later, I finally figured out that if the jury had gone the other way, I'd probably have been in the middle of a riot.

Compared to that, these playoffs are a skate across a pond. Unless you're from around here.

Reds fans love their Reds, the best way they know. Every silver lining has its cloud.

"I'll enjoy the playoffs, but they'll probably be short.''