BEST INTERNATIONAL SHOWCASE OF THE QUEEN CITY
Our fair city, the Reds organization and Major League Baseball came together last summer to to do an All-Star job (ha!) of hosting Major League Baseball’s 86th Midsummer Classic.
People from all over the world came to town to witness the game’s best and all the pomp and circumstance such an endeavor includes. By all accounts, Cincinnati shined: ESPN Radio host Mike Greenberg repeatedly tweeted and Instagrammed the city’s praises, including giving the Cincinnati Art Museum props for its free admission, live music and cool baseball exhibit. Cincinnati’s urban renewal was on full display, and on top of all the social and economic benefits of hosting the event, Reds third baseman Todd Frazier won the Home Run Derby in an exciting, buzzer-beater-type home run smash. It’s hard to remember a sporting event in Cincinnati that drew so many visitors, and it was excellent to see outsiders enjoy all that we have to offer. Now just wait like 25 or so years and it will be our turn to do this again! Great American Ball Park, 100 Joe Nuxhall Way, Downtown, 513-381-7337, reds.com.
BEST HOPE FOR MLS PRO SOCCER IN CINCY
In early April, the United Soccer League’s newest team, FC Cincinnati, will take the field for its first home game at the University of Cincinnati’s recently renovated Nippert Stadium. The 24-team United Soccer League currently serves as the third tier of soccer leagues in the USA, behind only Major League Soccer and the North American Soccer League. With funding backed by Carl Lindner III and president/GM duties being handled by the well-connected Jeff Berding (recent Bengals director of sales and public affairs/former Cincinnati City Councilman), this new franchise is for real. Nippert will be configured to seat up to 10,000 for FC Cincinnati matches, and the new local club will have opportunities to compete against MLS clubs (the team actually won its first-ever contest against an MLS Team, the NYCFC, in February). Don’t be surprised to see FC Cincinnati knocking on the door of MLS sooner rather than later. FC Cincinnati, fccincinnati.com.
BEST PHENOM WHO DEY ALL-PRO HELPING OTHERS
Perennial All-Pro wide receiver A.J. Green contributes to the education of the poor defensive backs who try to cover him each week, but that wasn’t enough for Green. That’s why he and his wife Miranda recently announced the endowment of two scholarships at Green’s alma mater, the University of Georgia. The A.J. Green Family Football Scholarship
will provide support for a student athlete on the football team, while the A.J. Green Family Scholarships
will support two need-based UGA students, with preference given to students from A.J.’s home state, South Carolina. Best of luck to the students who will benefit from Green’s generosity, and good luck to anybody in the NFL who tries to guard him.
BEST BEARCAT BASEBALL PLAYER ABOUT TO BUST UP THE REDS
Ian Happ was a highly touted high school baseball recruit, earning all the accolades one would expect of a Division I collegiate ballplayer. And he didn’t disappoint when he joined the University of Cincinnati Bearcats — the youngster hit .322 during his freshman year in 2013, adding six home runs, 36 RBI and 25 stolen bases. Happ’s sophomore season saw similar results, but it was his junior year that propelled him to first-round-pick status when he hit .369 with 14 home runs, 44 RBI and 12 stolen bases on his way to multiple first-team All-American honors and a Collegiate Baseball Louisville Slugger award. Taken with the ninth overall pick by the Chicago Cubs last June, Happ is well on his way to following in the footsteps of fellow UC baseball alumni Kevin Youkilis and Josh Harrison, which means he should be tearing up the Reds in due time.
BEST EPIC MELTDOWN IN THE PLAYOFFS
The Reds didn’t make the playoffs in 2015, so they had no chance to submit meltdowns like being on the wrong end of a no-hitter or blowing a 2-0 lead in a best-of-five series. Enter the 2015 Cincinnati Bengals
, who inexplicably outdid either of the aforementioned scenarios (both of which really happened, by the way) by losing a first-round playoff game at home to the reviled Pittsburgh Steelers in a most unimaginable way — fumbling the ball while trying to run out the clock (in field goal range) and then boosting the Steelers up the field with ridiculously violent penalties. The Steelers are certainly much to blame for the shit show that was assistant coach Joey Porter entering the field to talk trash, but for Bengals fans the result was even more devastating than the 2009 home playoff loss to Pittsburgh, when an offensive lineman hit Carson Palmer low, tearing his ACL on the first play of the game. Fortunately, the Bengals have a nucleus of talent that will in all likelihood get the hometown team back to the playoffs next year, and local Who Day fans can hope for better results once again. Paul Brown Stadium, 1 Paul Brown Stadium, Downtown, 513-455-4800, bengals.com.
BEST XAVIER WOMEN’S HOOPS HOMECOMING
Raeshaun Gaffney was one of the country’s most highly touted women’s basketball recruits after her 2012 season at Fairfield High School — the now-5-foot-8 Xavier guard was rated the No. 35 women’s college basketball prospect by Blue Star Basketball back then after averaging 26.7 points and 10 rebounds per game her senior year. After earning a McDonald’s All-American nomination, Gaffney took her talents to the University of Virginia, but after sitting out as a freshman on a medical redshirt year and putting together a decent sophomore season, she decided to transfer back home. UVA’s loss has been X’s gain: Gaffney co-led the Musketeers in scoring this year while leading the team in rebounds. Gaffney and co. will look to improve on the Muskees’ 17-13 regular season record during her senior season this fall. Cintas Center, 1624 Herald Ave., Evanston, 513-745-3900, goxavier.com.
BEST BASEBALL PLAYERS WHOSE NAMES WE'LL LEARN THIS SUMMER
It is reasonable to be unenthused about the Reds’ 2016 season outlook after the recent jettisoning of Johnny Cueto, Aroldis Chapman and Flava Fraz. But, 1. Baseball season and summer are still pretty great, and 2. Keep in mind that the Reds lost 98 games last season with those dudes on the roster. That said, it’s time for the Reds to rebuild and usher in new talent and new blood — hopefully with the kind of results the Chicago Cubs are starting to see from their recent reboot. While the L’s are likely to outnumber the W’s this year once again, there are some exciting young players fans get to see more of (Michael Lorenzen, Eugenio Suarez, John Lamb) and others soon to join The Show who figure to be impact players (Jose Peraza
, Jesse Winker
, Robert Stephenson
). Apparently, the youngest of the three guys the Reds received in the Cueto deal, Cody Reed, could end up being the best of the bunch. Keep your heads up, Reds fans — the mid-2000s might be coming back, but they won’t be here for long. Great American Ball Park, 100 Joe Nuxhall Way, Downtown, 513-381-7337, reds.com.
BEST THING YOU CAN DO TO HELP KEEP THE WEST END REDS PLAYING BALL
The West End Reds Knothole youth baseball teams were founded in 2002, and throughout the years they have not been immune to the nationwide decline in youth baseball funding. However, last year, Cincinnati residents, businesses and coaches came together to raise $10,000 to help keep the teams — the Reds’ 5-12-year-old teams and T.S. Bulls’ 13-14-year-old team — equipped with gear and fees needed to play ball. The West End Reds offer more than 100 youngsters the ability to learn life skills and a great way to stay engaged throughout the summer. This year, the program has added a girls’ softball team to its franchise. Help them out — no matter how much or how little you’re able to. Someone will buy you a beer the next time you’re at the bar. That’s how karma works! gofundme.com/westendreds2016.
Xavier basketball head coach Chris Mack - Photo: Bob Stevens
BEST XAVIER HOOPS TEAM THAT MIGHT GET EVEN BETTER
Xavier has grown from a team that excelled in an underdog role to one that is seen as a force to be reckoned with year after year in college basketball, as evidenced by the Musketeers
’ nearly season-long reign as a Top 10 ranked team in the nation. The Muskees’ late-season push for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament included a win over then-No. 1-ranked Villanova in late February. Head coach Chris Mack’s squad once again overachieved, at least according to preseason expectations — perhaps a deep tournament run and the possibility of super freshman Edmund Sumner going to the NBA will change that for next year. After all, the team will bring back an impressive core, with our without the young dunker. Cintas Center, 1624 Herald Ave., Evanston, 513-745-3900, goxavier.com.
BEST HIGH SCHOOL WHOSE COACHES KEEP WINNING THE FLYING PIG
Ursuline Academy is a fine college-preparatory institution, but the Catholic all-girls high school also boasts quite a pedigree when it comes to its cross country coaches. In 2012, varsity head coach Rachel Bea
won the Flying Pig Marathon, while assistant coach Amy Robillard
won the half marathon. Two years later (and just a couple months after recovering from a broken leg), Robillard won the Flying Pig herself — then won it again the following year. The two-time defending champ even competed in the Olympic Marathon Trials in Los Angeles in February, finishing 121st with a time of 3:00:11. It wasn’t enough to earn Robillard a ticket to the Olympics (only the top three move on), but it was quite the feat nonetheless. Ursuline Academy, 5535 Pfeiffer Road, Blue Ash, 513-791-5791, ursulineacademy.org.
BEST BEARCAT RIM-ROCKER TO JOIN THE UC SPORTS HALL OF FAME
Not too long ago, before an evil university president banished coach Bob Huggins and put the men’s basketball program into a tailspin from which it is still climbing out, the University of Cincinnati was a national powerhouse with a bad-boy “hate it or love it” reputation. One of the most dominant players of this era, Danny Fortson, last year joined five other former Bearcats as part of the 2015 class enshrined in UC’s Hall of Fame. As a Bearcat, Fortson became the program’s second all-time leading scorer (now fifth), earned first-team All-American honors and put together a stellar season in 1996-1997 in which he averaged 21.3 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. Fortson went on to enjoy a 10-year NBA career and left UC fans today wishing for the good old days of Bearcat excellence. University of Cincinnati, 2600 Clifton Ave., Clifton, 513-556-4603, gobearcats.com.
BEST SEND-OFF FOR A LEGENDARY REDS EMPLOYEE
Crosley Field. Riverfront Stadium. Great American Ball Park. Reds usher Charles Keith
served the organization in all three locations, keeping miscreants out of sections they didn’t have tickets for and helping to enhance the stadium experience of multiple generations of fans. From the Pete Rose era to Joey Votto and everyone in between, Keith has been a visible part of the organization and will also be remembered as the usher who broke the color barrier for Reds ushers back in 1968. After his remarkably long 46-year tenure as an usher, Keith imparted some universal professional and life wisdom on his way out, saying, “The first thing I would advise you to do is smile, smile, no matter who it is. Don’t forget to smile.” Here’s to hoping Keith has an easy time doing just that this season, his first in nearly a half century away from the Redlegs and their fans. Keith retired in 2015.
BEST BACK-TO-BACK STATE FOOTBALL TITLES
The 14-1 LaSalle High School
2015 football team didn’t clinch its second-straight OHSAA playoff championship in nail-biting fashion; instead, the Lancers walloped the good folks of Massillon Perry by a convincing tally of 42-0. LaSalle became just the third Division II squad to repeat as champions since high school football divisions were aligned back in 1980 and the first since 1993 (back when people still wore Zubaz pants) to achieve this accolade. Head Coach (and LaSalle grad) Brian Heidorn has helmed the program since 1990 and played on the school’s first-ever playoff team. Question for coach: Can you say three-peat? La Salle High School, 3091 N. Bend Road, Monfort Heights, lasallehs.net.
Andy Dalton - Photo: Provided
BEST BOOS THAT WOULD NOT BE FORGOTTEN
It was a bit embarrassing for the city and Andy Dalton when the Bengals quarterback was booed when introduced at the All-Star Game celebrity softball exhibition. Dalton got his revenge by helping to lead the Bengals to one of the team’s best regular seasons ever, and those “boos” were brought up by TV announcers during seemingly every game. Dalton’s not-boo worthiness was further shown when his broken thumb and unavailability to play the last four games of the season helped keep the Bengals from getting past the first round of the playoffs for seemingly the 100th year in a row. Paul Brown Stadium, 1 Paul Brown Stadium, Downtown, 513-455-4800, bengals.com.
BEST LOCAL GUYS IN THE SUPER BOWL
The Bengals might have watched their Super Bowl dreams slowly drip down the drain against Pittsburgh in January, but two local kids competed on the game’s biggest stage anyway. St. X grad Luke Kuechly and Anderson High School graduate Andrew Norwell were members of a Carolina Panthers team that went 15-1 and entered Super Bowl 50 as a heavy favorite to beat Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. Unfortunately for the local dudes, the Panthers slipped up, and Denver’s vaunted defense helped the nearly geriatric Manning win the title. Here’s to Kuechly and Norwell getting back to Super Bowl 51 if the Bengals can’t do it themselves.
BEST LEGACY OF A LOCAL HERO GONE TOO SOON
accomplished more during her 19 years than most people fortunate enough to live a long life. Even after tragically losing her life to brain cancer last year, Hill’s legacy and fundraising efforts are still having a huge impact on others. Her goal of reaching $2.2 million to help find a cure for cancer (the 2.2 figure is a shout out to the number 22, which she wore as a player for Mount St. Joseph’s basketball team) is well on its way to being achieved, and the funds will be utilized across the medical field. Lauren Hill taught us a lot about cherishing life, dying with dignity and leaving a legacy that will help others long after life ends.
BEST WEEKEND TO HONOR THE HIT KING
Pete Rose’s banishment from the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame is a thorny issue for many baseball fans, especially locals. Now that new MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has said he will uphold Pete’s banishment from the Hall, the Reds will go ahead and enshrine him in their version. In what should be an electrifying weekend down at GABP this summer, Pete Rose Weekend June 24-26 will include Rose’s enshrinement in the Reds Hall of Fame, the retiring of his No. 14 jersey and a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the 1976 World Series champion Reds. You should probably get tickets soon, before all three games sell out and you’re sitting at home wondering why you didn’t listen to your genius friends at CityBeat. Great American Ball Park, 100 Joe Nuxhall Way, Downtown, 513-381-7337, reds.com.