Williams Replaces, Not Renamed, Reds' "Mayor" 

Williams Replaces, Not Renamed, Reds' "Mayor"

ON THE REDS BUS TO DAYTON - Who wants to be the new "Mayor of Great American Ball Park"?

Not me, says Dave Williams, the 26-year-old son of a retired Air Force first sergeant who fueled Air Force One.

Yes, it was LOL (laugh out loud) time for new Reds pitcher Dave Williams aboard the Narron-esque Express last Thursday on the way to Dayton, first stop on the Reds' winter caravan.

Williams is going to have to do some fueling of his own if the Reds are going anywhere this season.

He is the left-handed pitcher the Reds acquired from Pittsburgh for the Mayor, Sean Casey.

Reds manager Jerry Narron made it a point to say in Dayton -- right off the bat -- that Williams will get a shot at making the Reds' starting rotation.

Williams had better get a lot more than a shot if the Reds are going to surprise anybody this season. Williams will need to win 12-15 games if the Reds are going to contend.

Narron knows that, but isn't about to say it. In Narron's world, Williams is a building block, not the answer. Narron isn't about to pull a Sparky Anderson and compare the guy to Sandy Koufax. (Of course, that didn't stop Tony LaRussa from saying it: When the trade was made, the St. Louis manager called Williams the best young left-hander in the league.)

Williams, 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, is quiet, but confident. He is not going to knock you over with a quote and, as the newest Red, he isn't about to do any leading. He's been working to get his feet wet, which is why he wanted to make this four-day caravan trip,

Williams has been LOL since a Cincinnati radio jock told him right after The Trade, "you're going to be a trivia question 50 years from now."

"Hopefully in a good way," says Williams, laughing. "You don't replace a guy like Sean Casey with one guy. I was shocked at first. I expected to hear, 'You got traded for Sean Casey - and the Reds also got this guy, this guy and that guy.' I won't say there's pressure. You've still got to try to win games.

"But if we win, this town's going to be electric. That's what the Reds are known for. Every city's known for something, and the Reds were known for just killing (opposing teams)."

Although Williams received a good feel for "Reds country" on this four-day caravan, he knows he's still on "the road" in many ways.

And what road is that?

...The Reds Road To A Sixth Straight Losing Season?

...The Road to "Better Than You Think" (which is the road new Reds owner Robert Castellini forecast nine days ago at his inaugural press conference)?

... Or "Glory Road," in which all the stars align (Paul Wilson gets healthy, Eric Milton gets a clue and Aaron Harang and Brandon Claussen continue to get better) and Williams gets the run-support he could only dream about in Pittsburgh.

For the Reds, it's going to come down to the same thing it always comes down to: pitching.

"As soon as I got off the plane (in Cincinnati), Jerry (Narron) said, 'We need you,' " Williams says. "It's not every day you find a team like this where the pitchers are saying, 'Hey, it's up to us.' They know who it's on. When I was with Pittsburgh, we had some good pitchers, but as a team we weren't winning.

"And, you know, it's OK that it's going to come down to the pitching. If you're a pitcher, you want it to come down to the pitching, Because if it 'comes down to the pitching,' that means you've got plenty of hitting."

The Reds are picked to finish last in the National League Central Division. Even the Pirates are picked ahead of them.

Maybe Williams' work ethic will wear off on some of his new teammates. When you're a 17th-round draft choice like Williams, scratching and clawing to move up the ladder and being told by the brass that "there's no room in instructional league," eventually you figure it out.

"No room" is baseball-speak for not-high-enough-on-our-totem-pole.

Says Williams: "The more I talked to guys (fellow pitchers in the Pirates farm system) as I came up, the more I realized, 'Hey, I'm not one of the chosen ones. They (the organization) are not expecting me to make it.' I wasn't one of the bonus babies. I wasn't a prospect.

"But you can't teach work ethic. I think it has to be something you learned growing up. I saw my dad working all the time. I learned from a young age that you work your (posterior) off to get somewhere. You see things whether your parents think you see them or not."

A major league organization needs some 17th rounders to make their starting rotation. For some reason, the Pirates are able to make that happen; the Reds aren't.

Williams has good stuff and an even better head, a lefthander who changes speed and hits his spots.

He also just may win 15 games with regularity, which would make him the first Reds' left-hander since some a guy named Tom Browning to do so.

Like Browning, who saw a lot of the U.S. as the stepson of a power-line designer (Browning was born in Casper, Wyo., and went to high school in Malone, N.Y, a driver-and-three-wood from the Canadian border), Williams has seen his share, too.

"I was born in (Anchorage) Alaska," he says. "We lived all over the place. My sister was born in Texas, my brother in Indiana. I'd need my father to help me name all the places. Every three or four years, it was some place new."

Unlike Browning, who grew up a Reds fans (the Big Red Machine was always on the NBC Game of the Week on Saturdays back then), Williams grew up a fan of the...Liions?

"My dad was stationed in Japan," Williams explains. "It was the first professional baseball game I saw - the Lions vs. the Tigers. I remember an American power hitter named 'Boomer.' I was eight."

Williams played Little League ball with the Americans at the Air Force base, and off-base played against Japanese teams.

"Discipline - those Japanese kids had it," Williams remembers. "We had talent, but those kids were more polished, more fundamentally sound. You learn from what you see."

Williams was drafted out of Delaware Tech, a junior college. He was seen by the scouts only because a much more highly touted teammate was supposed to start that day and came up lame.

And how many years do you think Williams was in the major leagues with Pittsburgh before being traded?

Why four, of course.

"Yep, right on schedule!" Williams says. "Every three or four years I move."

Of course, he'd like to give his children a little more geographic stability than he had as a child, but given the transient nature of baseball, it isn't likely to happen.

Serendipity rules.

"When I was first drafted and signed by the Pirates, I went to short season (rookie) ball in (Erie, Pa.) and was hoping to break north for (full-season) 'A' (ball) the following spring," Williams says. "But the brass left me in extended spring training in Florida, and that's how I met my wife. A roommate of mine was dating her friend."

The Reds are hoping their new "marriage" works out just as well.

And long live the mayor.

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