Naehring likes the situation


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During this offseason’s courting process between major league and minor league clubs, Potomac Cannons owner Art Silber received calls from more than a half-dozen suitors. Cincinnati Reds’ farm director Tim Naehring wound up making the best pitch.

“Truly I thought the way our conversation started, it sounded like he had a couple of other options,” Naehring said. “But then eventually he said how he’d make sure he’d get the Reds’ input in the training rooms and locker rooms at Potomac’s new stadium if they went with us. That made me feel good.”

After a couple of weeks of negotiating, the Reds and Cannons reached an agreement on an affiliation for the next two seasons. Cincinnati will move into a new ballpark in 2003 and Potomac in 2004. To sweeten the deal, the Reds offered to bring their major-league team to Woodbridge in April 2004 to open the Cannons’ new $10 million stadium.

St. Louis (formerly linked with the Cannons, now with Palm Beach), Colorado, Houston and Texas also have new high Class A affiliates. The only switches in the eight-team Carolina League were Potomac’s from the Cardinals to the Reds and Salem’s from the Rockies to the Astros.

“Many of our baseball people think the Carolina League is the best league in the country at that level,” Naehring said. “We talked with [Cannons general manager] Max Baker and Art Silber, and we’re very excited to see how they approach their business.”

For the past two seasons, the Reds had a high Class A team in Stockton, Calif. That team won the California League championship this year, but the distance from Stockton to low Class A Dayton or Double-A Chattanooga made Cincinnati’s player moves longer and more costly.

“As an organization, obviously Stockton wasn’t the best for us geographically, but it had its positives and negatives,” Naehring said. “The biggest negative was with player movement. That was difficult on us, but the Stockton people were great to work with. Plus we could have scouts on the West Coast easier and [former Stockton manager and coach] Dave Oliver worked with us because his home was out there.

“But you have to weigh the expenses. When the end of the year came, we made the decision to look around. We were pretty lucky to be coming off two successful years, so that made a difference.”

Naehring said that the Reds are close to announcing the field staff for the 2003 Cannons. Silber is expected to continue coaching first base at home Saturday night games. With or without that concession, the Cannons were impressed with the Reds’ dedication to their farm system.

“They really showed us that they want to do things right all the way through the organization,” Silber said.

In 2001, Cincinnati finished with the second-best overall record in minor league baseball and also enjoyed the final stages of the development of outfielders Adam Dunn and Austin Kearns. Reds’ teams finished with a .567 winning percentage, second only to Houston’s .598. Meanwhile, the Cardinals were last in all of baseball at .423.

Under new farm director Bruce Manno, St. Louis’ six clubs improved dramatically to .509 this year. The Cannons, at 59-81, were one of just two Cardinals’ teams with a losing record in 2002. Five of the six Reds’ teams finished at least .500 as the organization had the seventh-best overall record at 369-330 (.528).

Last offseason, Baseball America rated the Reds’ farm system 14th in terms of talent and the Cardinals’ system 30th.

Naehring has been farm director for two years since replacing Bill Doran, who joined the Reds’ major-league coaching staff.

The Cannons “have been spoiled a little bit too, because St. Louis does a great job developing players,” Naehring said. “They believe in the same professionalism we do. If you believe in that, talent will come out.

“We’re trying to provide major-league impact players, so there will be times when a prospect will hit instead of a veteran lefty on the bench or when a pitcher will leave because of his pitch count. But if we can offer Art, Max and the people at Potomac a professional way of looking and playing on the field along with an emphasis on winning, they’ll be happy.”

Naehring didn’t visit Pfitzner Stadium during the process of finding a new affiliate, but he has played there. On his way up to the Boston Red Sox, he was with Lynchburg in the Carolina League. He plans to meet with Cannons officials perhaps as soon as mid-October.

Born and raised in Cincinnati, the 35-year-old Naehring had an eight-year career as a big-league infielder. He has been involved in the Cincinnati community, even building a “Little Fenway” on the field where he played as a youngster. Naehring’s best memories include his first major league homer (in just his third game) and a home run in an extra-inning loss to Cleveland in Game One of the 1995 American League Division Series.

“Being on the team and in the dugout when Roger Clemens struck out 20 Tigers. Getting that first standing ovation at Fenway Park. Those are the sort of things I’ll remember most,” he said.

Naehring’s playing career was cut short following Tommy John elbow surgery. He hit .282 with 49 home runs and 250 RBIs. In 1995, Naehring hit .307 and ranked eighth in the AL with a .415 on-base percentage.

The Reds were interested in signing him as a rehab player, but they found him more useful in other ways in their farm system. He has worked for the club since 1999, first serving as a special assistant to general manager Jim Bowden.

“I had a position comparable to that of a consultant for a company,” Naehring said. “I covered three of our clubs, was involved in trade talks and sat in on the amateur draft.

“Then in 2000, I evaluated all of our players and got a good feel for the pulse of the organization. That year has really helped me out.”

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