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Ohio player

Sure, he misses Fenway, but Bronson Arroyo has a new team and new stomping grounds

Email|Print| Text size + By Steve Morse
Globe Correspondent / March 28, 2007

Lanky pitcher Bronson Arroyo, who earned a World Series ring with the Red Sox in 2004, knew things would be different when he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds last year.

He recalls being greeted at spring training by a single reporter as opposed to the press hordes that normally follow the Boston team. Teammate Ken Griffey Jr. sauntered by and said, "It's not like the Red Sox, huh?"

Arroyo is still puzzled as to why he was traded, but he had the last laugh by leading the National League in innings pitched. The right-hander, who turned 30 in February, finished in the Top 10 in many pitching categories and won 14 games , which prompted a two-year, $25 million contract extension .

He also has begun enjoying his new city of Cincinnati and agreed to take me on a guided tour of some of his favorite clubs and restaurants, plus a visit to the Reds' state-of-the-art ballpark nestled against the Ohio River.

"I'm having a good time. I understand that baseball is a business and I miss Fenway , but I'm liking Cincinnati," says Arroyo. "I still think if we had kept the Red Sox together -- if we kept Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe in 2005 -- we would have won another World Series, but I've learned there are no guarantees in baseball."

Despite his change of uniform, Arroyo remains a fun-loving, irrepressible character who also performs as a rock singer on the side. He headlined The Roxy nightclub in Boston this winter, and his modern, two-bedroom, window-filled townhouse here boasts posters of AC/DC, Green Day, Kurt Cobain, and Led Zeppelin on the walls. "They make me feel at home," he says.

His home is up the winding streets of Mount Adams, a hip section of town that was recommended by his friend Kevin Youkilis, the Red Sox first baseman who grew up in Cincinnati. Arroyo picks me up at my downtown hotel -- he wears a hooded sweatshirt that serves as a perfect disguise when he stops by the front entrance in his Ford Explorer -- and then drives us up to his neighborhood filled with cool watering holes and dining spots that remind him of Key West, Fla., where he was born and lived until he was 10.

"It's nice and chill up here. It is its own community, and I'm still right near the park," Arroyo says, pointing down the hill to the shiny, four-year-old Great American Ball Park by the river's edge. The lights of Kentucky shine across the water. The view is similar to peering into the valleys of Los Angeles, on a smaller, though still impressive, scale.

The Mount Adams area is tranquil on weeknights, Arroyo says, but "it can become like the Mardi Gras" on weekends. That's when a diverse but mostly young crowd clusters around such favored Arroyo spots as the Teak Thai Cuisine & Sushi Bar, the Mount Adams Pavilion (a bustling club with three outdoor decks affording a spectacular view of the river), The Blind Lemon (a hideaway lounge where Janis Joplin once played), the upscale Wine Cellar, and the sports bar, Yesterday's Old Time Saloon.

Arroyo parks near the Thai restaurant. "I never liked Thai food until I came here," he says as we enter an intimate dining room with stone walls adjacent to the bar. He orders veggie fried rice and sweet and sour chicken, asking that there be no spice.

The food is delicious and Arroyo is able to relax, while only a single person in the room recognizes him and comes up. "I can go places and maybe only one or two people will know me," he says. "But in Boston, everyone would know me. Boston is a baseball town. This is a football town. But I'm looking forward to another season. You get your routine down in any city."

One down side of Cincinnati is that the Reds rarely pack the 42,000-plus- capacity ballpark . But Arroyo has found the positive side to that . "I knew it would be more low-key here, but people also don't care as much about what I'm doing off the field. As long as they know you're trying to be a good ballplayer, that you show up at the ballpark and pitch, that's what matters to them."

After dinner, we swing by the Pavilion. It's too early to be hopping (Arroyo has to make it an early night because he's performing the next day at Redsfest , an offseason event featuring fan interaction with current and former Reds players ), but he points out the huge outdoor decks and says it can get wild at night.

"Being out in the open, it's loud," he says. "But I like to relax under the umbrellas. A lot of ballplayers go here. Guys from the White Sox and Pirates and other teams come up here." There are twinkling lights in the trees out front, plus a couple of areas inside for dancing, some candlelit tables, banquette seating, and a VIP area. It looks like something out of South Beach.

We then walk past the stylish but funky Wine Cellar, and Arroyo notes that he has jammed there. "They usually have people who play acoustic music and I might jump up and sing a couple of songs. The last time I sang 'Iris' by the Goo Goo Dolls. "

We go by some other establishments, including Crowley's Highland House Cafe , the city's oldest Irish pub, the Caribbean- flavored Monk's Cove , and the Mount Adams Fish House ("I had a good steak in there," Arroyo comments). But the highlight is The Blind Lemon , a secluded sanctuary with a low-ceilinged bar filled with antiques, candlelit tables, and Tiffany lamps.

"It reminds me of Boston taverns," Arroyo says of Blind Lemon, where singer-songwriters play in a corner and the staff serves drinks called the Cuddler and the Snuggler ("all topped with homemade whipped cream," the menu boasts ).

Many great artists have been through The Blind Lemon; a plaque out front lists notables from Jimmy Buffett to David Crosby, KISS, and Dave Mason. There's an outdoor patio that Arroyo especially likes. It is built into the surrounding woods. "I really enjoy the atmosphere. It's very jungle-like. It reminds me of my grandmother's house. And there's a fire pit to sit around when it's cold outside."

Arroyo soon decides that it's a good time to visit the ballpark. He drives back down Mount Adams and we pull in to a private parking lot where a security guard gives us access to the field. The lights are on, but we seem to be the only ones there. It's very unlike Fenway but beautiful and new -- and Arroyo has already had a number of great moments here.

The park "plays smaller than Fenway," Arroyo says with a chuckle (the dimensions are 325 and 328 feet down each line, 404 to center). Because it's raining, he puts his hood on, and he walks around the field in combat-fatigue shorts and sneakers , looking like a hip-hop kid who just happens to have a golden arm.

Next afternoon he again picks me up at the hotel and drives to the Duke Energy Center downtown, where thousands of Reds fans have gathered. They mingle amid displays of memorabilia, batting cages, food concessions, autograph sessions (Arroyo signs for a full two hours), and a stage where he greets his band.

The group features three local Cincinnati club musicians and keyboardist/music director Elan Trotman, who has his own jazz band in Boston (the Elan Trotman Quartet) and teaches music in the Boston elementary schools. Arroyo first met him at a family day at Fenway Park. "It's like rock meets jazz; that's what we play," says Trotman. "I wasn't a rock fan until I met Bronson, but he gives me the freedom to bring my background to his music."

The Redsfest crowd of about 8,000 sifts through the exhibits and drifts in and out of sets by opening acts such as the Screaming Mimes, Freekbass, psychodots, and Noah Hunt before getting to Arroyo, who is the only Reds player to perform. When he takes the stage, the crowd surges forward to hear him rip through songs by the likes of Pearl Jam, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Bush, and Alice in Chains.

Arroyo's confidence is clearly up (he's been doing this for a while, including a CD release show at Avalon two years ago) and his set is a smash success. Many families are in attendance and numerous young kids crowd up front wearing Arroyo T-shirts. Arroyo is Cincinnati's rock star now, but he's still doing things his way. He has reinvented himself in a city that is easy to love. He may miss Boston, but he's not looking back.

Steve Morse, a freelance writer in Cambridge, can be reached at spmorse@gmail.com.

If You Go

The Blind Lemon
936 Hatch St.
513-241-3885
blindlemoncafe.com
A laid-back, romantic hideaway with a year-round garden patio and performances by up-and-coming singer-songwriters.

Mount Adams Pavilion
947 Pavilion St.
513-744-9200
mountadamspavilion.com
The website calls it "an eclectic lounge with ambient lighting and skylight scenery." A truly hedonistic hangout with DJs and three outdoor decks.

Teak Thai Cuisine & Sushi Bar
1051 St. Gregory St.
513-665-9800
cincinnati.com/dining/teakthai/
A simple, mainstream spot with excellent food, a friendly vibe, and an attached bar for further conversation.

The Wine Cellar
1101 St. Gregory St.
513-241-9009
winecellar.bz
Its motto is "Get corked in Mount Adams" and that's not hard to do given the bar's 50 wines by the glass , accompanied by live music.

Great American Ball Park
100 Main St.
cincinnati.reds.mlb.com
There are usually plenty of tickets available to see Bronson Arroyo and his teammates play at this beautiful four-year-old park on the banks of the Ohio.

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