06/11/06 — Family comes first for Reds' skipper

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Family comes first for Reds' skipper

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on June 11, 2006 2:12 AM

Jerry Narron is in the middle of his best managerial season as the Cincinnati Reds have charged to the top of the National League Central.

After a sweep of defending NL champion St. Louis and riding an eight-game winning streak, Cincinnati played host to the Chicago Cubs on Friday.

But for Narron, this particular Friday had nothing to do with baseball -- well, other than talking the game with his son Connor.

This Friday was all about family.

Shortly after his team finished off a sweep of the Cardinals, Narron quickly flew home to attend his daughter Clare's graduation from Rosewood High.

Undoubtedly, Narron is proud of his team's rise as they take one of the best records in baseball into the middle of June.

But shortly after his daughter turned her tassel to signify her commencement, the Reds' manager wore a smile bigger than if he was watching a Ken Griffey Jr. walk-off blast.

"When you're in baseball, you're away from your family so much," Narron said. "Any chance you can be with them is outstanding, especially when it's a high school graduation. I think everybody understands when you have something important with your family, you take a day off.

"I'm just thankful we're winning. It's a lot easier coming back after winning eight in a row than after losing."

It wasn't the first time he has been back to North Carolina since the start of the 2006 season. Narron also attended his oldest daughter Callie's graduation at UNC-Greensboro. On an off day early in the year, he came home to take in Connor's opener with Aycock's Junior Legion squad.

For Clare, her graduation night capped a senior year that saw her play a starting role on Rosewood's volleyball and basketball teams -- both Class 1-A Carolina Conference champions. During both her junior and senior years on the hardcourt, her father coached the Lady Eagles before leaving for Spring Training in Florida.

"It means a lot for me to have him come home. I know baseball is very important to him, but it just makes me realize how much more important his family is to him than baseball," she said. "It's amazing. I'm just thankful to have a dad that's willing to give up his time for me."

Narron's team back in Cincinnati may have suffered their first loss in more than a week on Friday.

But their manager was still a winner that night.

Consistency, balance

key to early success

While Narron's heart may never be too far from his family in Wayne County, he was back suited in his red-pinstriped No. 41 the rest of the weekend as the Reds looked to avenge Friday's one-run loss to the Cubs.

A team many picked to finish near the cellar, Cincinnati is tied for the Major League lead with 87 home runs and is fifth in runs with 324. The Reds are also among the team leaders in total bases and stolen bases.

Left-handed slugger Adam Dunn has 19 home runs and 36 RBIs and is on pace for another big season. When he has been healthy, Ken Griffey, Jr. has also been solid in the middle of the order with 10 home runs and 36 RBIs in just 33 games. Edgar Encarnacion, who was recently put on the disabled list, is among the league leaders in doubles with 19, while Felipe Lopez is third in the National League in stolen bases with 18.

Griff and Dunn may be the Reds' household names, but Narron believes the team's balance has been the key through the first 62 games.

"Our depth has given us a chance to win some games ... Griff has missed over three weeks this year," he said. "The thing that's really helped us is guys like Brandon Phillips, Ryan Freel and Encarnacion stepping up."

But pitching was the Reds' biggest question mark going into the season. So far, they have answered those questions.

With the edition of Bronson Arroyo and a healthy Eric Milton, a staff that finished near the bottom of the league in most statistical categories in 2005 has now emerged as one of the league's most consistent. Arroyo, who came over in a trade with Boston, is a formidable ace and is second in the NL in wins at 8-2 and has a 2.31 ERA. With 83 strikeouts, Aaron Harang is putting up Pedro Martinez-like numbers.

It looked as if David Weathers had settled into the closer role, but recently, Todd Coffey -- also a North Carolina native -- has proven more effective in late innings. The righty has four saves in five opportunities and has a 1.85 ERA.

"Our pitching has been really good. With Arroyo and Harang, and now Milton has given us some good games since he's been off the DL," Narron said. "Our starters are getting us deep in games, so we can match up with our bullpen."

Winning any division or even a Wild Card is no easy task in baseball, especially with seemingly increasing parity from top-to-bottom. But the opportunity is certainly open for the Reds to continue to thrive at the top of the Central heading into the All-Star break. St. Louis may be missing Albert Pujols, arguably the best player in baseball, over the next few weeks due to a recent back injury. The recently re-signed Roger Clemens won't be pitching for a .500 Houston Astros team until later this month.

Sure, plenty of baseball is left to be played. Pennants may not be won until September. But Cincinnati is in as good of shape as anyone at this point.

"We're trying to play the game well and play good, clean baseball. If we can play fundamentally right, and if our pitching continues, we can be competitive," Narron said. "Pujols being out hurts the Cardinals, but when he comes back they will get better. When Houston gets Clemens back, they will get better.

"Offensively we did a great job in April, in May we struggled, now we've turned it up again in June."