PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- As the national pastime resumes with exhibition games in the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues of Florida and Arizona, the fresh, sweet aroma of spring is as much the fragrance of storylines old and new as are the familiar smells of cowhide, horsehide and neatsfoot oil.
Perhaps nowhere moreso on Wednesday morning than Port Charlotte, Florida, where former Reds manager Dusty Baker brought his new team, the Washington Nationals, to play a road game after a lengthy bus ride from the Nats' spring camp in Viera.
And guess who should be awaiting for Johnny B. when he led his Nats onto the field?
Yes, his ol' buddy, Ted "Batboy" Kremer, the young man with Down syndrome who first served the Reds and their skipper in the dugout at Great American Ball Park in August 2012... when everything at GABP was sweetness and light.
(That is, until two months later, when the San Francisco Giants came to town trailing the Reds 2 games to 0 in the National League Divisional Series. It later proved to be the beginning of the end for Baker, as the Reds lost three straight at home and the Giants went on to win the World Series. But now is not the time for such sour reminiscence.)
Ted's batboy stint went viral, first with 2 million page views, then an invitation to President Barack Obama's State of Union address in February 2013 from then-Speaker of the House John Boehner (the president waved to Ted at the beginning of his speech), an ESPN "E:60" segment and a feature on ABC "World News" -- and then his own Topps baseball card.
Watch the "E:60" segment below:
And now, coming in April, "Stealing First: The Teddy Kremer Story" -- yes, a book, Ted's own remarkable life story, by Diane Lang and Mike Buchanan.
This past week, Ted was visiting Disney World in Orlando with his parents, Cheryl and Dave, so they shot over to Port Charlotte on Wednesday morning, having checked the spring training schedule and arranged for tickets.
When Baker heard from his right-hand man that Teddy Ballgame was going to be at the ballpark Wednesday, he immediately arranged for him to be batboy.
That couldn't have been easy. It was a road game; had it been a home game, it would have been a piece of cake.
It all worked out, mainly because Kremer and Baker are truly tight. It's not a relationship scripted for media consumption.
Four years ago, the Reds' brass was pivotal in persevering to see that Kremer got to fulfill his parents' winning him a night as Reds batboy during a fundraiser for Mercy Montessori, where the children of Reds chief operating officer Phil Castellini attended. Among those Reds who proved so critical in making it happen were executive assistant Diana Busam, regular batboy Luke Stowe, his father, Rick, the Reds clubhouse manager, and yes, Baker, who took Kremer under his wing from the start.
On that night in 2012, when it came time to go out for the pregame meeting to exchange lineups, Baker didn't tell Ted what was up. All he said was, "Bring these four balls to the umpire, Teddy."
And that is how Ted found himself at home plate, with Baker's arm around him and Baker introducing him to the umpires, shaking their hands one-by-one, a big grin on Ted's face.
One of the people Baker called after the Reds fired him in October 2013 -- the team had lost its last six games, including a National League Wild-Card playoff game to the Pirates in Pittsburgh -- was Ted. Baker wished him well, thanked him for his support and said he would think of him often.
It was a tough time for Baker: Only six seasons earlier, he had taken over a rebuilding Reds team and led it to three 90-win seasons and three playoff appearances in the previous four years. It was the franchise's best run since Sparky Anderson managed the Big Red Machine to two World Series titles in the 1970s.
But Baker's Reds teams never got past the first round of the playoffs. Baker didn't manage the last two tears; he worked in his vineyard, did a post-season gig as studio analyst, longed to manage again.
In early November, he got his wish when the Nationals couldn't come to terms with Bud Black.
A month later, when the Reds traded fan favorite (and all-time Ted favorite) Todd Frazier to the Chicago White Sox, Baker said the first person he thought of upon hearing the trade news was Ted, knowing that Kremer would be crestfallen. (In Kremer's second Reds' batboy gig -- April, 2013, which was the game featured in the ESPN "E:60" -- Frazier hit a home run at Kremer's request, all of it captured on film.)
Last month, Baker wrote a blurb for the back cover of Ted's new book.
"Good things happen when Ted's around," Baker wrote. "Wouldn't be any problems in the world if everybody were like Ted."
There has always been only one major league baseball team for Ted Kremer, the Reds. But, as Ted will tell you -- all because of a bond first forged in August 2012 -- there has always been only one Dusty Baker.
For one glorious sun-splashed Wednesday afternoon in Port Charlotte, nothing but the uniforms had changed between the two men.
It was a day full of hugs, high-fives, back-slaps and laughs.
Spring is as much about that as it is about baseball.
John Erardi wrote the foreword for "Stealing First: The Teddy Kremer Story," due out next month. He has covered the Reds since 1985, authoring or co-authoring six books on the team, including Crosley Field and Big Red Dynasty. He is working on a seventh, about Reds scouting in Cuba in the 1950s and the franchise's lengthy Triple-A affiliation with the Sugar Kings of Havana.