LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Most Reds players working their way up the organization have one more stop to make before they can reach the Major Leagues. That would be with Triple-A Louisville.
While they hope the stay with the Bats is as short as possible, it doesn't mean there isn't a fondness for the city, its people and its ballpark -- Louisville Slugger Field. A Reds Caravan yearly tradition, the south tour made a stop at the stadium on Thursday night.
"It's awesome," Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton said. "I've been wanting to come on this trip here for a while. Louisville, when I was playing here, the fans were always great. The fans showed love the whole time. It's a great part of our organization, and I'm just happy to be back here."
Hamilton played 123 games for Louisville in 2013 before he was a September callup that season to the Majors. The team's top prospect at the time, he electrified with 75 stolen bases.
Located about 90 minutes southwest on Interstate 71 from Cincinnati, Louisville is a midsized city with an active downtown and is also the hometown of Muhammad Ali. It's the home, naturally, to Louisville Slugger bats and the company has its museum and factory downtown as well. The University of Louisville men's basketball team is often nationally ranked and not far removed from its 2013 national championship.
Reds left fielder Adam Duvall was born and raised in Louisville and still lives in the city. He also played two years at the University of Louisville. After he was acquired in a July trade from the Giants for pitcher Mike Leake, Duvall played 25 games for the Bats.
"Any time you get to play for your hometown, it's pretty neat," said Duvall, who made a cameo appearance with the caravan tour. "You get a lot of fan support from friends and family. That makes it a little different than when you're across the country and there's nobody you know there."
Louisville became the Reds' top Minor League affiliate in 2000, the same season Louisville Slugger Field opened.
"The fans here really know their stuff," Reds general manager Dick Williams said. "They are familiar with the players and anxious to hear about the guys who come through here. It's fun to talk with these fans."
For Hamilton, the pull of Cincinnati always existed during his one Triple-A season.
"You know it's an hour-plus away," he said. "You can be called up at any minute if they [the Reds] needed someone real quick. Knowing you're that close, it gives you the itch about trying to be great, trying to succeed and trying to move on to the big leagues. Louisville is similar to the big leagues the way the facility is made and the fans and everything."