MLB.com Columnist

Meggie Zahneis

Stars come out for Reds' opening weekend

Stars come out for Reds' opening weekend

Stars come out for Reds' opening weekend
It's true: celebrities are baseball fans, too.

That includes the likes of Hollywood power couple Nick and Vanessa Lachey, Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham, West Virginia University men's basketball coach Bob Huggins, actor Josh Hutcherson (who recently starred in the box office hit "The Hunger Games" alongside Jennifer Lawrence) and 15-year-old American Idol semifinalist Eben Franckewitz.

Nick Lachey, a television personality and singer, is a lifelong Reds fan. Being a Cincinnati native, He recalled walking from his downtown school to Riverfront Stadium for night games. Some of his favorite Reds memories include the 1990 championship and Barry Larkin's 1995 MVP season. He counts Mario Soto and Pete Rose as a two of his favorite players.

As for his wife, Vanessa Minnillo-Lachey caught the baseball bug when she moved to New York City in 2003.

"I learned all about the rivalry between the Mets and the Yankees and actually, my first season to watch baseball was when Aaron Boone hit the home run against the Red Sox, so you can imagine I was kind of addicted," she said. "And then being a New Yorker, you need to pick one or another. I just gravitated toward the Yankees."

She admits that when she and her husband met, he got her "addicted to the Reds."

Lewis, who played second base, third base, and outfield throughout high school, was a Pirates supporter, having grown up in the Pittsburgh area. But when he moved to the Cincinnati area, he quickly became a convert to Reds fandom. He remembers being a huge fan of the Big Red Machine and George Foster and Johnny Bench, in particular.

Lapham, who has been with the Bengals since 1974 (around the time of the Big Red Machine) grew up about 15 miles northeast of Boston, where everyone is a huge Red Sox fan.

"My whole family is -- all sports really ... Celtics, Bruins, Red Sox, Patriots," he said. "I remember going to Fenway Park. My mother took me when I was about 6 years old to see Ted Williams play and I was hooked ever since.

"I also saw Ted Williams' last at-bat when he hit a home run in Boston. I think the World Series games between the Red Sox and the Reds in 1975 were a huge memory. That was about as pure of baseball as I can remember -- Carlton Fisk's home run and the Reds coming back and winning," Lapham reminisced.

And Huggins, a former University of Cincinnati basketball coach, pitched and played first base in high school, and so was a natural baseball fan.

"When I was real young, I followed the Pirates because I lived in West Virginia," Huggins said. "And then when I moved to Canton, Ohio, it was the Indians. I have always been kind of a Reds fan because of the Big Red Machine and all. And then when I was here, I had a lot of friends that are fans of the Reds."

Hutcherson played baseball until the age of 8, at which point he began acting. A lifelong Reds fan, the teen heartthrob enjoys attending games whenever he's in town. He admitted to being "extremely nervous" before throwing out his ceremonial first pitch to Brandon Phillips on Saturday night, which ended up making it to Phillips on one hop.

Franckewitz, too, has always been a Reds fan. On hand to sing the national anthem for the Reds' Opening Night, he was in awe of his surroundings.

"This is incredible. This is by far the largest audience that I've been in front of. There's 45,000 people here. It's crazy," said Franckewitz.

Huggins' basketball schedule makes it difficult for him to attend many games. But, he said, it was an easy decision for him to come back to Cincinnati, especially for Opening Day.

The Lacheys, Lewis, and Lapham all follow the Reds regularly. With a baby on the way, Vanessa Lachey and her husband have given serious thought to buying a Reds box.

All gave Cincinnati's Opening Day glowing reviews.

"You know it's spring [on Opening Day]. The sun comes out, there is baseball in the air and everyone gets together," said Minnillo-Lachey.

Lapham calls the all-day affair "spectacular."

"I have talked with people over the years -- their first Opening Day was back in the '50s, and they have been to every Opening Day since," Lapham said. "Their kids, their grandkids, they all come to the game and to the parade."

"I think Opening Day here in Cincinnati is an event," Lewis said. "It is a huge event. The community comes out for it, you see people coming to work with their Reds shirts and hats and jackets. It's a wonderful day, kicked off by the parade. The whole atmosphere ... the city loves it, everyone comes out for it, it's just a fun day."

"It's literally my favorite day of the year," said Nick Lachey. "I think that for the city, being able to have our home opener here every year is -- it's a holiday. It's an unofficial holiday. The sun's shining, everyone's optimistic. So Opening Day is perfect. Everyone starts at zero, you know? There's nothing but promise and excitement."

Meggie Zahneis, winner of the 2011 Breaking Barriers essay contest, earned the job of youth correspondent for MLB.com in the fall of '11. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.