Cincinnati Reds to play in Zebulon tonight

It’s not every day a major league franchise comes to Zebulon.

But it does happen.

The Cincinnati Reds play the first of back-to-back exhibition games against their farm system’s top prospects at Five County Stadium in Zebulon at 6:05 p.m. today (the show moves to Dayton, Ohio on Saturday).

And you’ll want to show up early.

The gates open at 4:30 p.m. By then, the futures’ team batting practice is scheduled to be wrapping up. The Reds are scheduled to hit BP at 4:40 p.m. until 5:25 p.m.

So how often have major league clubs played in Zebulon?

According to Mudcats general manager Joe Kremer, this is only the fifth such visit.

The Pittsburgh Pirates, the franchise’s first affiliate, came here twice. The Marlins came once. The Colorado Rockies played here once.

Kremer reminisced about two of the visits, memorable for different reasons.

The Marlins came in 2003, the year they beat the New York Yankees in the World Series. Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera, who played a big part in the Marlins’ run, spent the better part of the season in Zebulon.

Kremer recalled when the Pirates and Barry Bonds came to Zebulon in 1991, before the new stadium was built. Bonds was hungry and team handlers took him back to one of the trailer kitchens, where the cooks cranked out a couple of cheeseburgers special for him.

This was back before Bonds had a reputation for being steely.

Bonds took part in a home run contest and, treated well by fans, returned the love, signing autographs until the team bus departed.

So who will be here today? In a brief telephone interview with Terry Reynolds, the Reds director of player development, I had to ask: Will Dusty Baker be here?

“All the Reds will be there,” Reynolds responded.

A preliminary roster, which won’t be finalized until this afternoon, includes the names you’d want to see.

Starting pitcher Bronson Arroyo, who won 15 games last year, is on the roster. Arroyo is familiar with the park, having played here as a member of the Mudcats back when Pittsburgh was in town. Back in 1998, Arroyo went 9-8 with a 5.46 ERA in 22 starts for the Mudcats.

Edinson Volquez, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce may be even bigger names on the Reds roster.

Volquez was acquired by the Reds from the Texas Rangers in the deal for Athens Drive High star Josh Hamilton. In Volquez’s first full major league season, he went 17-6 (3rd in wins in the N.L.) with a 3.21 ERA (8th in the N.L.) and 206 strikeouts (2nd in the N.L.). He became the staff ace and finished fourth in voting for N.L. Rookie of the year.

Votto, the first baseman, hit 24 homers and drove in 84 runs in 151, hitting .297. He finished second in the N.L. Rookie of the Year voting.

Bruce, who debuted on May 27, hit 21 home runs and drove in 52 runs in 108 games.

In the other dugout will be the Reds’ top prospects, including two considered in the organization’s Top 10 and another, the top prospect according to experts, who has a good chance to play here eventually this season.

Reynolds said Todd Frazier, a college shortstop, ranked No. 2 in the system by Baseball America, will likely make the Mudcats roster, as will third baseman Juan Francisco, ranked No. 8.

Top prospect Yonder Alonso, a first baseman, will probably start in Sarasota, but Reynolds said he hoped Alonso would earn his way up to Double-A this season.

NINE NO MATTER WHAT: The game, the Mudcats announced Thursday, will go nine innings, even if the game is tied.