Home Blog

Graeter’s Ice Cream CEO Is Selling His Historic Home in East Walnut Hills


1884 Madison Road

Own a slice of history with this Queen Anne–style home in East Walnut Hills. Built in 1882, it’s currently owned by Graeter’s CEO Rich Graeter and is chock full of historical details. “The home was once owned by the Hudepohl brewing family,” Graeter says. “After that, local political fixture Jake Held lived there for the next 30 years. We have made the house our home for the past 21 years.”

Designed by Cincinnati architect Gustave Drach, a lot has changed in the home since then. The Graeters have invested more than $750,000 to preserve and upgrade many elements of the home. That includes expanding the rear porch, adding a detached two-car garage, energy efficient upgrades, a new kitchen, a remodeled attic, a second-floor laundry room, and plenty more. “We both fell in love with the historic elements unique to older homes from this era,” Graeter says. “Homes like this have simply not been built in over 100 years.”

The five-bedroom home, with three full and two half baths, is nearly 6,000 square feet. From the street, the meticulous landscaping frames the facade and its dreamy wraparound porch. Most of the first floor features hardwood floors, and wide doorways with pocket doors separate each room. “The openness and interconnectivity of the design allows the home to accommodate large parties, as guests can easily mingle and pass from one room to another,” Graeter says. “We have had holiday parties with 150 guests without feeling cramped or crowded. It is one of the home’s magical features.”

A hand-painted mural depicting European scenes from the 1930s decorates the foyer. In the formal dining room, a large carved antique oak table is the centerpiece. The table can expand from a five-foot diameter circular arrangement to an oval configuration that seats 20—and it’s included with the sale of the house. Between the dining room and the kitchen, the butler’s pantry features a wall-size glass-fronted hutch and a pocket wet bar. The kitchen itself boasts a nine-burner range, paneled fridge, and bench seating under the window. Upstairs you’ll find each of the bedrooms and a laundry room, plus a renovated attic that includes four rooms and a full bath.

More unique elements include eight fireplaces that are currently inoperable, a working elevator, and light fixtures that are 1890s originals. “These are extremely rare fixtures as they were only made for a short period of time when utilities were changing over from gas to electricity,” Graeter says. “For a period of time, the electricity was not very reliable, so it was common in upper-end homes to have both gas and electric lighting.”

Perhaps the most unique element of the home is in the basement—a Prohibition-era rathskeller. “[It’s] a secret bar where I am sure the Hudepohl family entertained private guests with beer during the 1920s,” Graeter says. “The rustic, hand-carved door is complete with a Wilkommen sign.”

Outside, the wraparound front porch and the renovated and expanded back porch both offer plenty of room for entertaining. While the Graeters have loved raising their children in this home and in the neighborhood—they could walk the kids to school at Seven Hills School’s Doherty Campus, right across the street—but now that their youngest is in college, they feel “it is time for us to pass it on to a new family,” Graeter says.

Click through our gallery to view more photos of this home:

Why We Need to Cut Working Parents Some Slack Right Now

Blame the hot pink glasses I keep glued to my face, but since mid-March, I have found myself thirsty for some good COVID-19 silver linings. I search for them in any area I can, and I sing their praises: DoorDash is my new favorite app! John Oliver is killing it during quarantine! My husband works from home now, too, so I suddenly have a coworker I never even knew I wanted!

But one of the best—and perhaps most important—silver linings to come out of the coronavirus pandemic is society’s recognition of this simple fact: Being a working parent, especially right now, makes you a freaking superhero.

As a society, we’re extending so much empathy and grace to parents in the midst of that struggle. I see that empathy when the topic of returning to school comes up. What do you do when every single option seems terrible? I see the grace on TV when a kid interrupts a scheduled program. Like when Alanis Morissette’s daughter Onyx commented on new Mom’s song Ablaze during a livestream performance on The Tonight Show or when a BBC News interviewee’s daughter Scarlett needed help about where to store her unicorn book.

Who hasn’t been tickled when that happens? Who doesn’t laugh at the innocent sweetness while also feeling a little sorry for Mom or Dad, because they likely want to scream till their forehead vein pops but they can’t do that on national television.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, working parents’ kids were a part of life outside a parent’s 8-to-5 work schedule. If something happened that needed Mom or Dad’s attention during those hours, it required special permission.

Now there’s a blur. Colin’s tangled in his toy bow and arrow? Yes, please, duck away from this Zoom meeting for five minutes to help. And, by the way, when that happens? I love it. I love the humanity, and I love how it keeps us from taking ourselves too seriously. (I also love that it can sometimes hasten the end of a too-long meeting.)

Long term, I have to wonder how these changes will affect the maternal wall, that garbage bias against moms in the workplace. It stems from the belief that moms are less competent and committed to their jobs than childfree women. Moms are less likely to be hired or promoted, and they’re held to higher punctuality and job performance standards than their childfree counterparts, according to the Gender Bias Learning Project directed by national nonprofit Center for WorkLife Law.

“Responsibilities at home don’t necessarily affect women’s productivity at work,” says an October 2018 Goldman Sachs report. “But they may affect women’s availability for early or late meetings, client dinners, or multi-day travel, for example. This may hurt them in a work environment that expects people to ‘always be on.’”

When this is all over, whatever the world looks like, I hope this empathy and grace continue. I hope managers are better accepting of working parents wearing both those hats at once, and I hope parents are given more of this much-needed flexibility. Because burnout is real—and no one who’s feeling it is at his or her best in the office or the family room.

The Holocaust and Humanity Center Keeps Local Survivors’ Stories Visible

The voice is hauntingly familiar. “My father continuously reminded me of the importance of remembering our past and telling it to others. It is in his memory that I decided to translate his legacy to you and the generations yet to come.” The unhurried, deliberate pace, the gently rolled r, the th sound that comes out more like a d, and the methodical enunciation molded from decades of teaching Hebrew and Torah to English-speaking schoolchildren in the Midwest.

Zahava Rendler photographed at her Blue Ash home on June 23, 2020.

Photograph by Jeremy Kramer

The last time I last sat across from Zahava Rendler, more than 40 years ago, I was a boy at Yavneh Day School (now Rockwern Academy). But as she flipped the laminated, typed pages of the well-worn script holding her story of surviving the Holocaust as a child, I was instantly transported to a time when her familiar accent was a daily, comforting reminder of my Argentinian/Israeli parents’ unique approach to English. Like many in the Jewish diaspora, especially in the Midwest, our families had found each other. The adults clung to scraps of memory from the homes they’d left behind by getting together to laugh and share traditional meals accompanied by hummus, olives, and warm pita from our favorite bakery.

What I didn’t know then, and found out only last year, is that Rendler, 79, is among the youngest Holocaust survivors in the U.S., born just two years after Adolf Hitler signed the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact in 1939. From what I can recall, she never told us her story in class, but in the decades since she’s proudly shared it with audiences all over Ohio. Until March, when the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily took away her voice again.

Rendler is one of more than 70 local Holocaust survivors whose stories are featured at the Nancy & David Wolf Holocaust and Humanity Center (HHC) at Union Terminal. But given their advanced age and vulnerability, it’s likely that the coronavirus will have a serious impact on those left to tell their stories. Combine that with a rise in anti-Semitic incidents across the U.S. in 2019, the most since the Anti- Defamation League began tracking such incidents in 1979, and the HHC’s state-mandated shutdown created a void that will be difficult to refill later.

There’s a cruel irony in visiting the Cincinnati Museum Center on a muggy afternoon at the start of what should be summer vacation for local students. I walk from the barren parking lot into eerily hollow silence in the majestic rotunda, which would normally buzz with the high-pitched echoes of revved-up, snack-packed schoolkids. Like Rendler, they’ve been silenced by the coronavirus.

Dressed in a dark suit jacket and pants, with a black and white mask featuring a wavy pattern, Sarah Weiss, executive director of the HHC, strikes an upbeat, defiant tone when describing the summer that should have been. “We worked with the survivors on display in here, and their optimistic message was incredible: We are resilient,” she says as we descend the stairs to the abandoned-looking museum, passing the blown-up reproductions of visas, manifests, and birth certificates of some of the Holocaust survivors who traveled through and settled in Cincinnati. “This is something we can learn from, their resilience and the human ability to adapt.”

After celebrating the first anniversary of the HHC’s move to the Museum Center in January, Weiss’s team was planning a lavish fund-raising gala in March—an elaborate version of the annual Liberation Ball events local survivors have been holding off and on for nearly 60 years—as well as a series of programs that would expand the HHC’s already impressive reach into the local community. “I think the next two years will reshape what we do here beyond the pandemic,” says Weiss, a Youngstown native who’s been working at the HHC ever since graduating from UC in 2004.

HHC was forced to close its doors on March 14 as the nation ground to a halt, with Weiss and her team meeting remotely to game out ways to advance their work through a combination of virtual tours, digital book clubs, and online guest lectures. It’s the same action plan countless institutions scrambled to devise in the wake of COVID-19.

The unexpected pivot was especially jarring for a museum where the raison d’être is pointedly about experiencing and witnessing the horrors of the “Final Solution” in person. In a year marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps, the HHC was a place that encouraged visitors to listen to local survivors’ stories and get close to artifacts from their time in hiding and transit to their new lives. It took you on a journey to freedom via interactive, sliding displays depicting the brutality of Hitler’s plan, as well as the inspiring stories of escape, survival, and rebirth that unfolded when the war ended. (The HHC finally reopened to the public on July 17.)

Powered down on this day, the space is darkened by an invisible menace that suddenly forced us all to hide in our homes and robbed us of the ability to touch and gather with our loved ones. It all sounds familiar, but not exactly in the way you think.

The problem most people have with analogies is to think of the things as being equivalent,” says Michael Berenbaum, the unofficial dean of American Holocaust museums, about whether the world’s COVID-19 quarantine is not unlike Jews and other Nazi victims hiding in plain sight from the Third Reich, as some have suggested. “No one is equivalent to Hitler, and no event is the exact equivalent to the Holocaust.… Analogies are fine provided you understand they’re just analogies.”

The professor/rabbi/writer/lecturer has studied the Holocaust for most of his adult life and served as the project director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.; CEO of Cincinnati-born Steven Spielberg’s USC Shoah Foundation (formerly known as Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation); and one of the HHC’s key consultants before its move to the Museum Center. For him, there’s a difference between hiding from something for an unknown duration when you fear the entire world is bent on your destruction, and the advice we received about COVID-19 that our safety is dependent on voluntary physical distancing and working from home.

“There’s a great phrase by [Jewish poet] Hayim Nahman Bialik, who said, Reading a poem in translation is like kissing [your new bride] through a veil,” Berenbaum says in an inviting, wizened smile of a voice that comes through the phone from his home in Los Angeles. It’s his way of explaining that an essential element is removed when we’re stuck inside and can’t experience the HHC in person. Using a rhetorical method familiar to any Hebrew school student, Berenbaum asks what the difference is between a museum and a movie. Before there’s time to fully consider the question, though, he kindly offers up the not-so-easy answer. “Film is one of the most effective ways of telling a story in the modern world,” he says. “A captive audience and moving imagery. But we lose something when we don’t have the collective experience of a film, which is when everyone is scared or cries at the same time.”

The difference in a museum, according to Berenbaum, is that you have captive imagery and a moving audience. “You want the audience to move in order to grasp the story, and the difference from a film, again, is everyone sees the museum differently,” he says. “The Holocaust as a narrative has this enormous power to raise all of the issues that are prevalent within a society, and people will see it differently depending on what the narrative of their society is at this moment.”

Berenbaum ticks off a list of topics addressed by the HHC that are even more relevant right now, a few of which, yes, might feel analogous: the nation’s suddenly strict, restrictive policy on immigration; the fragility of our democracy and polarization in the hands of a norm-breaking leader; and economic scarcity and depression caused by record-high unemployment. The Center’s designers probably never imagined these issues would be relevant again when they dreamed up the space. “But [they’re all] part of the Holocaust story and part of what makes it a paradigmatic evil,” says Berenbaum.

Of course, if you add on the historic economic collapse caused by COVID-19, the rending racial divide ignited with the killing of George Floyd by white Minneapolis police officers, and the rise of anti-Semitism over the past few years, we’re facing a strange, toxic brew this summer. How, Berenbaum wonders, will the HHC’s audience be different when they return to the museum space? “I think they’re going to ask a new series of questions,” he says, including, “How do you rebuild after all of this?”

Sitting on the front porch of her Blue Ash home on a sunny afternoon in early June, Rendler shifts forward in her high-backed wicker chair as she contemplates how she’ll be changed and how the telling of her story will transform when life returns to a “new normal.” With a cartoon-decked mask resting on her right knee and a small blue menorah peeking out from the window between us, Rendler sounds exactly like the worried great-grandmother she is.

Watching the sporadic violence and looting amid the many peaceful protests after Floyd’s death, Rendler says she trembled and shivered at footage of burning buildings and shattered glass. Like Berenbaum says, they’re not quite analogies, but nonetheless she had to pinch herself to make sure she wasn’t dreaming of another time. “Is it really happening?” she asks in a gentle, quizzical voice. Rendler was shaken by what she saw, but careful to remind herself that she was indeed here, here to stay, with so much to celebrate—reminded once again that “Hitler did not succeed.”

Zahava Rendler as a child in Nazi-occupied Poland.

Photograph courtesy of Zahava Rendler

The lifelong educator asks me if it’s OK to present her story as she would during one of her lectures about the Holocaust, and she begins reading from her laminated script. She was born Golda Feuerberg in Stryi, Poland, on March 30, 1941. Her father owned a successful leather goods factory, which was taken away when Germans occupied their town. A loyal factory employee urged the family to go into hiding in an underground bunker, where Rendler and her sister were the only children among 26 adults. Given sleeping pills to keep her from crying so as not to give them away, Rendler escaped with falsified papers to live with a Polish woman in a nearby city under a new name: Olga Pachulchak.

After nearly two years with the woman, she then spent just as long in a Catholic convent with other Jewish children amid rumors of a German advance, at which point her parents lost track of their daughter. When the war ended in 1945, Rendler’s father, Mendel Feuerberg, exited the bunker and asked the nuns where she was, only to have them deny she was staying in their care. After returning daily to look for his daughter, Feuerberg met a child who knew of Zahava, and he proceeded to bribe one of the nuns with a kielbasa sausage to give up her location. Spotting his daughter on a playground, he grabbed her and ran off with a plan to emigrate to Palestine along with other European Jews. Their boat was caught by British troops, who sent them to a displaced persons camp in Cyprus, as was the custom before the State of Israel was established in 1948.

They eventually made it to Israel, where Golda changed her name to Zahava (Hebrew for “gold”), then immigrated to Cincinnati in 1963. She never saw a Nazi and has no memories of their atrocities, but our long afternoon together includes several stories of anti-Semitism she’s encountered— while getting her teaching degree, on an airplane, from children who asked questions that would be impertinent coming from an adult—all of which touched on familiar hateful tropes, Holocaust denial, and cutting insults. In each case she politely deflected the attempt to bait her, but says knowing what she knows now she might react differently, with a healthy dose of what Jews refer to as “chutzpah.”

Tapping into the Passover story, she looks at the currently incurable virus as an “11th plague,” though safe in the knowledge that she can sit on her porch without fear that someone is going to drop a bomb on her neighborhood or take her family away because she’s Jewish.

Rendler says even at her age she doesn’t fear the coronavirus as much as she fears the hiding. Tapping into the Passover story, she looks at the currently incurable virus as an “11th plague,” though safe in the knowledge that she can sit on her porch without fear that someone is going to drop a bomb on her neighborhood or take her family away because she’s Jewish. “I’m not afraid,” she says. “The corona? It’s not the same fear. In a way, it brought some people together and shows us if we don’t come together even worse things can happen.”

And then she fast-forwards from her story to the present again, drawing an invisible line between the 70-plus-year gap. “Now at my age, I still have to be sad and afraid? What is this nonsense? All these riots? Does the color of our skin really matter?” Rendler says, her kind, liquid brown eyes softening as she laments the unrest convulsing the nation and her hometown in the wake of Floyd’s killing. “Is it the shape of our eyes that matter? Didn’t we learn from history what really happened to us?”

Housed in the sprawling, historic Art Deco treasure that tells the human story from the prehistoric ice age to the founding of the nation, the Industrial Revolution, and our VR present, one thing that makes the HHC’s Union Terminal home unique is its direct tie to the place where history took hold. The HHC, named in honor of the couple who’ve played a major philanthropic role in the Jewish and larger Cincinnati communities, is what Weiss calls the only “positive space” of its kind in the U.S.

It marks the arrival or transfer spot of more than 1,000 Holocaust survivors who first laid eyes on Union Terminal after disembarking from one of the trains that used to steam through the once-bustling rail hub. Rendler vividly recalls landing at Union Terminal by train on August 30, 1963. That’s why there’s a hole cut into one of the exhibits allowing visitors to peek out into the freight train yard behind the Museum Center. Weiss says this authentic, one-of-a-kind connection to its larger home makes the HHC unique among the dozens of Holocaust museums and research centers across the country.

Since its move to the Museum Center, the 7,500-square-foot HHC has drawn visitors from nearly every state, with an estimated 80 percent not identifying as Jewish. A place that houses trains—in yet another analogy of sorts, the enduring symbol of the vehicles that transported Jews and other Nazi victims to death camps—has been turned on its head, serving as a means to transport the genocide’s history.

The key to keeping the HHC’s mission as vital as possible, Weiss says, is continued outreach to a new generation. That’s why hundreds of area schools engage with the HHC through visits, traveling exhibits, or the Coppel Speakers Bureau. After hosting 150 events in its first year in Union Terminal— including a twice-weekly Holocaust Speaker Series—those sessions went digital during the pandemic, reaching thousands of viewers via Zoom. There were also panels on anti-Semitism and the pandemic, Q&A sessions with the museum’s curator, and special guest lectures that drew virtual visits and viewer questions from California to Germany and Israel. Partaking in the new COVID-19 custom, several local Holocaust survivors were also the guests of honor at drive-by parades in June, in an effort to have some face time with the group, who are mostly in their 80s and 90s.

Taking a page from the stories of perseverance told on the walls around her, Weiss says that this moment of challenge and change is a chance for the HHC to consider new opportunities. A new look outward has led to creative efforts that might not have otherwise been taken. “To me the saddest part is the school groups not coming,” she says, surveying the darkened theater that first greets guests as they enter. One corner is stacked with dozens of gray cube-shaped stools that would normally fill the space. As the film featuring survivor stories, including Rendler’s, unspools, the 10 remaining seats at appropriately distanced intervals seem small in the now cavernous-feeling room.

The HHC was in the midst of yet another makeover as summer dawned, with Weiss and her team redesigning the interactive kiosks to move away from touch surfaces and buttons to manipulation with styluses. As sheets of plastic sneeze-guards await placement, Weiss says she’s been talking to other museums about how they’re handling the counterintuitive switch from encouraging participation and active listening to literally erecting barriers to keep visitors apart and switching to self-guided audio tours.

Rendler’s father always told her not to be afraid to tell her story. He wanted her to keep describing what she and other Holocaust victims went through, as often as she could, wherever she could. “On the other hand, I’m looking and nothing has changed,” she says of the frightening images of fire and fury on the TV news, stopping to smile as a small deer materializes just feet away from the porch and squealing children ride by on their not-so-spaced-out bikes. “It’s fear, it’s anger, it’s sadness. It’s not appreciating again life. Why can’t we live in peace? We must work together. We must make it a better life to live.”

So, like the HHC, Rendler will keep telling her story. It might look different—for a little while longer anyway—but the story will be told. “In my sense I always think, You cannot escape from evil. Maybe we’ll never be able to escape from evil, and that’s why we have to work together,” she says, happy that she’s bound to her comfortable home and not a dark, cramped hiding space.

The key is to keep moving forward, to learn whatever lessons we can about brutality inflicted on a minority group whose only crime was trying to survive and thrive. “I don’t have to keep sharing my story,” says Rendler, clearly pained to say goodbye from a distance. “But humanity is my job.”

Dear Restaurant & Butchery Opens its Butcher Shop in Hyde Park Square


Opening a restaurant during COVID-19 isn’t easy, but for Ashley Robertson, Austin Heidt, and Brent and Corinne Oberholzer, Dear Restaurant & Butchery has been a dream several years in the making. After working together in fine dining in Colorado, the two couples moved to Cincinnati to launch their Art of Care Hospitality Group and begin a full renovation of the old Teller’s space in Hyde Park Square.

“Right now, we’re very much focusing on the in-home experience,” Heidt says of their now-open butchery, soon to be followed by the restaurant next month. “That’s where people are right now and that’s where they really feel safe.”

“We always wanted to bring food into people’s homes with a takeaway program, and then COVID came, and we were able to do it that much better,” adds Brent, the restaurant’s bar director.

The butchery offers high-quality beef and pork, local lamb and chicken, and take-home grill kits that include family sized portions of burgers, sausages, or Wagyu beef. The current menu also includes a charcuterie program, sandwiches, coffee, and soft-serve ice cream. Among libations, guests can enjoy a wide range of beer and wine, including a monthly wine club and wine lockers, coming soon to the restaurant.

“I’ve kind of been dreaming of opening this restaurant for about a decade, and I just so happened to find people who were already doing it,” says butcher and head chef Brian Young, who was a contestant on season 16 of Bravo’s Top Chef. “If you think about a proper English or Irish butcher shop, it’s all about the roasts. So that’s how I set up this butcher shop, with really amazing roasts.”

Customers will be able to see what Young has in store for the restaurant’s full menu next month and get a peek at local interior design firm Drawing Dept’s new vision for the historic space. Heidt, who’s originally from Hyde Park, says the remodeling inspiration was a classic, timeless look that’s comfortable enough to feel like a second home.

“We wanted to really personalize the space and create a full transformation,” Heidt says. “It’s such a vibrant community that carries so much history with it, so to be a neighborhood restaurant that tailors to the needs of each customer is really special to us.”

The area is also where Brent and Corinne, general manager, chose to begin their married lives and are now raising their 3-month-old. “We started a family here in Hyde Park as well, and we’re excited to become a part of the community,” Brent says.

Dear Restaurant & Butchery, 2710 Erie Ave., Hyde Park, (513) 429-2605

Click through our gallery to view more photos of Dear Restaurant & Butchery:

The World’s Only Museum Dedicated to Cardboard Boats Is in New Richmond


What happens when you give four guys with a passion for building and racing cardboard boats the keys to a dilapidated gas station in New Richmond, Ohio? They open the world’s only known Cardboard Boat Museum, of course. Brothers Tommy and Ed (who is now deceased) Lemon and buddies Tim Young and Kenny Smith opened the museum in 2007 to display boats for New Richmond’s annual cardboard boat regatta, which has been held every August since 1993, but was canceled this year due to COVID-19.

Participants race homemade boats built from cardboard, paint, and tape 200 yards down the Ohio River. “There’s a race where the fastest boat wins, but there’s also a race to see if you can make it to the finish line,” says Tommy, who has raced in the regatta since 2000 and now helps host the event. The museum awards 29 canoe paddle–shaped trophies, including The Titanic for the boat displaying the most dramatic sinking. Last year’s big sinker was a comical 8-foot-tall toilet-shaped boat. The museum, which runs solely on donations and volunteer hours, offers tours and boat-building tips to visitors year-round on Saturdays, Sundays, and Tuesday evenings.

Blaming the Reds’ Bullpen

Cincinnati’s steadfast refusal to begin playing like the contenders everyone expected has continued into the season’s third week. Entering the second game of the Ohio Cup series against Cleveland, the Reds were 5-6, actually in second place but already four games back of first-place Chicago. (A second consecutive loss to the Indians dropped them to 5-7 and five games out.) Still no reason to panic, obviously, but so far the Reds have seemingly played uninspired baseball more than a sixth of the way through this shortened season.


But have they really played uninspired ball? Depends on where you look. Sure the wins and losses are just meh—and wins and losses are ultimately what it’s all about—but Cincinnati’s starting pitchers have been the best group in either league. Seriously, go back and read that sentence again. A tear streamed down my cheek as I typed the words. It’s just so glorious to imagine the Reds actually having a good rotation.

And it’s actually true! Reds starters lead all big league staffs in Wins Above Replacement, and only Cleveland’s starters rival Cincinnati’s group in many of the rate stats. You don’t have to take my word for it; check it out for yourself. Luis Castillo (0-1, 4.50 ERA), Sonny Gray (3-0, 0.96), and Trevor Bauer (1-0, 0.68) rate in the top 10 for WAR among starters in all of baseball. Let’s not forget Tyler Mahle either, who has a 1.80 ERA in two starts.

OK, so the starters aren’t the reason the team has been treading water. Can’t really blame the offense, either. Reds hitters have had trouble getting runners across the plate at times, but on the other hand they’re roughly among the top third of all offenses in baseball, judging by runs scored (and many other stat categories). Eugenio Suarez and Jesse Winker haven’t gotten hot yet, and Shogo Akiyama is still trying to adjust to American baseball, but pretty much everyone else is producing. At the top of that list is Nick Castellanos, who looks like an MVP candidate, hitting .368/.442/.921 with six home runs, which ties him with the Yankees’ Aaron Judge to lead all of baseball.

No, the starters aren’t the problem. The offense isn’t (entirely) the problem. You know where this discussion is headed: the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Bullpen. It’s difficult to overstate how bad the Reds bullpen has been in the early going of the 2020 season. Precisely two relievers, Amir Garrett and Lucas Sims, have been good so far (if we don’t include the lone appearance out of the pen by Tejay Antone, who allowed just one run in 4.1 innings in his big league debut). Literally every other pitcher in Cincinnati’s bullpen has encountered troubles.

Look, ERA is a ridiculous way to evaluate relievers, especially when we’re just a dozen games into the season. But I’m going to do it anyway, because this is my column and you can’t stop me. Be forewarned, however: It’ll make your eyes hurt.

Michael Lorenzen: 12.27 ERA
Brooks Raley: 12.00
Cody Reed: 12.00
Raisel Iglesias: 6.23
Nate Jones: 6.23

By WAR (again not a great way to evaluate relievers at this point in the season), the Reds’ bullpen is in the bottom three of the league. But you probably already suspected all of this, because you’ve been watching the games. And you’ve seen the bullpen blow leads left and right.

In the four-game losing streak after Opening Day, the pen surrendered 15 runs in 18 innings. On the season, in five of Cincinnati’s seven losses, the bullpen has surrendered the winning run. In two of those, the starter left with a lead after an excellent outing only to see the pen cough it up. In one other contest, the August 2 game against the Tigers, the bullpen blew another lead, but the Reds came back to win.

Lorenzen, of course, has been the primary culprit, surrendering home runs in each of his first three outings this season, all of which contributed to Reds losses. Iglesias, supposedly this team’s closer, was smacked around his first two times on the mound, both losses.

It has been bad, no question about it. On the other hand, I cited a few stats above that made Cincinnati’s relievers look awful, while cautioning you not to give them too much weight. There’s a reason for that. This bullpen is not as bad as you might think. And if you squint just right, you can find reasons to believe that the Reds bullpen is likely to be much, much better as the season progresses.

First of all, before the season, most observers looked at the group of relievers on this roster and saw one of the better staffs in the league. Over at The Athletic, Keith Law predicted that the Reds would have the best bullpen in the NL Central. In his baseball newsletter, Joe Sheehan noted the presence of “a pretty deep pen here, especially from the right side, where Chicago ex-pats Pedro Strop and Nate Jones have arrived to deepen the group.” Plenty of other outlets concurred (see here and here, for example). Of course, those are just predictions, so let’s not give them too much weight. Let’s look at the stats.

Yes, the Reds have the fifth-worst bullpen ERA in MLB (6.21). But if you look at xFIP, a statistic that estimates a pitcher’s expected run prevention independent of the performance of their defense, Cincinnati’s relievers are right in the middle of pack when compared to other pens around baseball. Let’s start the chant now: We’re Number 15!

See, I caught myself looking at dumb stats again. It’s far too early in the season to do that; the sample size is just way too small to draw any grand conclusions. Sure, the bullpen hasn’t performed as we would have liked so far this season. But Lorenzen is not this bad. Iglesias is not this bad. Brooks Raley may be this bad, who knows? This is still the same deep pen that everyone was excited about just a couple of weeks ago.

Was the excitement for the bullpen overblown? Probably, at least somewhat. But, as with everything early in the season, take a deep breath. After all, it has to get better. Right?

Chad Dotson authors Reds coverage at Cincinnati Magazine and hosts a long-running Reds podcast, Redleg Nation Radio. His first book, The Big 50: The Men and Moments That Made the Cincinnati Reds, is available in bookstores and online.

What’s Next for FC Cincinnati Now?

While FC Cincinnati’s Round of 16 loss to the Portland Timbers via penalty kicks was an agonizing way to exit the MLS Is Back tournament in Orlando, the club recovered from a crushing tournament-opening loss to its rival to claim a pair of morale-boosting triumphs over perennial Eastern Conference playoff teams. FCC wound up second in Group E ahead of Atlanta and New York Red Bulls, and its advancement to the knockout stage was easily the most profound achievement since its promotion to MLS.


Even though Portland wound up playing the role of executioner, Jaap Stam and his staff unearthed a defensive identity that could lead to the franchise’s first MLS playoff berth. That’s contingent upon completion of a regular season outside of a hotel/sporting complex “bubble,” of course.

The coaches and fans also got long looks at players who either didn’t see a ton of minutes in 2019 or were new signings for 2020, and many of them may have carved out permanent starting roles. Andrew Gutman looks to have established himself as the starting left back and/or left winger over Greg Garza with his dedicated defense and ability to get forward. The 23-year-old played every minute of FCC’s final three games in Orlando. Joe Gyau displayed defensive chops as a right winger while his as-advertised pace proved troublesome for many defenders—just ask Atlanta United’s Jake Mulraney or Portland’s Jorge Villafaña. He should only improve with Jurgen Locadia’s reintegration into the starting XI.

Haris Medujanin looked like a squeaky old wheel in the opener, but the post-Columbus disaster adjustments served him well. With Caleb Stanko offering additional defensive cover for the 35-year-old midfielder, Medujanin offered glimpses of why he was targeted by FC Cincinnati. According to Cincinnati Soccer Talk, the Bosnian completed 90 percent of his passes against Portland, including six of eight long balls. Medujanin also delivered an excellent entry ball for Mathieu Deplagne’s just-offside goal in the 61st minute.

Spencer Richey was the preferred goalkeeper for FC Cincinnati’s three head coaches in 2019 and started the first two pre-pandemic games of 2020. But since Stam’s been in charge, Przemysław Tytoń has regained the No. 1 spot between the sticks. He started all four games in Orlando, and saved his best performance for last vs. Portland, recording seven stops and playing a central role in the 277-minute goalless stretch opponents racked up against a resolute FCC defense.

With MLS Is Back’s championship match set for Tuesday, the league is reportedly keen to resume regular-season play on August 21, with The Washington Post reporting that FC Cincinnati will host D.C. United that day. Here are some storylines to keep an eye on over the next few weeks:

Can MLS learn from Major League Baseball? There will be no bubble when MLS restarts regular season play, and as we’ve learned from MLB, no bubble can lead to big COVID-19 consequences. Baseball began its season on July 23 and failed to make it out of its first weekend of play without a team-wide outbreak, as 18 Miami Marlins eventually tested positive for COVID-19 and forced the squad into an eight-day shutdown without games. Meanwhile, 13 members of the St. Louis Cardinals’ traveling party recently tested positive for coronavirus. MLS players, coaches, and other traveling personnel will have to be extraordinarily disciplined in their adherence to health and testing protocols to ensure the league can complete a newfangled regular season and postseason. (The Post also reported that to reduce the need for hotels, road teams will often travel to and from their destinations on the same day, if buses and charter flights are possible.) But, if we’re being honest, MLS and its clubs will also need to just get plain lucky. Positive tests are going to happen, but outbreaks need to be avoided.

Can Jurgen Locadia finally find his footing? The ex-Premier League striker arrived in February and made two appearances and one start prior to the league’s hiatus, scoring a goal—and that was after he took a transatlantic flight back to the U.S. from the Netherlands to secure his work visa. He barely had time to lace up his boots before the games started to count. Then the Designated Player picked up an injury during MLS Is Back training, keeping him off the pitch in Orlando until he came on in the 72nd minute vs. Portland. He successfully converted a pressure-packed penalty in the 81st minute to tie the game, but missed a sitter in the game’s waning moments that would have won the match. His attempt during the penalty shootout was weak and easily saved. Still, Locadia should earn plaudits for coming off the bench ice, ice cold, having not played a competitive minute since March. FC Cincinnati needs to keep its 6-foot-4 scoring machine healthy and find a way to mesh his offensive prowess into the radically defensive-centric strategy Stam put forth in Orlando.

Speaking of that defense-first, defense-second strategy, can FC Cincinnati afford to be more expansive offensively without compromising its newfound defensive solidity? By now you know the story. FCC were routed 4-0 by Columbus in the first game of Group E play. Stam then decided to park the bus and slash all tires for the remainder of the tournament, conceding possession, territory, and shots in exchange for a well-drilled defensive block that vastly cut down on clear goal-scoring opportunities to opponents. The 3-5-2 (or 5-3-2 depending on your point of view) formation was a massive success; the same club that allowed the most goals in MLS history last season registered back-to-back clean sheets and just one goal over its final three tournament matches.

Locadia’s presence will necessitate some adjustments—the formation switched to a 4-3-3 upon his entry against Portland—and logic would also dictate that midfielder Allan Cruz, one of the FCC’s three Designated Players (along with Locadia and Yuya Kubo), is on track for more regular playing time. Cruz was used as a substitute vs. Columbus and Portland; missed the Atlanta game through injury; and was an unused sub vs. New York Red Bulls. Just 24, he would seem to be a big part of FC Cincinnati’s future—he inked a multi-year contract extension in November after being named team MVP in 2019—and is more of an attacking-minded midfielder, evidenced by the penalty he won vs. Portland.

Is the postseason in reach? The top nine teams in each conference, two more than usual, will make the postseason, per The Athletic. Right now FC Cincinnati is eighth in the East with six points from five games (two regular season, three MLS Is Back). MLS apparently wants each club to finish with 23 regular season games played, with those matches being intra-conference affairs. More games vs. the East equals additional matches against the Columbus Crew (first in the East and very much passing the eye test), Orlando City (MLS Is Back semifinalist), Philadelphia (MLS Is back semifinalist), and battle-tested Toronto (second in the East and reached the MLS Cup in two of the past three seasons). But Nashville has joined fellow expansion side Inter Miami in the East for the rest of the year, and Atlanta and NY Red Bulls have taken a step back from recent successful seasons. The West appears to be stronger as a whole, paced by LAFC (2019’s best regular season team by a wide margin), Sporting Kansas City (first in the West and annual playoff contender), Minnesota United (second in West and MLS Is back semifinalist), perennial power Seattle, Portland (MLS Is Back semifinalist), and a San Jose side whose manic style is extremely difficult to match up against. Really, we could just boil it down to this: The two expansion teams provide East teams with (in theory) a few extra easier matches to get results.

One of FC Cincinnati’s biggest problems last year was that they often were never in a place to come back late in matches; in 34 league tilts in 2019, the Orange and Blue lost by at least three goals on seven occasions, leading to the formation of a mentally fragile side that I referenced a few weeks back. I didn’t detect much of that delicacy in MLS Is Back. With the new defensive approach, FCC simply needs to stay in games and weather the attacking storms against more talented opponents. Stam won’t be able to start Locadia, Kubo, Gyau, Cruz, Siem de Jong, Adrien Regattin, and Frankie Amaya in each match, so FCC will have the ability to throw on fresh attacking legs late in matches.

Under the reported format, FC Cincinnati will be playing a lot of games in a short amount of time, but with a favorable schedule, a cemented team identity, and a legitimate star striker. If the healthcare crisis abides, Orange and Blue fans could be in for an exciting sprint to the finish … perhaps all the way to the playoffs?

Grant Freking writes FC Cincinnati coverage for Cincinnati Magazine. Off the pitch, he is the associate editor for Signs of the Times magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @GrantFreking.