NEW YORK -- Several hours before heading uptown to Yankee Stadium for their Interleague opener on Friday night, Reds players Jay Bruce, Drew Stubbs and Brandon Phillips walked inside the MLB Fan Cave and immediately saw the scoreboard indicating that the nine Cave Dwellers had watched 575 regular season games so far, with a mere 1,855 yet to be watched on their TVs.
"Sick of baseball yet?" Stubbs asked them.
"Not yet," several of them said in unison, a well-practiced reply.
"I don't think we ever will be," Phillies fan Gordon Mack added.
Here they were at the start of a weekend that will finish with a milestone for all parties: the virtual quarter pole of the Major League Baseball season. While the trio enjoyed fun and games that the Fan Cave has to offer -- skee-ball, Etch-a-Sketch, charity video gaming and chatting with Dwellers and Reds fans -- they also were asked what they thought of the season so far and were in agreement that a 19-18 record entering Friday leaves a lot of room for improvement.
"You know, I didn't expect us to play the way we've been playing, but we'll be OK," said Phillips, the two-time All-Star second baseman who has started slowly but raised his average from .215 on May 6 to .261. "It's all about us staying healthy, and us getting clutch hits. We're not hitting the ball the way we normally do. I'm even not hitting the ball like I normally do. But I was hurt a couple times, and I'm starting to feel my legs and I'm hitting the ball better.
"It's all about us just coming together as a team and doing the key things, and hopefully we can keep it going. We've been winning a lot of series. But some games we lose, we beat ourselves. We've just got to really step our game up a little bit to take this division."
While the Cardinals have stayed atop the National League Central for the first quarter, the Reds were lurking behind in second place, 2 1/2 games out.
"We've done fine. We haven't really overachieved, we haven't underachieved," said Bruce, who is batting .291 with 10 homers and 27 RBIs. "In my opinion, I think we're still a lot better team [than we've shown]. As it goes on, we're going to start clicking a little better and it's going to turn out just fine for us.
"We're very confident. It's still early in the season. That's a good Cardinals team. You can't make mistakes against those guys or they take advantage. We're the same. We expect to win. We expect to be the best in our division. That is the No. 1 goal, to, obviously, win. In 2011, we disappointed ourselves, we expect a lot more out of this year, we're just looking to take that next step."
"Same as he said," Stubbs added. "We've played just well enough to keep ourselves in the hunt. We're just kind of waiting for that moment to take off and start playing our best baseball. If we can just stay right where we're at and stay competitive, we'll be fine."
Phillips is now a two-time Cave visitor. He signed the wall along with his two teammates, and was whisked off to nearby restaurants to tape a food-critic video that will be posted soon for sharing on MLBFanCave.com.
Meanwhile, Bruce and Stubbs did a Facebook chat, where it was learned not only that Joey Votto is their choice for "best dressed" Red ("Coming from Canada, he's got a little more of that European flavor," Bruce explained), but also that Stubbs grew up a Yankees fan. Both outfielders hail from Texas, a long way from the New York-minute pace that was bustling outside the doors on Broadway.
"I followed the Yankees at a young age," Stubbs said. "I think because my dad grew up in the Mantle/Maris era. Being from Texas, it was kind of not like today, when you can have access to all teams. They would be on the radio at nights and he'd listen to them and kind of raise me to do the same."
Bruce is playing at Yankee Stadium for the second time in his career, but his first time at the new cathedral. Less than a month after his 2008 Major League debut, he played in three games at the old stadium, going 2-for-12 in its final season of existence. He was more wide-eyed then.
"All I could think about in 2008 when I came here was all the people who had come through Yankee Stadium -- Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle," Bruce said. "Now at the new Yankee Stadium, not so much anymore. They did bring some stuff over, it still looks similar in a lot of ways.
"I kind of take it all in stride, just enjoy my time in each city. ... It's another series, and I'm looking to beat these guys."
"I feel the same way," Stubbs said, "but at the same time, it's my first trip, and just getting to play against probably the most storied franchise in all of sports it's a pretty cool thing -- and hopefully a good memory for us."
For Bruce and Stubbs, the last act before leaving the Cave and facing Andy Pettitte was filling out a paper All-Star Game ballot. They took their time and approached it generally without any team favoritism.
As they filled out their ballots, Bruce was asked what it would mean to go back to this year's event in Kansas City.
"It was one of, if not the best baseball experiences I've ever had," he said. "It definitely makes you want to go back every single year. It's the whole experience. It's being around the other players, it's your friends and family being there, getting to experience it all, the Home Run Derby and getting to sit on the field . . . it's awesome."