Updated: 7-19-12, 12:20 a.m.
Brandon Phillips couldn't wait to display one of the posters bannering this era of bipartisanship on the river between the Bengals and Reds. So before Wednesday's game against Arizona at Great American Ball Park he placed the "Cincinnati's Best Hands" version featuring him and Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green above his locker.
"It's cool to have two Georgia boys on the same poster," Phillips said. "He has good hands and so do I. It's nice."
When the Bengals and Reds unveiled their joint promotion "The Ultimate Cincinnati sports doubleheader" Wednesday, you didn't have to go far to get good football talk in the middle of the Reds locker room in the middle of a steamy pennant race.
Phillips may be off an All-Star snub, but he's talking about how he left football at the altar after the Expos took him in the second round of the 1999 draft out of high school in Stone Mountain, Ga.
Catcher Devin Mesoraco, a lifelong Steelers fan, is talking about how he's not a Bengals hater and how he's looking to get into the clubhouse's fantasy football league this season after Todd Frazier and Ryan Hanigan won it last year.
And even if you step into manager Dusty Baker's office, he may let you in on how Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh counseled him on handling a team in an unlikely alliance with the man who began his NFL coaching career in Cincinnati under Bengals founder Paul Brown.
"Bill Walsh taught me many things and the number one thing was he told me you have to have balance in your life," Baker once reminisced last year. "That there can be a tremendous void when you get to be 65, 70 years old if you can't fill balancing family and recreation."
The clubs are forming a similar unlikely partnership working off four dates the Bengals are holding a training camp event at Paul Brown Stadium on the same day the Reds are at home.
On Thursday, Aug. 2, the Reds play the Padres at 12:35 p.m., followed by a PBS practice at 6 p.m. On Saturday, Aug. 4 the Bengals hold their annual intrasquad scrimmage at 3 p.m., followed by Reds-Padres at 7:10. The next day it's reversed when the capper to the Padres series is at 1:10 p.m. followed by the Bengals Mock Game at 6 p.m. The last doubleheader is Sunday, Aug. 19 with Reds-Cubs at 1:10 p.m. and the final Bengals camp practice at 4 p.m.
"Why not knock out two at one time?" asked Bengals middle linebacker Rey Maualuga after he appeared at home plate with Phillips, right fielder Jay Bruce and reliever Aroldis Chapman before Wednesday's game.
Maualuga was supposed to be on "Cincinnati's Hardest Hitters" poster with MVP candidate Joey Votto, but Votto's arthroscopic knee surgery may very well shelve him past Aug. 19, so Bruce is on the poster instead. Chapman shares the "Cincinnati's Top Guns" poster with quarterback Andy Dalton as the Cuban Missile meets the Red Rifle in a show of arms.
And Phillips and Green are on the 'What If' Poster. Is it any coincidence that Phillips's favorite player growing up was new Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, the long-time Reds shortstop who could have had a football scholarship at Michigan?
Phillips says he had both a football and baseball offer lined up at the University of Georgia, Green's alma mater.
"They offered me too much money," Phillips said with a laugh. "You can play baseball longer. I feel like it was the best decision. You never know if you could have made it in football. I had a better chance with baseball. I had more scholarship offers. The scouts were looking at me."
But Phillips isn't going to sell his gridiron exploits short.
"I was everything. I was a cornerback. I was a receiver, too," Phillips said, looking at those Gold Glove hands. "I could one-hand catch that football, too. Big old things right here."
Yet he knows a good glove man when he sees one. Before he went to a bunch of Bengals games last season, Phillips had already heard about Green from his younger sister Portia, a Georgia standout herself who became a third-round pick in the WNBA while watching Green play for the Bulldogs.
"I know of him, but my sister knows him more than I do because of the age difference probably," Phillips said. "She was telling me about this guy. 'He's real good.' My sister doesn't brag about many people and for him to make it to the NFL like that is nice. He can play. He's going to be one of the best receivers in the game. He's a great guy. He works hard and you can tell he wants to win."
It's only a matter of time before Phillips meets Green. He goes to enough games, stemming from his friendship with guys like wide receiver Chad Johnson, defensive lineman Frostee Rucker, kicker Shayne Graham. All are former Bengals, but Phillips says he's talked to Maualuga a few times and he plans to keep going to games.
The bipartisanship has stretched across the hostile AFC North. Mesoraco hasn't been to any games, but he doesn't wish any ill will on the Bengals just because he grew up in the Pittsburgh area.
"I just like football and it looks like these guys (the Bengals) are going to be pretty good," he says. "My favorite is probably Troy Polamalu. He plays hard and he plays the game the way it's supposed be played. Ben (Roethlisberger) is the same way and I like him, too.
"I'm not a Bengals hater or anything like that."
It's a small world even in baseball and football. Baker, who played his final seasons in the Bay Area in the mid-'80s when the late Walsh was at the height of his career in San Francisco, struck up the relationship after talking during a 49ers practice.
He can still tick off the most important bits of coaching advice Walsh gave him over a lot of lunches.
"He told me to be aware of the 'Coach Killer,' the so-called player that was trouble on other teams and moved from team to team," Baker said. "Take care of your coaches. And he told me you must require loyalty, honesty, and get rid of the backbiters and complainers, the guys who tend to bring you down."
But the differences between baseball and football were also pretty obvious Wednesday. Maualuga is used to playing through the rain. So he got a curve ball thrown at him when the torrential showers delayed the pregame ceremonies long enough to eliminate his first pitch.
"Hopefully I'll be around here long enough that they'll ask me back to make another first pitch," said Maualuga, who said he went to the batting cages to throw in prepping for the assignment.
Maualuga said after meeting Phillips downtown while he was getting a haircut he was able to put a name with a face, and he was still laughing about a recent text Bruce sent him.
"I met Jay Bruce awhile back here at a game and we exchanged numbers," Maualuga said. "He texted me I better (throw) a strike, making fun I can't throw. It's neat. Cincinnati athletes getting together."
Maualuga said when they were at the plate, Bruce asked him how much he weighed, but both clubs are pulling their weight on this deal.
"We are thrilled to offer training camp in downtown Cincinnati for the first time ever, and to give local sports fans the opportunity to cheer for the Reds and Bengals on the same day," said Jeff Berding, director of sales and public affairs, in a joint press release. "The practices on these promotional days will be in the stadium to accommodate large crowds and have been scheduled to avoid any conflicts with the Reds games. We are Reds fans, and are excited to work together on this very cool promotion."
Phil Castellini, Reds chief operating officer: "There is nothing better than seeing your favorite sports teams live and in person and for the first time ever you can watch Bengals training camp in Cincinnati and take in a Reds game on the same day."
Parking for the Bengals is available through Hamilton County at the parking lots located adjacent to the stadium, along Mehring Way for $10. There are five other dates when the Reds are in town and the Bengals work in front of the limited seating on the practice fields adjacent to PBS, but they aren't at the same time.
Maualuga doesn't expect much difference from the camp head coach Marvin Lewis ran at Georgetown College.
"No matter what the heat is going to be there whether you're practicing in Cincinnati or Kentucky," he said.
But he's expecting many more fans.
"As far as the crowd, I think it's going to be a lot bigger," Maualuga said. "People can get off work and come straight to practice rather than driving two hours, watching practice, and then driving two hours back."
When the applause from the GABP crowd greeted his name Wednesday night, Maualuga sensed everyone was in a good place.
"It was nice. It was a good feeling," he said. "They were there to watch a baseball game, but they gave me a little cheer. It felt good. Everyone's still supportive ... everyone is a Cincinnati fan."