When the Cincinnati Reds’ miraculous playoff run in 2010 began with an Aug. 10 brawl against the St. Louis Cardinals, the team announced with their actions that they had entered the upper echelon of the Major Leagues. Prior to the fight, Reds star Brandon Phillips announced that he would play against the Cards on one leg if necessary, then backed up his talk by instigating the benches-clearing brawl that catapulted the Reds into the spotlight.

After the skirmish, the Reds went on to upstage the Cardinals and win their division title for the first time since 1995.

Cincinnati regressed in 2011 and missed the playoffs. However, the Reds’ front office finally got Phillips’ memo that the Reds were ready to make the jump to compete with the established powers of baseball and backed his talk up with action.

In the offseason, Cincinnati General Manager Walt Jocketty addressed the Reds’ needs on the mound by trading for ace Mat Latos and signing closer Ryan Madson.

In the last two weeks, Cincinnati signed MVP-winning first baseman Joey Votto to an extension worth over $250 million and inked fan-favorite second baseman Brandon Phillips to a $72.5 million deal.

By signing his two superstars to long-term contracts and shelling out prospects and money for top-tier pitchers, Jocketty has sent a message to the NL Central and to the rest of the league: The Reds want to win, and they want to win now.

Albeit, these additions have not been completely without tragedy, as is tradition in Cincinnati. After bringing Ken Griffey Jr. home about a decade ago, the star player failed to play 100 games in each season between 2002 and 2004 due to injury. During those three seasons, he made $8.5, $12.5 and $12.5 million dollars, respectively, comprising roughly 20 percent of the Reds’ payroll those seasons.

This season, the bad luck in Cincinnati continued when Ryan Madson required Tommy John surgery before the season began, effectively throwing away the team’s $6 million investment in the closer and conjuring up images of Ken Griffey Jr. grasping at his hamstring in pain.

Despite that setback, this year’s team is still positioned to compete for the NL Central title with teams holding nearly $30 million more in payroll.

The addition of Latos represents significant risk due to his shaky record thus far in the majors, but Cincinnati is willing to take that risk knowing that flamethrowing reliever Aroldis Chapman will be able to compensate for any off days.

Further, the long-term signings of Phillips and Votto also bear risk, as the Phillips signing will last until the second baseman’s mid-30s.

During that time, though, this Cincinnati team will be nothing if not entertaining. When he’s not making dazzling plays as a gold-glove winning second baseman, Phillips is on Twitter (@DatDudeBP), inviting his followers to the movies or appearing courtside at Xavier University basketball games to show his love for the city. Officially banned from baseball in 1989, former player and manager Pete Rose still shows up at Reds games to applause from the fans. Also joining the eclectic guest list for games are Charlie Sheen and former boy-band superstar Nick Lachey.

The team may not be America’s team anymore, but their following along the Ohio River is undeniable.

During their traditional home opener this season (the Reds always open their season at home in a nod to their status as the first professional baseball team), the team strolled into the Great American Ballpark on a red carpet. No longer an afterthought in the five-team NL Central, these Reds are ready to bring the spotlight to the Queen City.

They can’t compete with the Yankees in terms of payroll or celebrity fans, but their on-field success and passionate fan base are certain to turn heads in 2012.

With a team that’s willing to fight and a front office that’s willing to make moves, Cincinnati fans may once again hear renowned broadcaster Marty Brennaman boast “and this one belongs to the Reds” as America’s first professional baseball team wins their first championship of my lifetime.

The drought isn’t as dramatic or publicized as that of the division rival Chicago Cubs. But to Redlegs everywhere, like myself, this could finally be our year.

Corey Blaine is a junior in the McDonough School of Business. THE BLEACHER SEATS appears every Friday.

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