MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred (right) with Reds owner Bob Castellini prior to Thursday’s Opening Day game at Great American Ball Park. David Jablonski/STAFF

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred talks Opening Day in Cincinnati, state of the game

Prior to the Reds’ taking on the Pittsburgh Pirates, Manfred spoke with reporters about a variety of topics, including the scene in the Queen City, the state of the game and the economic system.

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Here are five takeaways:

1. He feels good about the state of the game.

“We believe that we have the greatest game in the world,” Manfred said. “The raw material of our game is absolutely phenomenal.

“I think sometimes when we talk about managing the change in the game, we lose sight of the fact we have a great product the way it is that’s deeply ingrained in people’s lives.

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“Our business continues to be strong. Our revenues continue to grow. We draw almost 70 million people every year, and in an age when people have a lot of entertainment opportunities, that is some feat.”

2. He still finds improving pace of play important, though.

“I’m not and have never been focused on a particular length of the game,” he said. “I think what we’d like to see is a game that is played at a crisp pace and has a level of action in the game that makes it as compelling a product as possible for our fans.”

Fan surveys and other research has indicated fans find the game more appealing if it doesn’t have too much down time.

3. Manfred did not express sympathy for young players playing on relatively cheap deals before hitting free agency.

This has been a major talking point recently as the free-agent market has been tough for non-star veterans, some of whom remain unsigned after finding teams less willing to play older players based on how good they used to be and instead focusing on the type of production they can expect in the future.

“The system is a product of collective bargaining,” he said. “A principle tenet that the MLBPA has put forward at the table since my first negotiation (in 1989) is they wanted a seniority based system. That’s what they bargained for and that’s what they have. It’s not more complicated than that.”

4. He was impressed with the pageantry of Opening Day in Cincinnati.

“I have been fortunate to experience opening days in a lot of our cities, but I’ve never had one quite like this one,” said Manfred, who served as grand marshal of the Findlay Market parade. “It’s a tribute to the fandom of the people here in Cincinnati, to the great job the Castellini family does here owning the Reds, and it was really a pleasure to be part of it today.”

5. Riding in the parade with legendary Reds catcher Johnny Bench was perhaps the icing on the cake.

“Johnny is always amusing,” Manfred said. “If you’re going to ride with someone for a half an hour, he’s a pretty good choice.

“I think that my overwhelming impression of it is that Johnny Bench is like a god here. It really is unbelievable,” Manfred said. “I think you could put the most despicable character in the world here in a car with Johnny Bench and he would be cheered in Cincinnati so it was a lot of fun.”

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