The people wound around the main concourse of Nationwide Arena yesterday in the happy manner of an assembly line in a cartoon toy factory.

The people wound around the main concourse of Nationwide Arena yesterday in the happy manner of an assembly line in a cartoon toy factory.

Men, women and children in the hundreds clutched baseballs, gloves, bats, posters, photographs and anything else that might serve for an autograph while waiting for the chance to reach the table where the contingent from the Cincinnati Reds winter caravan was seated.

Despite the obvious wait, everyone seemed to wear a smile, along with some bit of Cincinnati team gear.

“It’s been nuts,” said Jamie Ramsey, an assistant director of media relations for the team. “ People were hanging from the rafters yesterday in (Parkersburg, W.Va.).”

Marty Brennaman, the Reds’ Hall of Fame radio broadcaster, began making this annual tour in the salad days of the Big Red Machine in 1974.

Back then, the caravan served as a smoker for the media to gin up publicity for the coming season. Gin, of course, was among the menu items until owner Marge Schott killed the tradition in the 1990s. New owner Bob Castellini has revitalized the caravan over the past few years, and the fans have come in droves.

“It’s like this every year,” Brennaman said. “We have three different legs, and we alternate each year. It really doesn’t make much difference which leg you’re on; people turn out.”

Brennaman has noticed a difference over the past three seasons, which have included pennants in the National League Central in 2010 and ’12.

“I think the biggest difference is when the fans know you’re going into a season probably as the prohibitive favorite to win the division,” he said. “This could conceivably be a better team than last year.”

To Brennaman’s right, second baseman Brandon Phillips was the top current player at the table. He fielded requests from the fans as seamlessly as he handles his defensive duties.

“In all the years I’ve been around, and this will be year 40, he’s the most fan-friendly player I’ve ever been around,” Brennaman said. “He’s more than Pete (Rose) or any of them. And it’s not contrived. It’s just the way he is.”

The Reds acquired Phillips in a trade with the Cleveland Indians in 2006. He signed up for the caravan in ’07 and has been a part of every one since.

“This is what it’s all about,” Phillips said. “Of course, I enjoy people. But it’s also my job. It’s more than just playing on the field. When you come here and put a smile on people’s faces and see who loves you, it can’t get any better than that.”

It also has been instructive for the non-Cincinnati native.

“Us being one of the best teams in baseball is nice,” Phillips said, “but I didn’t know we had fans in West Virginia or Indiana. It’s just nice to see.”

The line continued to move forward, and the people continued to smile.

“Back in the ’90s, when the Indians were one of the best teams in baseball, they owned this town,” Brennaman said. “Now we do, and it’s because of the kind of club we’ve had in recent years.”& amp; amp; lt; /p>