Being a Cincinnati Reds fan, inevitably scrappy hard working players will be compared to Rose when they come up. It happened to Oester, Sabo and Freel. Reading Denorfia's story, and if you know Rose's, there are a lot of similarities between the two.
By Brian Bennett
Chris Denorfia never had to look far to learn the value of hard work.
His father, Tony, has worked two jobs for as long as Chris can remember. You think your week is busy? Tony Denorfia is a partner in a Connecticut law firm and a contractor who builds up to 20 houses a year.
No son of Tony Denorfia was going to grow up a loafer. The father made sure of that, enlisting Chris in a variety of teenage summer jobs, shipping him everywhere from construction sites to office cubicles.
But only one career track appealed to Chris: baseball.
"Nothing else ever really made me want to get up in the morning and go do it," he said. "I can't wait to get up every morning and play baseball."
Chris employed his father's roll-up-your-sleeves values to establish himself as a rising prospect for the Cincinnati Reds. The Louisville Bats outfielder and reigning Reds minor league Player of the Year has already enjoyed two brief major league stints, and a permanent big-league promotion could come any day.
Everyone in the Reds' organization raves about Denorfia, 25, echoing the same sentiments whenever his name is mentioned.
"Without a doubt, his work ethic is the No. 1 reason why he is where he is," Bats manager Rick Sweet said.
"He's relentless," Cincinnati farm director Johnny Almaraz said. "He goes 100 percent every single day, every single practice session. He's evolved into a major league player because of it."
"He gets the absolute most out of his ability," Reds minor league field coordinator Tim Naerhing said.
That's not to suggest Denorfia lacks talent; he's an above-average defender who can play all three outfield positions, and he's a polished hitter with speed and developing power. But players don't get to the big-league doorstep from where he started without serious extra effort.
Denorfia stood a foot shorter than other boys in Little League and needed a growth spurt to reach 150 pounds as a high school senior. Baseball was mostly an afterthought at his Connecticut prep school, where hockey, lacrosse and football ruled. Though Denorfia's two brothers played Division I baseball, he was too scrawny to attract much college interest.
He wound up at Division III Wheaton (Mass.) College, which didn't start its non-scholarship baseball program until 1997. But Wheaton grew into a D-III power, and Denorfia started every game of his four-year career.
"He did everything for us," Wheaton coach Eric Podbelski said. "He had a lot of talent, but the intangibles are what really separated him. He never took a day off, never took an at-bat off."
Denorfia also grew into his own body, gradually packing 185 pounds on his 6-foot frame. He hit .467 his senior year, earning Division III All-America honors and piquing attention from pro scouts. Cincinnati took him in the 19th round of the 2002 draft, making him the first, and so far only, Wheaton player selected.
Playing pro ball made him hungrier, and he improved his numbers at each level. His breakthrough came last year, when he hit .330 for two months in Double-A and .310 over three months at Louisville, earning a September call-up to the Reds. His power numbers also surged; after hitting a total of four home runs in his first two years of pro ball, he launched 17 in 2004 and 21 last season. Entering last night, Denorfia was batting .333 this year with a .415 on-base percentage.
"The thing I try to focus on the most," he said, "is staying consistent."
Consistency stems from a constant effort. A prime example: When the Reds cut Denorfia from big-league camp this spring, he had the right to take a day or two off before switching clubhouses. Instead, Denorfia asked Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky if he could play in that afternoon's Triple-A exhibition game.
"Taking a day off is not something I'm really interested in," he said. "I always want to see my name in the lineup."
Sweet remembers a time last year when Denorfia's legs were aching, yet he still ran all-out sprints during warm-ups. Sweet advised him to slow down, and Denorfia answered, "I can't."
"I won't even ask him if he needs a day off, because I can't trust him to tell me honestly," Sweet said. "I just have to tell him, 'You're off tomorrow,' even though he won't like it."
Turn on a baseball game any night and you're liable to see stars not running out every groundball. The guys who run through walls and dive for balls -- the "dirtbags," as they are affectionately known -- are celebrated but not always emulated.
"If we had more players who played the game like him," Naehring said, "it would be refreshing."
It should come as no surprise that Denorfia plays that way, given who taught him growing up. In addition to his long hours at his two jobs, Tony Denorfia also coached his sons in Little League. That was his way, he said, of forcing himself to spend more time with the boys.
Like most Denorfia efforts, that time was put to good use.
"My dad definitely instilled in me a really good work ethic," Chris said. "It might not have always come out in my schoolwork or my summer jobs, but it definitely came out in baseball."