True to the game
Brandon Phillips has plenty of reasons to smile
TABARI MCCOY | CIN WEEKLY
It's big. It's inescapable. And when it enters the room, its prominence takes over in an unrivaled fashion.
But this is not something to fear; it is something at which to marvel. "It" is the smile belonging to Brandon Emil Phillips.
Fresh off signing a new contract following the best season in his career, Phillips has plenty of reasons to smile.
And the 2007 Cincinnati Reds Most Valuable Player also plans on giving his teammates and fans plenty of reasons to smile in 2008.
MINOR LEAGUES, MAJOR DREAMS
"I grew up in Stone Mountain, Ga. ... I had a beautiful childhood that many kids don't have, you know? My mom and dad, they're both still together, and it's kind of hard to find that these days," says Phillips, 26. "They really pushed me to play all sports - football, basketball and baseball - and they just showed me the way. They just were (like), 'You pick one (and stick with) whichever you like the most, that's what you run with.' "
That's how the ever-humble Phillips explains his beginnings with baseball, which he recently agreed to play as a Red for at least $27 million for the next four years. Phillips received the contract as a reward of sorts for his 2007 season, a career year for the Reds' starting second baseman.
With a .288 average and 94 RBI, Phillips also hit 30 home runs and stole 32 bases in 2007 - making him only the third player in Reds' history to hit at least 30 home runs and steal at least 30 bases in a single season. (Eric Davis and Barry Larkin are the others.) He also led all National League second basemen in several fielding categories including fielding percentage (eight errors, .990) and assists (433).
Phillips had plenty of reasons to feel blue before becoming a member of the Reds, though.
Originally drafted in 1999 by the Montreal Expos (now Washington Nationals), Phillips was traded to the Cleveland Indians, where he became a top minor league prospect. But after stints in the majors in 2002 and 2003, he struggled and wound up back in the minors. Frustrated with his lack of progress, Cleveland traded Phillips to Cincinnati on April 7, 2006.
Phillips says that's when he became free to do what he does best.
"I always believed in myself that I could be the player I am now. ... When I was with the Indians, they wanted me to play a certain way, and I really couldn't do that," Phillips says. "When I came here, (former Reds manager) Jerry Narron and (general manager) Wayne (Krivsky) said, 'Brandon, keep a smile on your face and have fun.' I did that, and I've been blessed to have a good career."
LEGEND IN THE MAKING?
Phillips plans on continuing that good career in 2008, energized by his new contract and the arrival of new Reds manager Dusty Baker. "He likes to have fun," Phillips says of his new boss. "He has a toothpick in his mouth and (wears) wrist bands; that right there says it all."
Former Reds second baseman/Hall of Famer Joe Morgan says Phillips has everything it takes to be a legend, too.
"We were at LaSalle High School (at a sports benefit), and they said, 'He's the best second baseman since Joe Morgan.' And I said (to him), 'Hey, be better than Joe Morgan; be the best second baseman they've ever had here,' " Morgan says. "As long as he continues to work hard, he can only get better."
Phillips credits another Reds legend for giving him the desire to be the best.
"The way that (Larkin) played baseball - he was always smiling and he was a great player; he looked like he was (always) enjoying the game ... That made me want to be just like him, and that's why he's my favorite player," he says. "I want little kids to know that they should never let someone steal their joy out of the game."
Essential to Phillips' success is the steadfast manner in which he gives back to his fans. From Redsfest to the team's annual winter caravan, Phillips and his ever-present smile are there showing support.
The support from Reds fans, however, is even more impressive to Phillips - which is why he can't wait for Opening Day.
"My first Opening Day with the Reds, that was a beautiful thing. I didn't really know the stadium could get packed like that," he says. "I get the chill bumps every time I'm out there and you hear the people just cheering for you like that, screaming and wanting you to do good. I wish it could be like that every day."
THE ANSWER, PLEASE
Find out the first thing that comes to Brandon Phillips' mind about everything from Cincinnati to his favorite movie:
Q Opening Day?
A The most beautiful day in the world.
A Love it.
Q Marty Brennaman?
A The truth.
Q The media?
A Wow ... I can just say "True or false!"
A It can be trouble.
A Gotta do it.
Q Favorite food?
A Wow! Someone asked me that the other day - I don't know right now ... I'd probably say at Waffle House!
Q If I wasn't playing baseball, I probably would be a ...
A Sports agent like Jerry Maguire - "Show me the money."
Q Favorite movie?
A Coming to America.
Q Favorite musician?
A Right now, I've got to say Kanye West.
Q Something that annoys you ...
A Haters! I hate haters.
Q The fans?
Q The 2008 baseball season ...
A Cincinnati Reds - world champions!