Last season, Cincinnati Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips won his second Gold Glove award, received his first All Star selection and led the Reds to the Playoffs for the first time since 1995.
After years of hard work and persistence, Brandon’s love of baseball is paying dividends. In 1999, Brandon signed with the Montreal Expos straight out of high school. After playing some minor league ball, Brandon was traded to the Cleveland Indians in 2002. He won the starting second baseman job with the Indians in 2003 but, after some ups and downs, was dealt to the Reds in April of 2006. Going back to when he was a kid, Brandon speaks highly of his idol, former Reds shortstop Barry Larkin: “The only reason I really started playing baseball is because of Barry Larkin. If it wasn’t for him, I probably would be playing football right now.” For Phillips to look up to Larkin (the 1995 NL MVP) and then to have the opportunity to play for the Reds was huge.
After being sent to Cincy, Phillips made an instant impact with the Reds in 2006, batting .276 with 17 homers and 75 RBIs. He had a fielding percentage of .977 and seemed to have found a home in the Reds’ infield. In 2007, he set career highs in multiple categories, getting 187 hits, batting .288, slugging .485, hitting 30 dingers, scoring 107 runs and stealing 32 bases. He also recorded 94 RBIs and had a fielding percentage of .990. When we asked Brandon what advice he had for kids trying to play at the next level, he said, “You got to make sure you just work hard and you got to stay focused. It’s like what Sparky Anderson told me: ‘What you put in the game is what the game will give back to you.’” Brandon’s hard work and focus paid off in 2008, when he hit 21 homers, had 78 RBIs and won his first Gold Glove with a .990 fielding percentage, committing just 8 errors on the season. Brandon had another strong season in 2009, batting .276 with 20 homers and 98 RBIs while posting a .988 fielding percentage. Last season, he batted .275 with 18 dingers and 59 RBIs while picking up his second Gold Glove with a .996 fielding percentage.
You can tell from listening to the off-season drills Brandon talks about that he works extremely hard at his craft. It seems like he really enjoys putting in the work. When it comes to staying sharp in the field, Brandon says, “I do a lot of pick-up drills when it comes to defense, cause, like, defense is very important to me. A lot of people don’t really know how important defense is, because defense wins championships. I do a lot of quick feet drills. My dad rolls the balls to me and I try to make sure I get in front of the ball, make sure I get the ball in between my legs every time. And I do a lot of wall ball; there are many activities that I do to make sure my hands are golden. [laughs]”
Along with collecting his second Gold Glove award last year, he also helped the Reds win the NL Central Division, clinching a Playoff birth. Talking about what’s next for him, he says, “Just get better day in and day out. I still have a lot of things in my game I need to improve on. And you know I am going to improve on everything in my game when it comes to my speed, hitting, and just trying to be a five-tool player. When it comes to the Reds, I just feel like that we have something we have to go out there and prove again. We need to make it to the playoffs and get past the first round this time and try not to get no-hit. [laughs]”
Brandon’s passion and love of the game is what makes him a special player. “Baseball is America’s pastime and is the greatest sport ever. I love doing it. A lot of people think I’m cocky, but I just love playing baseball. I just love this game and would do anything to play this game. I just like to have fun; I’m just a big kid. If you’re not having fun playing this game, then why are you doing it? I don’t see baseball as a job; I see it as a hobby. It’s a hobby I get paid for.”