Second baseman Brandon Phillips is without a doubt the most beloved player among the Queen City faithful on the current Cincinnati Reds roster, and that is the way it has been for the majority of his time in Cincinnati.
His approachable and lovable personality attracted fans as he provided access unlike anything fans of professional sports are accustomed to these days. Always the first out to sign autographs, fans take to Phillips like children to an ice cream truck on a hot summer day. The passion Phillips always conveys for his love of the game has been evident from day one.
This year, that joy and passion seemed to be missing. That unmistakably infectious smile was hard to find. For the first time in his Reds tenure, the game of baseball seemed to be a profession to Phillips instead of a passion. Oftentimes, the FOX Sports Ohio cameras would catch Phillips in the dugout without his signature grin, and that is a sight that has been highly unusual for years.
Saying this about Phillips is by no means a knock on the man. We have no idea what is going on in his life outside of baseball, nor should that be any of our business. Hundreds of players play the game each year without showing passion for the game, and we don’t hold them to the same standard. But that passion of Phillips is what has endeared him to so many fans.
Becoming beloved in the city of Cincinnati is nearly impossible. The city is full of blue-collared men and women who shed blood and tears to make a living. People in the Queen City work incredibly hard for what they have, and they expect the same from their athletes. People from the outside call Cincinnati fans “fair weathered” fans, because it is hard to draw consistent crowds when their teams are losing.
That isn’t true in the least. The average Cincinnati fan has been hit hard since the recession, and they aren’t going to be shelling out money to watch a poor product. If you can win over fans in Cincinnati, you have done something right.
Look at some of the most beloved athletes in the city’s history for proof: Pete Rose, Sean Casey, Joe Nuxhall, Barry Larkin. They all made a name for themselves by playing the game “the right way”. They were willing to do whatever it took to be the best for their team and city. These players weren’t handed anything on a silver platter — they earned their accolades.
That is exactly why Phillips has become a treasure to the Cincinnati fanbase. Cincinnati has been his redemption story, and he hasn’t taken it for granted.
Speaking to the media following the Reds 4-3 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday night, there was a familiar look on the face of Phillips. That memorable smile made its way back into the hearts of fans. The Phillips that is idolized and loved in Cincinnati seems to be making his way back.
While his struggles have been well-documented, there wasn’t a single Reds fan that has been rooting against him. Not only do they realize how vital he is to the overall success of the team, but selfishly fans want to see the player they love and admire. Cincinnati fans are more than willing to sway their support of a player if he no longer proves valuable or fails to connect with the city (just ask Ken Griffey, Jr. and Carson Palmer), but if an athlete is lucky enough to become absolutely beloved by the city, the love affair will be everlasting.
Oftentimes, it seems as though the more fun Phillips is having on the field, the more it feeds into the success of the team. Call it a coincidence, but the return of that Phillips smile over the last few games have directly correlated in important Reds victories. As Phillips goes, so do the Reds.