The offseason, as well as 2013 in general, saw an emotional disconnect arise between the Cincinnati Reds and their public star/ambassador Brandon Phillips. Between locker room confrontations and quotes in news articles, it was evident that much love had been lost between the two parties. After an offseason in which the Reds continuously attempted to trade their All-Star, Phillips made a vow to withhold speaking with local media for the 2014 season. Many wondered how this would affect Phillips’ 2014 production and his standing among fans.
Getting to know this “new” side of Phillips has been a bit of a process for the past few months. While he is still smiling and greeting fans as usual before games and on Twitter, between the lines on the diamond he has been quite different. While still there from time to time, those joyous smiles that have become synonymous with Phillips and the Reds are harder to catch during games. For the first time in his Reds career, the game of baseball is starting to look like an actual job for Phillips instead of solely a passion.
This isn’t a knock on Phillips — quite the contrary. How many of us would feel dejected and unwanted if our employer spent months telling us we were important to the organization while secretly trying to get rid of us behind our back? The fact that Phillips has remained at all positive and productive following such a poorly handled offseason by the Reds’ front office is a testament to the second baseman.
As fans in Cincinnati, we are trained to cheer for the name on the front of the jersey as opposed to the one on the back. Yet every now and again a player comes around who encompasses the persona of the town and captures the heart of its people. It has happened with players such as Peter Edward Rose and Barry Larkin, just as it is with Phillips. After being cast out by the Cleveland Indians, Phillips was a redemption story and a player who worked his way to success, never passing a fan he wasn’t willing to greet. He embraced the city and was immortalized in return.
For this “new” Phillips, the game is still the game he loves and always will. It just seems to be his job now, and that is just fine. As fans, we just aren’t accustomed to seeing that approach from him. Perhaps it is part of his maturing process, perhaps it has to do with his tumultuous offseason with the Reds or perhaps it has to do with his new responsibilities of fatherhood. Whatever the case, we are seeing “Brandon Phillips 3.0” — a new player who has once again reinvented himself.
He is still the All-Star second baseman for the Reds and he is still beloved by the Queen City, but his smile just doesn’t seem to shine as it once did before.