THE BURT AWARDS SHOWCASE CATEGORY: “GRITTIEST” PLAYER
From now until October, 27th, the hard-working staff at Better Off Red is spending a day on the blog showcasing each voting category for The Burt Awards. These blog posts will prove to be erroneous and based on falsehoods. They are intended for entertainment purposes only. They are NOT to be taken too seriously. Today’s showcase category is Grittiest Player. To vote for The Burt Awards, click here, here and here . Winners will be announced at the first ever Burt Awards Ceremony on October 28th.
One of the stories the common adult male likes to tell about his childhood, is how he used to spend summer days playing ball from early in the morning until the street lights came on.
Due to rabid dogs, high crime and Sony Playstation, kids don’t play outside anymore. It’s just not safe, not to mention all that exercise could potentially jeopardize America’s title reign as World’s Heavyweight Champion.
So here I am, speaking on behalf of the last generation of boys and girls who played ball outside in the summer for 12 straight hours, every day, uphill in 2 feet of snow, for 4 miles with no shoes on.
We slid, we fought, we put a little dirt on it and mostly – we had fun. We played for “the love of it,” the “way the game was meant to be played.” When those days came to an end and it was time for me to go home and clean up, I was so dirty that I used to have to sneak up on my bath water. I would lose three pounds after every bath. I was part of the Grittiest Generation.
Another story that the common adult male likes to tell is the one about how big league players “now-a-days” are wimps, don’t hustle, go through the motions and only care about money. I can list five examples to dispel that myth. All five happen to be nominees for The Burt Awards’ Grittiest Player.
Miguel Cairo, the 2011 recipient of the Reds Heart and Hustle Award plays baseball like a Johnny Cash song. With gravel in his gut and spit in his eye, he’s been invaluable to the club for his ability, versatility and blue-collar approach to the game. He can fill in for a week or two at a time as a “temporary regular” or he can come off the bench at a moment’s notice and tie the game with a pinch-hit RBI-double. I like Cairo because he’s one of the few players on the roster who’s older than I am. At 37, he’s also one of the most physically fit; evidence that he has to work harder than most to continue maintaining his success. What’s most impressive about Cairo is that before home games, he hooks himself up to the front of his semi-truck and drags the 18-wheeler to work.
Every morning, Ryan Hanigan wakes up and eats a bowl of broken glass for breakfast. Playing the sport’s most grueling position, the Reds catcher makes the film A History of Violence look like a comedy. Quiet and smart, rugged and focused, Hanigan is one of the most intense players on the team. Pitchers like throwing to him because of the way he sets up behind the plate, his knack for throwing out would-be-base stealers and his ability to “call a good game.” Hanigan is usually so dirty after nine innings that he could make Right Guard turn left, Secret tell all and Speed Stick to slow down.
Chris Heisey spends his off-seasons rolling around in dirt, sliding head-first across verdant fields and working construction. Last year he built four blocks of new houses by himself, using nothing but a stone and his teeth. Heisey’s regular job is baseball and he’s pretty good at it. The Reds outfielder this season belted nearly 20 home runs in fewer than 300 at-bats and led the league in grass stains. A favorite among Reds fans on Twitter, Heisey is one of those guys who “leaves it all on the field” – including broken bones and body parts.
Fact: Mike Leake is indeed tougher than a two-dollar steak. Don’t mistake his California surfer disposition for softness. Leake would just as soon walk across a burning bed of hot lava than lose a baseball game. What he lacks in size, he makes up for in poise and tenacity. Leake endured adversity on and off the field in 2011, but eventually found solid ground and finished with an impressive 12-9 record and a 3.86 ERA in 29 appearances. He also spent his days off playing professional rugby in the middle of Interstate 75 without pads or a helmet.
How many times has Dontrelle Willis had to pick himself up, dust himself off, climb back on the mound and pitch like it’s his last big league game? That’s got to be a bit unsettling for a guy who was once considered one of the best in the biz. But that’s what Willis is doing. For a guy who burst upon the scene and immediately enjoyed a high-level of success, he now relies more on heart than a blazing fastball. And when you watch him pitch, you can tell the guy’s heart wears a size XXL. D-Train is a shark with a conscience. He’s constantly moving on the mound, yelling encouragement to his catcher, umpires and the players behind him…all the while hanging on every pitch. Did I mention the dude can hit? Once during batting practice, I witnessed Willis put 3 baseballs in the bed of the Toyota Tundra that sits above Great American Ball Park…and that was before he parallel parked it there.
So there you have it – five examples that grit still exists in baseball and on this Reds team. I hope this helps when you vote for The Burt Awards’ Grittiest Player.