April 28, 2006

What a Difference a Year Makes

When I first wrote Lopez’s human league entry last year, I was on the fence about him. He was a cup of potential with a dash of insolence. Since then, he’s added a tablespoon of unselfishness, a pinch of sense of humor, and three shakes of self-assuredness to balance out the recipe and make quite the delicious dish. Quite the dishy dish at that.

Lopez was the Reds’ single representative in the All-Star game in 2005 and contributed a hit to the National League’s losing effort. It was reported that Lopez was very excited to be there with the elite in his field, collecting free stuff and autographs. His behavior hinted at a child-like sense of wonderment that I don’t think Lopez was mature enough to let show before. Had be been at an All-Star game in 2004, I suspect he would have thought himself too cool to be seen participating in the autographs trades.

Lopez was also the recipient of the Silver Slugger for shortstops in 2005, despite the fact that he wasn’t even the starter at short for the first month of the season, as Cincinnati worked its magic on his offensive abilities. The team doesn’t ever talk about moving Lopez to second base these days, he’s never the topic of trade rumors, and he’s no longer the young, unproven guy. In 2005, Lopez went from being the oft-questioned heir to the Reds’ shortstop throne to the one and only player on the 2006 roster whom you could call a sure thing.

But the thing that Lopez has done this year that has done the most to convert me to a fan is the way he’s embraced his position as a number 2 hitter. After Ryan Freel gets himself on base, Lopez shows superior self-discipline in his at-bat to give Freel the opportunities to do his magic. He takes some strikes and maybe his numbers suffer for it, but he does it for the team. And I don’t know what more you could possibly ask for from a player.

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