GOODYEAR Chris Heisey is the People's Choice,' the man most Cincinnati Reds fans want to see populating left field.
When he split time last year with Jonny Gomes and a few others, fans screamed, "Why isn't Heisey playing every day? He hit 18 home runs and drove in 50 in only 279 at-bats."
It looked as if Heisey might be the main man this season, but late in the winter the Reds signed free agent outfielder Ryan Ludwick.
If anybody thought there was weeping and teeth-grinding emanating from Mechanicsburg, Pa., where Heisey was hibernating for the winter, they thought wrong.
"I was the opposite, man. I was excited," said the 27-year-old 17th-round draft pick in 2006. "We get a guy with some experience and has helped teams win. I want to win. I'll gladly trade 100 less at-bats in order to win. Not that I feel that's necessary, but I would gladly do it."
Why is that, other than Heisey has Team Player' stamped on his forehead?
"Just the difference between 2010 and last year and the way it felt," said Heisey, referring to playing on a championship team in 2010 and a below .500 team last year. "The winning environment is so much more fun and I want to get back to that. So, whatever it takes. I'm willing to sacrifice."
Heisey said wearing the major-league uniform is a badge of accomplishment for him and added with a smile, "I'm thrilled to death to come into camp for the third straight year with a chance to make the team. If you had asked me 3 years ago about me playing this much in the majors already, I would have said, That's crazy.'"
Manager Dusty Baker said his method is not madness the way he uses Heisey. And he feels Ludwick and Heisey make a nice tandem.
Amazingly, even though Heisey is right-handed, as is Ludwick, Heisey hits right-handers better than left-handers.
"Everybody automatically thinks, Put the right-handers up there against the lefties,'" said Baker. "Doesn't always work that way. I remember LA's Pedro Guerrero was right-handed, but he hated to face left-handers. The other team would start a lefty, then bring a hard-throwing right-hander throwing sinkers and Pedro would say, Oh, thank God.'"
Despite the fans clamoring for more Heisey playing time, Baker insists he knows when to play Heisey and when not to play him.
"I know where he likes the ball," said Baker. "That's part of my job, to put a guy in a situation where he can succeed. People say, Oh, he should be playing every day,' but there are certain pitchers he will struggle against and there are certain pitchers he should hit. That's when he plays."
Baker loves the fact that Heisey and Ludwick have different hot zones.
"Ludwick likes the ball down, Heisey likes the ball up," he said. "Ludwick likes the ball more down-and-away, Heisey likes the ball in-and-up.
"Part of making out the lineup is knowing this stuff, matching hitters against the right pitchers and that's the plan right now with Heisey and Ludwick," Baker added.
"It becomes very difficult on a day when a guy hits two or three home runs against a guy he should hit and then you don't play him the next day against a different-type pitcher," he said.
And that's when the fans howl for Baker's hide, screamingly asking why Heisey isn't in the lineup after getting four hits the previous day.
"What if you play him the next day and he doesn't do anything? How often does that happen? A lot," said Baker.
So when the exhibition games begin next Saturday, The Big Picture is for Heisey and Ludwick to share time.
And for Heisey, sharing time is fine. He has bided his time so far, so sharing it is no problem.
"There are still question marks as to who they are favoring or what kind of system they are favoring," he said. "There has been sharing-time talk, that kind of thing.
"Every bench player in the league would like to be a starter, but it takes 12 or 13 position players and only eight can play at a time, play every day. So regardless of whether I'm an every-day guy or the fourth outfielder off the bench, I'll still get my at-bats from 350 to 550. Everybody wants 550 to 600 at-bats, but it is just not feasible for everybody.