MIAMI -- Joey Votto had already done so much to help Zack Cozart get to this 88th All-Star Game presented by Mastercard, from serving as a point of reference in the mechanical and approach changes that helped Cozart untap his full offensive potential to making the famous donkey offer that made Cozart's candidacy a social-media sensation.
So what's one more helping hand between these two baseball buds? When Cozart ripped a hit in his first All-Star at-bat in the third inning Tuesday night at Marlins Park -- the first hit by any Reds player in this event since Scott Rolen in 2010 -- Votto tracked down the ball for him as a souvenir. The American League topped the National League, 2-1, in 10 innings.
Votto, who struck out in his pinch-hit appearance in the eighth inning, has Cozart's back in so many ways. Now that the All-Star experience is over and the donkey is almost delivered (that special on-field ceremony could happen as soon as Friday at Great American Ball Park), the conversation starts to shift to another July tradition -- the Trade Deadline. The topic didn't get as much traction as the donkey, but it was still a talking point here. And Votto, who has grown close to Cozart, would like to see his friend get an extension with the Reds, to the point of summoning his inner Rod Tidwell and saying, "Show [Cozart] the money!"
"We'll see whether or not they're willing to make the commitment," Votto said. "I'd like to see whether or not they're motivated to do it. The Trade Deadline's coming close, so it better happen soon. And if it doesn't happen before the Deadline, it could happen before the end of the year, but I've almost never seen that before."
Votto is partially responsible for Cozart's expanding worth, because Cozart has taken lessons from his teammate's stance and plate approach and applied them to his own game in a stellar first half.
"I think he's played exceptionally well, and I think he's getting better as a player," Votto said. "This could be a genuine change to his performance going forward. And obviously as a free agent, that's a good thing for him -- and for his donkey on the farm."
Cozart was deeply appreciative of all the Reds did to promote his All-Star candidacy online.
"I've been a Red since I was drafted in '07 and came up in '11," Cozart said. "All I know is Reds. So for them to do as much as they did to help me get where I'm at, I want to represent that crowd."
Cozart's presence and his pairing here with Votto also represented the bond the two have formed, and that's a testament to Votto's evolution as a teammate.
"Obviously, on the field, he's a stud," Cozart said. "But I've seen him grow as a leader over the past six years as I've played with him. Now he's open to everybody, loves young guys to come talk to him. He's my favorite guy on the team, because I know he wants to be perfect and I see how hard he works, and he makes me want it that much more."
So it was fitting for the two to be featured here together. No matter what the near future holds in the Deadline department, Cozart has a game-used memento to savor this experience and this bond with his friend.
And soon, he'll have the donkey, too.
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.