Brandon Phillips rarely is seen without a smile on his face.
That smile isn't just because he's a happy guy -- although that certainly is true. And it's no act. Phillips' name belongs in the dictionary entry for "positive." The star second baseman is incredibly upbeat and motivational. Attitude, he believes, is everything.
"Believe in yourself, go out there and have fun, and play the game the best way you know how," Phillips said of his approach to baseball. It's advice that is applicable to life as well.
This offseason, he's been striving to "keep my figure right" by working out, swimming, and participating in karate, cross-fitness training and track. Phillips hopes to remain in baseball "as long as Rickey Henderson," whose playing career spanned an impressive 25 seasons.
Phillips also managed to relax a bit over the winter months, spending time doing his two favorite hobbies -- paintball and bowling, which he calls his hidden talent.
"They call me 'Kingpin,'" Phillips said. "I've got three perfect games in bowling. I average over 200, and it is something I just love to do."
Phillips even jokes about being a multi-sport athlete in the mold of Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson, who did double duty in the MLB and NFL: "I can do baseball and bowling!"
Brandon Phillips Q&A
In addition to speaking about baseball, Brandon Phillips talked about a wide range of topics, both on the field and off.
What is your most treasured baseball belonging?
"There's a lot of great players out there that have never won a Gold Glove, and for me to be honored with the Gold Glove really shows that other managers and coaches really pay attention to my game and see how I really matured in this game. Defense wins games and offense sells tickets."
What is your most prized possession outside of baseball?
"I really love reading my Bible every Sunday, and I don't really go anywhere without my Bible -- especially when I go on planes and on the road. Every road trip, I read the Bible before every game."
Would you ever want to be a manager? And if so, who would you emulate?
"I am not trying to take [Reds manager Dusty Baker's] place, but really I would try to do the same thing -- I'd wear the wristbands, chew on the toothpick -- all that stuff."
What would you be doing if not playing professional baseball?
"[Maybe an agent] like Jerry Maguire! Show me the money!"
Who is the player you most hate to face?
"Every time [Albert Pujols] steps on the field, you know he's going to be able to do something special to help his team win. So whenever you face him and the game is on the line, he is one person I don't want to see up to bat."
Phillips also is an avid basketball fan who enjoys games of H.O.R.S.E. (regular pickup games are too risky for a pro athlete) and supporting his sister Porsha Phillips, who currently plays for the WNBA's San Antonio Silver Stars.
But the non-baseball interests are more than just hobbies -- they're an integral part of keeping his mind in balance.
"You have to be able to clear your mind," Phillips said. "During the season, I like to clear my mind by going bowling or doing other things. The more you think about baseball all of the time, you might get lost in it."
And that is important in a game that is as much a mental challenge as a physical one.
"You have to be able to take the negatives with the positives," Phillips said. "In the game of baseball, there are a lot of ups and downs. You might have success one day and the next day be on the bottom. It's all about having a strong will and believing in yourself to get back to the positives."
Phillips said he's always been a sports fan. From a young age, he enjoyed collecting baseball memorabilia, although he lamented that he didn't really know what anything was worth.
"I really didn't know what to do with the baseball cards," he said. "We would just say 'Hey, I have this Rickey Henderson card,' and 'Oh, I have this Jose Canseco -- let's trade.' "
He also enjoyed watching baseball. Though he's a native of Raleigh, N.C., Phillips' childhood idol was Reds shortstop Barry Larkin, who was elected to the Hall of Fame in January.
"He was just out there having fun, making all of those spectacular plays," Phillips said of Larkin. "And he also was a winner. I just try to go out and model my game after him."
Growing up, Phillips relied on the same happy-go-lucky attitude that is so evident in his play today. Phillips jokes that his favorite subjects in grade school were lunch and recess, although he admits he liked math, as well. It wasn't until he reached high school that Phillips began to think seriously about going pro with his love of sports.
"I played all three sports [baseball, basketball, and football] in high school," Phillips said. "I really didn't know which one to pick. But I was really short and people told me I might not make it in basketball or football, so I said, 'You know what, baseball doesn't have any size limitations -- you just go out there and play.' "
His journey to the big leagues, however, was not as easy as making that decision.
"It was a lot of hard work just making it to the Major Leagues," he said. "It was real nice in the beginning, but then when I got to the league, I really struggled my first year."
From his big league debut in late 2002 until '05, Phillips played for the Cleveland Indians, where he struggled, spending most of his time in the farm system. The going was rough, but Phillips said his parents helped him get through it.
"Just being around positive people like that really helped me," Phillips recalled.
Phillips said his parents -- James and Lue Phillips -- were invaluable in him breaking through.
"They motivated me. They pushed me. If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be the athlete and the man I am today," said Phillips.
In April 2006, the Indians shipped Phillips to the Reds for a player to be named (ultimately pitcher Jeff Stevens). The move south turned out to be the change of scenery Phillips needed to jumpstart his career.
"It was a huge eye opener, and it was motivation to me," Phillips said. "I just learned from everything that happened to me with the Cleveland Indians organization and took it with me to the Reds. It was time to start over."
And start over he did. Phillips' tenure with the Reds has been a smashing success, including two All-Star appearances, three Gold Glove Awards and, in 2011, a Silver Slugger Award.
While Phillips has garnered plenty of appreciation from Reds fans for his impressive batting and impeccable defensive skills, he has gained a following for his approachability on and off the field. Phillips is rarely seen not flashing his pearly whites, and he is a mainstay along the first-base line before games at Great American Ball Park, where fans line up in hopes of getting an autograph.
Phillips also reaches out to fans via Twitter under the handle @DatDudeBP. He frequently tweets to his massive list of followers, which now numbers more than 200,000. Serving as a revolutionary force in professional athletes' use of social networking, Phillips has taken his use of Twitter to the next level, going so far as to show up for a young fan's baseball game. Upon receiving a half-joking tweet from Connor Echols -- who plays for the 14U Cincy Flames team -- inviting him to attend his game, Phillips, who was on a rare day off between games, jumped at the chance.
"I told him, 'Let me think about it'," Phillips recalled. "I knew I was going, but I didn't want to tell him that because I didn't want him to be nervous at his game. So I just walked out there and he waved and said 'Brandon, Brandon, it's me!'
"He had a good game -- he went 3-for-5. I still keep in contact with Connor to this day. He's a real good kid. He's going to be the next Evan Longoria," Phillips said.
With that move, Phillips established himself as one of the most fan-friendly players in the business. And the star second baseman is just as fond of his fans as they are of him.
"Twitter is just a great way to interact with your fans. You really don't know what people are going through, so it is nice to connect with them over Twitter and give back to them because they show me so much love. No matter where they are, a fan is a fan," Phillips said.
That leaves just two wishes of Phillips' that have yet to be fulfilled.
"I want to get a [World Series championship] ring. That's what we all play for," Phillips said.
And Phillips' second wish? "I would really also love to be a Red for life."
Phillips, ever optimistic, is hopeful that both wishes will come true. His personal goal for 2012 is to "play 162 games and get to the World Series. Build my body up and try to reach the goal to bring a championship to the Queen City."
Meggie Zahneis, winner of the 2011 Breaking Barriers essay contest, earned the job of youth correspondent for MLB.com in the fall of '11. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.