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Posted Jun 5, 2013

We are standing just behind the first-base line at Great American Ball Park, but it is home plate of the Greater Atlanta Prep Icons Mutual Admiration Society.


A.J. Green takes his hacks Wednesday.

We are standing just behind the first-base line at Great American Ball Park, but it is home plate of the Greater Atlanta Prep Icons Mutual Admiration Society.

"I knew all about him. He was the man. He still is the man," says Brandon Phillips, the Reds' acrobat of a second baseman.

"He was way smarter; he played baseball," says Adam Jones, the Bengals magician of a punt returner. "Oh man. Longevity."

We are standing in Wednesday afternoon's big league summit, a gathering of Reds and Bengals before an evening tilt against the Rockies. It's another product of the Bengals head coach, Dr. Marvin Lewis, the chemist always looking to stoke a little team unity. He gets about 70 of his 90 players to sign up.  

So thanks to the hospitality of the Reds, the Bengals are flexing their muscles in the batting cage and out of professional curiosity there are a couple of Reds eyeballing the proceedings. Kind of like Tom Hanks checking out a Broadway musical.

"That's hard. That's hard picking up the ball," says A.J. Green, who has picked up enough footballs to go to two Pro Bowls.

Phillips and his rookie teammate Derrick Robinson are checking it out. Both high school quarterbacks considered staying in state and heading to the SEC to play football and baseball before they heard the siren of the MLB Draft, Phillips to Georgia and Robinson to Florida.

"They could do the same to me on the gridiron," Robinson says when asked to break down Green's swing. "A few things to work on, but nothing you can't fix."

Robinson details his high school career at Gainesville's P.K. Yonge as an option quarterback who also ran some spread and …

"Stop," says a laughing Joey Votto.

Apparently Robinson has been pretty vocal about the wondrous things he did on the football field and basketball court.

"They don't believe me. I'm trying to get them to let me prove it one day. I had some skills on that gridiron," says the laughing Robinson.

Two guys that don't need to convince each other are Phillips and Jones. Phillips, who turns 32 at the end of the month, got out of Redan High School in Stone Mountain, Ga., a few years before Jones, 29, left Westlake High School in nearby Atlanta.

"I played quarterback, I played cornerback. I tried to be like him," Phillips says. "What he does as a corner, I could probably do it. On the video game. I can't play anything with him.

"I always keep up with the good talent. If you're a good player, I know about you. I know you. Especially if you're from A-Town. A-Town, we're going to stick together."

Which is why Phillips recognizes defensive tackle Domata Peko and the other man that has signed the NFL football that Peko is giving to Phillips.

Defensive tackle Geno Atkins. Of Georgia.

"I'm a big fan of yours," Peko says.

"I'm a big fan of y'all," Phillips says. "That's why I go to every game in the offseason."

Phillips disappears with Jones into the Reds clubhouse and reemerges with a pair of his bats wrapped in plastic, one each for Peko and Atkins. Atkins looks like the proverbial kid at Christmas.

"This is great," he says, even though he just had a very difficult time in the cage, where his teammates' jeers melted the strings.

The strongest Bengal, who can dead lift 600 pounds and bench press 500 and goes by the name of the NFL's best D-tackle, shrugs as he takes Phillips's bat like plucking an umbrella out of a summer cocktail.

"Hitting a baseball isn't my thing," Atkins says. "These bats are too light."

According to the Marvin era records, Lewis believes the last time he brought his crew to GABP was 2005, when rookie linebacker David Pollack rocketed something like five homers.

There is no such output Wednesday. Another rookie, center T.J. Johnson of South Carolina, as well as first-year tight end/long-snapper Bryce Davis, each nudge one out down the left-field line. It is J.K. Schaffer, a second-year linebacker that rips the longest hit of the day, a shot to straightaway left over the second "Vote" in the campaign sign for the All-Star Game.

Naturally, Schaffer is the Cincinnati kid that grew up on Barry Larkin and Ken Griffey Jr.

"I played baseball until I was a sophomore at LaSalle," says Schaffer, who also has the mechanics of an accomplished golfer. "I've gone to a lot of games here. I liked Sean Casey. Ryan Freel. Barry Larkin. Griffey. A lot of 'em. But my favorite had to be Casey."

Right now their favorite Red is batting practice pitcher Tim Burman, who just keeps pumping them in there in machine-like fashion, making sure each guy gets about seven or eight tosses. No, he's not looking to jam anybody and get it in on their precious hands.

"Except for guys that pulled away," Burman says. "Some guys pulled off, so I was trying to throw it in a little bit in their spot."

A couple of guys have trouble holding on to the bat. Jones loses the handle and Mohamed Sanu sends his bat skittering to shortstop. The receiver room is a tough place. Sanu gets good contact through the infield a few times only to be greeted by Andrew Hawkins with, "That's OK Mo, your bat went further than that."

Green can't remember the last time he swung a bat. He didn't play in high school, but he hits a few hard shots down the line even though he doesn't come close to going yard line.

"How's it feel to be bad at something?" Hawkins asks, but Burman likes what he sees.

"A.J. Green can swing it a little bit," Burman says.

Lewis has the benefit of standing next to Reds first base coach Billy Hatcher in shallow right field and the 1990 World Series hero is giving Lewis quick scouting reports on guys that must have played ball or have a knack. Davis and T.J. Johnson stand out, Hatcher tells Lewis, and so does quarterback Andy Dalton.

Dalton was a pitcher before he hung it up at Katy High School in Houston after his sophomore year, but he says he's got a few career homers. He figures that sophomore spring is the last time he tried to hit a pitched ball, but he makes good contact and sprays some line drives.

"Not a power day today," Dalton says. "It's a tough thing to do anyway, especially when you haven’t done it in a while."

"I didn't get as many (good) pitches to him as I would have liked," Burman says. "I wanted to try to get him right in here, but he was swinging over the top a little bit on the lower pitches, but I got a couple up that he hit halfway decently."

Lewis also took some hacks that weren't bad for a guy who can't remember if he hit in '05.

"If I didn't, then (the last time) was 1993 in Pittsburgh playing summer softball," he says. "Bad summer softball."

But that's not what the summit is about. It's about taking a photo of Phillips and Atkins. The game's best second baseman posing with the game's best defensive tackle.

Is there any doubt that Phillips is the greatest fielding second baseman of the MLB Network era? Is there a night that doesn't go by where he does something that doesn't make you talk out aloud to yourself?

"Let me tell you something," says Marty Brennaman, the Reds Hall of Fame radio man whose velvet vocal cords and salt water wit make him one of the last links to baseball's golden radio legacy.

"When he made that play the other night, it was the first time I ever saw the crowd applaud a player for not getting an out."

Jones saw That Play.

"Did you see the play?" Jones asks of that chopper. "He caught it and threw it behind his back. Did you see how fast he threw the damn ball?"

Now it is Jones's turn to shake his head.

"He makes it look so easy," he says.

"The more ground balls you take," Phillips says, "the easier it is."

"The hardest part for me would be throwing it to first base," Jones says.

Phillips is laughing.

"I can't control that," Phillips says. "But catching, I can control that part."

It sounds like Phillips isn't playing Wednesday night, another day to rest his bruise for the Cardinals.

But he's had a full day in Cincinnati's big-league summit.

 

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