Reds’ Lutz soaking up all he can about the game he loves
GOODYEAR, AZ. — Donald Lutz is a baseball junkie, can’t get enough of the game whether he is playing it for the Cincinnati Reds, watching it on television or playing a faux game on PlayStation 2.
"I just love the game, can’t get enough of it, 24 hours a day," said the 6-foot-3, 240-pound outfielder who grew up in Germany. "When I leave the park, I play baseball on PlayStation 2 and if there is a game on TV, I watch it. I can watch it all day."
That’s a refreshing attitude because there are many players who don’t watch the game once they are away from the park and some even call the game boring.
Lutz’s first love was hockey, a sport he played until he was 15 — until he discovered baseball and he began a new love affair that seems everlasting.
That he picked up the game so late and mastered it so quickly is an amazing tale. After playing the game just a few years, he was discovered at a European tryout camp by the Reds in 2007. It took him only six years to make his major league debut in 2013.
Lutz, who can also play first base in addition to right field and left field, is in the mix for a bench spot for the Reds this season. And it is easy to see that he is serious about his game.
After last season he took four days to visit his home in Germany, then flew to Mexico to play winter ball for the Yaquis de Obregon. He felt he needed the at-bats after getting only 274 in the minors last season and 51 with the Reds.
And he was a "Man With a Plan." Known as a dead pull hitter, the left-handed Lutz worked diligently on hitting the ball the opposite way, to left field, and spraying them in the gaps.
"I worked on my swing and my plate discipline," he said. "I was driving the ball the other way, that was my main focus. I went gap-to-gap."
And how did it work? To perfection.
"I might have hit one ball down the line all year," he said. "I got jammed a bunch of times but it was good to have the discipline and to work on my pitch selection."
Lutz also is a student when he is in a big league clubhouse, a wide-eyed observer who soaks information and files it away in his memory bank.
"A lot – I’ve learned a lot, man, just by watching and talking," he said. "But I found out that it is best to keep quiet, just sit back and listen. Just watch. You pick up a lot of stuff just listening to the older guys talk about their experiences.
"And I’ve learned a lot about stuff off the field, how to stay humble, all the little things that are important," he said.
Lutz is learning his lessons well. He remains quiet and humble and mostly can be observed early in the morning sitting at his locker listening to the baseball chatter. Listen and learn. Observe and absorb.
Lutz smiled broadly when somebody said it is amazing how quickly he picked up the game at a late age and made it to the game’s biggest and toughest stage.
"I’m glad I turned to baseball," he said. "In the beginning, it was really exciting about how great everything went. But now I’m at a point where I feel I belong here. This is my job, what I’m meant to do."
As Lutz spoke Tuesday morning, preparing to be the day’s designated hitter for the Reds on Opening Day of the exhibition season against the Cleveland Indins, he looked around the hub-bub of the clubhouse.
"I’m excited for this team because as I sit here in the clubhouse you can feel something different in the air different from last year," he said.
And it isn’t smelly socks.
"Everybody is, uh, I don’t know to say it, but it feels different from last year. Everybody can’t wait for the season to start. You can tell we can’t wait to get out there and wipe away last year," he said.
And Lutz is happy about one other thing. Not far from the ball park, in Old Glendale, is a German restaurant called Haus Murphy. Whoever heard of a German named Murphy? "Yeah, but it is real good. I go there often," said Lutz.