CINCINNATI — Kristopher Negron is one of those appreciative baseball players who will do whatever is asked to wear a major league baseball uniform. If somebody asked for his hat and filled it with runny mud and told him, "To stay in the majors you have to put this hat on," he’d have mud streaks down his cheeks within five seconds.
Through the 2013 season, the 29-year-old Cincinnati Reds infielder spent 868 games in the minor leagues and four in the major leagues.
The 6-foot, 193-pound New Jersey native was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the seventh round of the 2006 draft out of an outpost called Cosumnes River College in Sacramento, not a place where scouts congregate to find major-league talent.
He was in his fourth year of Class A ball when the Cincinnati Reds acquired him in a trade in 2009 for shortstop Alex Gonzalez. He reported to Class A Sarasota and quickly hit a home run.
And that’s when fans discovered that Negron does not have a home run trot, he has a home run sprint.
"I hit a line drive toward the wall and I thought it was a double," he said. "I was running hard and when the ball went over the fence I just kept running as hard as I could. And he still does it."
In 2008-9, the Reds had a player named Adam Rosales, now with the Texas Rangers, who did the same thing — sprinted around the bases after a home run as if the seat of his pants were on fire.
"I’ve never met Rosales," said Negron. "But when I hit that home run in Sarasota somebody asked me, ‘Do you know Adam Rosales?’"
Negron played those four major-league games with the Reds in 2012 and spent the entire 2013 season with the team’s Class AAA affiliate in Louisville.
Just before the All-Star break, second baseman Brandon Phillips suffered a torn ligament in his left thumb and Negron called up. On the second day of his recall Negron started at second base and drilled a home run to the right field, the opposite, field — a three-run rip that was the margin of victory in a 6-3 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates during the last game before the All-Star break.
Negron sprinted out of the box like Usain Bolt coming out of the starting blocks and circled the bases like Kyle Busch with the pedal to the metal in his NASCAR Toyota.
Negron smiled and said, "Hey, I hit a home run in spring training and ran hard around the bases and nobody said a thing."
Hey, it was spring training, late in the game, and not even baseball writers play close attention to spring training games in the late innings.
During the second game after the All-Star break in New York, Negron ripped another first-pitch line drive home run over the right field wall, the only Reds run in a 7-1 defeat. He, of course, sprinted, and everybody took notice.
FOXSportsOhio put a stop watch on him, something Negron didn’t know. When told, he smiled broadly and asked, "What was the time?" He was told it was 10.75, not as quick as Rosales does it. He was nonplussed when told he would have to run faster to beat Rosales and said, "Nah, I don’t think I can run faster. Rosales is a lot taller than me (6-foot-1) and has longer strides."
Negron is happy with the stride he made this year. He had a good spring with the Reds and was one of the last cuts, one of the last players sent to the minors.
Negron admits he was disappointed, as are all players who shine in the spring but are glossed over when final determinations are made.
"Yes, I was disappointed, but I took a good attitude down there and the results that first month were not very good," he said. "Things were not ideal. I didn’t hit very much at all that first month. I let it get to me. When May came, I sat down and dug deep and said, ‘I need to take care of business down here and if I’m lucky enough to the opportunity again I’ll take advantage of it.’"
And now is the time.
"I am going to contribute for them in any way I can," he said. "It is just like it was in spring training — come off the bench, take advantage of the starts I get, try to be a spark plug kind of guy, play defense, run the bases, anything I can do."
Manager Bryan Price is not adverse to using his bench, not just to pinch-hit and pinch-run and play defense. He likes to keep his players sharp and alert by putting them into the lineup to start games, too.
"Guys we have brought up (through all the injures) from Louisville are nice pieces, major-league players," said Price. "We’re going to find out right now if guys like Negron and Donald Lutz are ready. We can’t continue to run out the same guys every single day. I like the bench to play as much as possible to keep them fresh, so we’ll see Negron and Lutz in there periodically."
Those are high-notes to Negron’s ears and he doesn’t even have to put a mud-filled hat over his head.