By Hal McCoy
CINCINNATI — As a large media swarm broke up Tuesday afternoon in the Cincinnati Reds dugout, assistant pitching coach Ted Power said, “How come I didn’t get this kind of attention when I was a fifth-round draft pick?”
That’s easy, Ted. You are a fifth round pick and the object of the media’s fervor Tuesday is the 2018 fifth overall pick, the Reds’ No. 1 draft pick, infielder Jonathan India.
He was wearing a Reds jersey with the No. 18 on it, which some thought was sacrilege because it is the retired number of Reds Hall of Fame first baseman Ted Kluszewski. But he was wearing it because the ’18’ signified 2018.
As one might expect, India said all the right words during the 15-minute word scrum. His father grew up on Long Island and was a New York Mets fan, “And I’ve always been a diehard Mets fan, but now I’m a Reds fan.”
No, he is a Reds employee after signing his $5.3 million contract Tuesday. Now he begins his professional career. The 21-year-old Floridian won’t be headed for Class A Dayton, though. He will start his climb toward the top at Class A Greeneville, Tenn., the Reds’ other low class A affiliate.
It was evident from the first words out of his mouth that India is a confident kid who believes in himself and his future. Asked what fans will see from him, he said. “I’m a hard-nosed player. I play hard and I like to win. I give 110 per cent on the field, no matter how I feel that day. I’m a kid with a fiery attitude who loves to win.”
The Reds have not told India what position he will play. Although he loves shortstop and played shortstop most of his life until the University of Florida plopped him at third base, India said he can and will play anywhere.
“All I know is that I’m playing infield, I think,” he said. “They haven’t told me where. I played shortstop my whole life until Florida and it is just the way it worked out there. I still feel like I’m a shortstop, but I can play anywhere.”
That’s why his favorite player is former shortstop Derek Jeter, but his second favorite is Colorado third baseman Nolan Arenado. And he knows shortstop is manned by young Jose Peraza and third base is manned by Eugenio Suarez, who just signed a seven-year deal, and two years ago the Reds No. 1 draft pick was infielder Nick Senzel.
“For sure, shortstop is my favorite position, that’s an athlete’s position and I played it all my life,” he said.
Hearing all those names of young players, with his connected, India said, “I know it’s a long road and so far it is surreal for me. I’m excited to get this process going and to one day help this team out in the major leagues.”
India smiled when somebody asked him if he ever played against Senzel. Both played in the Southeastern Conference, Senzel at Tennessee and India at Florida, “Yeah, I played against him when I was a freshman and he was a junior. He, uh, did really well against us.”
India says the pressure of being a No. 1 draft pick and fifth overall is non-existent, that pressure is not in his vocabulary. “Not at all. I try to never put pressure on myself when I am playing the game. I’ve been playing since I was four so there is no point in putting pressure on yourself. I’ve been playing it forever, so just go out there and play the game and have fun.”
“I hope I’m part of that young group coming up soon like Senzel and Hunter Greene,” he said “I will work my hardest to become one of those guys.”
India believes that playing in the Southeastern Conference and at a storied baseball school like Florida works hugely in his favor.
“I believe the SEC is the best baseball conference in college,” he said. “It prepares you so well for the next level. You see most of the high draft picks are SEC guys. The best pitchers and the best hitters are in the SEC. And Florida prepared me because Florida is a program that instills hard work and a winning mentality.”
India, wearing a pencil-thin mustache and an implacable smile, kept checking out the Great American Ball Park playing field as he spoke, with a wandering eye toward third base and shortstop.
“”It is amazing, a major league ball park,” he said. “I’ve never been here. And it’s awesome to check out.”
And he knows what Cincinnati baseball is all about.
“The Reds have a lot of history, the first team in major league baseball,” he said. “I’m a kid from South Florida and I’m not used to seeing the Reds play. But I’m just excited to get this honor from them.”
Some day, he hopes, he can become an integral part of that history.