When Brandon Phillips made his first start as a member of the Cincinnati Red, Joey Votto was playing AA ball in Chattanooga. Jay Bruce was in A ball in Dayton. Zack Cozart was the starting shortstop for the University of Mississippi's baseball team.
Also in the starting lineup that day for the Reds - April 13th, 2006 - were Adam Dunn and Austin Kearns. David Ross was behind the plate. Scott Hatteberg and Rich Aurilia played first and third base, respectively. Ryan Freel filled in in center for Ken Griffey Jr., who'd left the previous day's game early with a sore knee.
The Reds were managed by Jerry Narron, they'd just been bought from Carl Lindner, and the spot right next to their ballpark was still a crater. Mick Cronin had yet to coach a game for the University of Cincinnati, no one here had ever heard of Brian Kelly, and Marvin Lewis was still in search of his first playoff win.
OK, so the more things change, the more they really do stay the same.
The point is that Brandon Phillips, now on his way to Atlanta, has been a Cincinnati Red for a long, long, time. For 11 years, no matter what kind of team the Reds had - and BP was on just about every kind of team imaginable - there were few things you could count on more than Brandon's name being written into the lineup.
He was durable, playing in fewer than 141 games just once, appearing literally everywhere in the lineup. He started 200 or more games batting in each of the top four spots in the order, and it seemed like there were few times during his time in Cincinnati when we weren't wondering where exactly Brandon should be hitting.
No matter where he hit, he did hit. He leaves here ranked among the Reds' all-time leaders in hits, runs, doubles, RBI, and total bases. Those marks are due in large part to his longevity, but his longevity was due in large part to Brandon being a quality, even if often miscast, hitter.
The true value of Brandon Phillips as an offensive player can be debated. He could hit the long ball, but he wasn't really a "power hitter." He could hit for average, but his overall approach didn't lend itself to getting on base at a high rate, and for a guy who was often slotted as the Reds cleanup hitter, he lacked the kind of extra-base pop you usually identify with a guy who bats fourth.
Still though, Brandon did author one of three 30 homer/30 stolen base seasons in Reds history - his 30th home run in 2007 was the last memorable call made by the great Joe Nuxhall - he could always be counted on to hit for at least a respectable batting average, he could steal bases, and whatever offensive problems the Reds might have been having at the time could never be pinned on BP.
But his true genius was on defense.
He's the best defensive second baseman I've seen. A film of every amazing play that Brandon Phillips made in the field would be long enough, and good enough, to merit Oscar consideration. A Reds game never seemed complete until Brandon did something to make you text your buddies to ask if they were watching. He robbed batters of hits every way conceivable, turned double plays with flair, and made the spectacular seem routine.
There are newer and advanced ways to measure a player's defensive value, but no metric accounts for the "holy shit" factor that Brandon Phillips brought with him onto the field, and while you can dive deep into the stats to determine how truly good of a second baseman BP was, it's pretty staggering that from 2007 through 2015, he committed a grand total of 55 errors.
It was fun to watch Brandon play because few players looked like they were having as much fun playing as Brandon did. I always loved the juxtaposition between him and Joey Votto, with Joey always wearing a pained, serious expression while he played as BP often struggled to take the smile off his face, playing the game as if it was merely just, you know, a game.
He was a central figure during the franchise's return to relevance, and a key member of three different playoff teams, providing key contributions for teams in 2010, 2012, and 2013 that each won more than 90 games. In fact, when I think of individual moments during Brandon's career, I think of his leadoff home run in game two against the Phillies, that for a few innings at least, made you think that the overwhelmed Reds would make it a series after all.
And I think of his homer in game one in San Francisco against the Giants in 2012 that seemed to put everyone at ease after Johnny Cueto's injury.
No long tenure is without its low points. Brandon's unwillingness to talk with beat writers was frustrating. It was cringe-worthy reading about his beef with the way management handled his contract extension, and his outburst at C. Trent Rosecrans in St. Louis in 2013 seemed to mark the beginning of the end for Dusty Baker, showing us an ugly side of a player who'd long-since become a fan favorite.
But the good outweighed the bad during BP's 11 seasons as a Red, in no small part due to how he often did extend himself to the public. No player seemed to enjoy the attention of fans more than Brandon Phillips, and no player reciprocated it more. I'd bet that no player in Cincinnati sports posed for more selfies, signed more autographs, and showed up at random little league games more than Brandon Phillips did.
The Reds have undergone a makeover in recent years, jettisoning players who became mainstays on the team and in the community, all while turning the page from one era to the next. Some of those players may have been better than Brandon Phillips. None were for here as long, and none were as fun to watch.