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Richard Justice

Ludwick happy to be living the dream with Reds

Outfielder pushed for a return after bounceback 2012 season in Cincinnati

Ludwick happy to be living the dream with Reds play video for Ludwick happy to be living the dream with Reds

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Just to show you that good things do sometimes happen to good people, there's Ryan Ludwick's new life with the Cincinnati Reds.

He's a reminder that work ethic and heart and circumstances can be vital to a player's success. He's another reminder that few general managers are better at identifying talent and shaping a roster than Walt Jocketty.

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It was Jocketty who signed Ludwick for the bargain-basement price of $2.5 million as Jocketty began putting the finishing touches on the 2012 Reds roster. It seemed like an odd signing at the time.

First, the Reds had one of their own guys, Chris Heisey, penciled in to play left field. Second, Ludwick was 33 years old and coming off a couple of very tough seasons with the Padres and Pirates.

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"I was looking for competition," Jocketty said. "I thought I had a pretty good idea of what Ludwick could do for us. I was looking for his leadership and experience to add to our club. We had a lot of quality young players, but we needed the veteran influence a guy like Ludwick brings."

Jocketty knew Ludwick from his days as Cardinals general manager. It was in St. Louis that Ludwick had four productive seasons after signing there as a Minor League free agent.

Even though the Reds would be Ludwick's seventh organization, Jocketty believed in him. Besides that, he liked the guy.

"He's great in the clubhouse, he's a great teammate," Jocketty said. "Those are all the qualities we look for."

Jocketty and the Reds got everything they could have hoped for, and then some. Thanks to plenty of help from Reds hitting coach Brook Jacoby, Ludwick rediscovered both his swing and his confidence and produced a 26-homer, 28-double, .877-OPS season.

"I think I just got back to hitting the ball the other way better," Ludwick said. "I think it was all mental. You see that big right-center gap in Petco [Park], and that's my best bolt. I just got so pull dominant. Me and Jacoby got together, and he looked at some film and said, `We've got to get you back grooving [the other] way.' He said, `I don't mind if you pull the ball, but we've got to have your approach to where you can hit the ball [the other] way.' We did it."

Oh, and the Reds won 97 games and finished atop the National League Central for the second time in three seasons.

"[Ludwick] wasn't a surprise because he'd done it before," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "If you've done it once, you can do it twice. The hardest thing is doing it the first time. He hadn't done it in a couple of years. Different ballparks psyched him out. He had a couple of down years."

After all the bouncing around, Ludwick felt like he'd found a home on many levels. He lobbied to stay with the Reds, and Jocketty signed him to a two-year, $15-million extension.

"I told Walt I'd take less money to stay here," Ludwick said. "I thank the Lord [that Jocketty] wanted me back."

Jocketty was excited to put Ludwick back in the middle of a lineup that has Brandon Phillips, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce.

Now, with the acquisition of Shin Soo-Choo to fortify the weakest leadoff spot in the Majors, the Reds appear to have a powerhouse offense.

Phillips might be the perfect No. 2 hitter behind Choo, and then Baker will have the thunder lined up in Votto, Ludwick and Bruce.

For Ludwick, it was the situation he'd dreamed of, and he may have wondered if he'd ever find another one he liked as much as St. Louis.

The Cardinals -- Jocketty was the general manager at the time -- signed Ludwick to a Minor league Contract before the 2007 season and opened the door for a big league promotion if a need developed.

Ludwick got that promotion and had four solid seasons. And then the Cardinals traded him to the Padres as part of a three-team deal in July 2010 that sent Jake Westbrook to St. Louis.

He allowed the huge power alleys of Petco Park to impact his swing and was dealt to the Pirates in 2011. He found PNC Park almost as intimidating for his gap-power swing.

Ludwick became too pull conscious and spun himself into a series of bad habits on his way to hitting a combined .237 for the two teams in 2011.

Enter the Reds, his dream team.

Ludwick grew up in the Cincinnati area and pointed across the clubhouse Saturday morning to former Reds great Eric Davis.

"My favorite player growing up," he said.

Ludwick makes his offseason home in the Austin, Texas, area, but Cincinnati won his heart in terms of a baseball home.

"I knew I was capable," Ludwick said. "I keep reiterating how tough that trade from St. Louis to San Diego was on me. For me, being comfortable has a lot to do with it. I loved St. Louis, and the trade shocked me. It was a dagger. The fans are amazing. There's no other way to put it. It's a baseball town. It's one of those cities where MLB trumps NFL. Mentally, that ballpark in San Diego kind of got in my dome a little bit."

Through it all, Ludwick has retained an optimistic outlook, never allowing the disappointment to morph into bitterness.

"I'd say if there's one area where I give myself credit, it's on the mental toughness side," he said. "I've been beat down a couple of times, but I've bounced back. It seems like whenever it's on the line and to the point where it might be do or die, I always tend to get back up.

"Whether it's injuries or being designated for assignment in the Minor Leagues or in the big leagues when people thought I was done, I've stayed with it. When I was in San Diego, people were saying, `He's done.' It gave me incentive to prove people wrong. That's the attitude I've had my whole career."

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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