Mat Latos is an artist. Literally and figuratively.
Latos' artistry with a baseball is a given, but what you might not know is that, although he doesn't get around to it much anymore, the 6-foot-6 gentle giant of a starting pitcher used to doodle a bit.
"I have a passion for art and drawing," Latos said.
And his canvas? Not just a strike zone, but his body as well. Latos is known around Major League Baseball for his tattoos, but he doesn't think of them as being individual pieces of body ink.
"I think I have 20-something [tattoos]," he said. "But it might as well be one that's not completely done yet."
Although Latos was referring to his tattoos, he could've just as easily been talking about his prowess as a pitcher.
Some say the Reds have two aces -- Johnny Cueto (on the 15-day DL) and Latos. And while it's true that Latos was a top-of-the-rotation pitcher in San Diego, he'll shy away from calling himself an ace.
"Johnny [Cueto] is our ace. He's the ace of the staff," Latos said. "He's been here and he's proven himself. I stepped in last year and just did what I could and worried about whatever I could control."
And besides, what is an ace, anyway?
"I was always told that an ace was that guy that went out there and ends losing streaks and keeps the winning streaks going," Latos said. "As you play this game, you find what a true ace is.
"A true ace is a workhorse that goes out and stops the losing streaks and keeps the winning streaks going. But he's the guy that's going to give you 200 innings and keep you in the ballgames later on in the game, whenever he might not have his best stuff. He doesn't shy away from a challenge."
As a Padre, Latos was not quite able to achieve that goal, posting 184 2/3 innings in 2010 and 194 1/3 in '11. But in his first year with the Reds in '12, he logged 209 1/3 innings, with a 14-4 record and 3.48 ERA.
"It's been a long journey with bumps and bruises along the way, but that's how everybody's life goes," Latos said.
And now that he's achieved some degree of success in the big leagues, Latos isn't going anywhere soon. Just 25, he's hungry for more.
"I'm in the big leagues now and I want to stay there. Getting here is really tough, but staying here is tough. There's always [someone] out there that's going to be better than you," Latos said. "It doesn't matter who you are -- you could throw 100 [mph] every pitch. But you're still going to have those days where you get hit around, and that's the way the game goes."
He's just excited to soak it all in.
"It still hits you [that 'I'm in the big leagues'], [even though] it's my fourth year," Latos said. "Just sitting here, you just have to step back and realize that you're in a dugout and playing in a big league game. It doesn't just hit you once.
"It's just been surreal to wake up every day and sit here in the dugout and watch a big league game. Not a lot of people get to do that."
Meggie Zahneis, winner of the 2011 Breaking Barriers essay contest, earned the job of youth correspondent for MLB.com in the fall of '11. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less