GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Eight years and 239 home runs later, Edwin Encarnacion admits it all got to him.
The boos. The talk show shots.
The comments from the fans in the good seats along the third base line.
All that made his last days as a Red fairly miserable.
“The main thing was, I was thinking too much about my defense -- my throwing errors from third base,” he said. “It got a little bit in my head. Everybody got on me. When you’re in the big league, you’ve got to separate defense from offense.
“But sometimes, when people are on you all year long, it gets in your head.”
Encarnacion, 34, is happily with the Cleveland Indians now after eight years with Toronto. He was their big free agent signing. That means he is training a long run from the Reds complex.
As badly as it ended with the Reds, Encarnacion looks back on his time with fondness.
“I enjoyed those moments,” he said. “It was great to get the opportunity there at the beginning of my career in the big leagues. I appreciate all that.”
People look at Encarnacion’s numbers now and wonder how the Reds could have traded him for Scott Rolen in 2009. After all, Rolen’s four years retired and Encarnacion is coming off a year in which he led the American League in home runs.
But only history revisionists can make a case against the trade.
The Reds basically forced Toronto to take Encarnacion and his $5 million salary in the deal in order to get the pitchers they wanted, Zach Stewart and Josh Roenicke. Encarnacion was hitting .209 and endangering fans behind first base at the time of the trade.
“Candidly, we did not want him to be part of the deal,” Alex Anthopoulos, who was then the Jays’ assistant GM, told sportsnet.ca.
And Encarnacion was not an instant sensation for the Blue Jays. He was sent to the minors, then put on waivers after the ’10 season. The Oakland A’s claimed him and then released him.
He re-signed with the Jays for $2.5 million in 2011 -- half of what he made in 2010.
Encarnacion’s OPS -- on-base plus slugging -- was .787 in ’11. The Jays had reneged on a promise to play him only at first that year.
But in 2012, the Jays did not play Encarnacion at third base once. He’s played a total of 10 games there since. Once the burden of the throw across the diamond was lifted, Encarnacion’s career took off.
His OPS the past five years is .912.
“Once they gave me the opportunity to play DH, I got my mind right,” he said. “I got back to offense I knew I could do. The defense was on the back burner. That got my mind right to do what I’m doing now.”
There’s more to it than that. Encarnacion has remade his swing in offseason work, in his native Dominican Republic with long-time hitting coach Oscar Rivera .
“I think the experience helped,” he said. “I learned a lot more about my hitting. I have a different approach at the plate and different mechanics. My hitting coach, he helps me a lot. I’m a different hitter now.”
He also has a different body. He plays at about 240 pounds now, up 25 pounds from his Reds days.
“I’m stronger,” he said. “More power. But I also have better mechanics in my hitting, my swing. It’s better.”
Encarnacion has surprised himself with his power: He’s hit 42, 36, 34, 39 and 42 home runs the past five years.
“I thought I could hit 30,” he said. “I never thought I’d hit 40. I thought I had the power and the talent to hit 30.”
Encarnacion signed a three-year, $60 million deal with the Indians. It gives him a good shot at the postseason again for the third straight year.
“It’s great,” Encarnacion said. “It’s a great group of players. We have great talent. We’re going to enjoy it. I’m going to enjoy my opportunity here. I’ll try to help them win games.”
Playing for the Indians means Encarnacion will have three games against the Reds. He won’t have to spend much time renewing old acquaintances.
“Right now, it’s only Votto,” he said. “I still talk to him sometimes. Jay Bruce, (Brandon) Phillips, they’re gone now. Johnny Cueto’s gone. . .”
That’s not surprising. After all, Encarnacion was last a Red eight years and 239 home runs ago.
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.