“I’m excited,” Stephenson said. “I’ve put in a lot of work there lately since Joey got hurt. The coaches have been great letting me go out there and get ground balls.”
Before Tuesday’s game, Stephenson, Blandino and Farmer were working out a first base and they had a tutor.
“That was pretty surreal,” said Stephenson. “He came out there and went out of his way to help me, give me some pointers, just help me get familiar with some stuff. He was very helpful and it was fun.”
Playing first base goes back to Stephenson’s high school days in Atlanta.
“When I was younger, like in high school, I would kind of rotate between catching, playing first and pitching,” he said. “So maybe, who knows, I’ll be pitching next and then we’ll have everything circled in my career.”
How about anxiety and trepidation about playing defense without a catcher’s mask, chest protector and shin guards?
“I’d probably be lying if I said I was nervous,” he said. “That’s with anything new. But they’ve been great at getting me prepared. I’m ready for it.”
Bell, course, believes Stephenson is ready or he wouldn’t have placed him there. But why now?
“Just the way he has handled the work,” said Bell, who has watched coaches Delino DeShields and Freddy Benavides work with him. “We felt like he’s ready.
“We know going into it he has never done it before,” Bell added. “But taking everything into consideration for today, and really for the long haul, we have to do it. It makes us a better team by having him experience that. We feel he is as ready as he can be.”
About working out with the coaches and Votto, Bell said, “You can practice all you want, but the game is how he is going to get better there at this point. We didn’t have the luxury of the whole spring training to do it, but we’ve done everything to prepare him and he has done everything he can possibly do to play there.”
Votto was highly animated early Tuesday afternoon, gesturing with his hands, dancing around first base, as he gave classroom first base instruction.
“Joey is sharing his knowledge and what a great player,” said Bell. “He has been doing it a long time and played that position for a long time. He does it behind the scenes a lot. Hitting. First base. Mental part. Everything. It happens all the time. And I really think Joey enjoys.”
Bell knows what it is like to have a different glove shoved into your face and to be told to go play a strange position. He was a third baseman and played a few games at first base late in his career. But, the outfield?
Bell said when he played for the Seattle Mariners, managed by Lou Piniella, “I was thrown out into left field a couple of times by Lou and I had never done it, never even shagged fly balls. He just decided that was best for that night.”
So this was the night it was determined that Stephenson at first base was best for the team.
“I don’t think it’s easy,” said Bell. “I feel much better with all the work Tyler did. I don’t expect it to be perfect, but I expect it to be as prepared as we possibly can be.
“And that’s the thing about playing first base,” Bell added. “Yes, there is the ground balls, plays you have to make, but there are the nuances of the position, the footwork, covering the bases, little things you don’t think about.”
Said Stephenson, “I’m ready. I’m excited. Just get to the base and catch the ball, that’s as simple as first base is.”