Zack Cozart has a donkey to feed, so he needs to succeed at third base
He stopped in mid-sentence, mid-answer, mid-interview to pull out his cell phone.
Zack Cozart scrolled through the photos.
“Here,” he said, displaying with pride the image on the screen. “That’s my donkey right there.”
Ah, yes, the Angels’ new third baseman and Donald, his donkey.
This story blew up like a juicy trade rumor last summer, Cozart’s teammate in Cincinnati, Joey Votto, promising the then-Reds shortstop the gift of a donkey if he — Cozart, not the donkey — made the All-Star team.
Along the way, Votto appeared on television in a donkey costume, sitting next to Cozart while he was being interviewed and wearing a T-shirt that read “Life is better with a donkey.” Cincinnati outfielder Adam Duvall gave Cozart a pair of customized cleats featuring the grinning face of the donkey from “Shrek.”
In July, the Reds paraded a donkey named Amos around the field at Great American Ball Park during batting practice.
Cozart eventually was a National League All-Star, took delivery of Donald and stabled his new buddy outside Cincinnati, where the animal still resides today, presumably following the Angels from afar via Twitter.
“The whole thing was in fun and pretty ridiculous,” Cozart said. “Come to think of it, it still is.”
The Reds train in nearby Goodyear, Ariz., which is also home to a business called “Have An Ass Kickin’ Day”, where they make hot sauce, salsa and snacks. They also have donkeys available for petting and feeding.
Cozart, his wife, Chelsea, and their son, Cooper, frequently visited the place in past Springs. His phone includes photos of those trips too.
That was the origin of Cozart’s well-chronicled fondness for donkeys, his “affinity,” as it often has been characterized.
With his participation, however, Votto elevated the matter into something national and, at the same time, something quaint, a story as silly as a classic kids party game, leaving members of the media to, yes, pen the tale of the donkey.
The Reds were in San Diego in mid-June when Votto instructed the team’s publicist to summon everyone covering the team to the visiting dugout. He was ready to reveal his donkey plans.
“I was like, ‘Don’t do it, Joe! Don’t do it!’ ” Cozart recalled. “All of a sudden, I’m on the MLB Network talking about donkeys and stuff. It just took off because Joey made it take off. When someone like Joey goes public with something, you know it’s going to be on ESPN and everything else.”
To better understand Votto’s approach to life as a famous baseball star, realize that he arrived in Goodyear a couple of weeks ago and proclaimed his offseason a success, based on something slightly less sophisticated than advanced analytics.
“I tried to get fatter,” Votto told reporters. “I succeeded at that apparently. We did all the testing, and I am fatter.”
Said Cozart, “I actually look forward to every day now hoping I get to see some quotes from him.”
To better understand why things like donkeys can soften the edge of a sometimes edgy game, realize that the Washington Nationals’ camp Wednesday featured an appearance by three camels.
Meanwhile, Cozart was busy here pursuing a much more serious side of his profession, a position switch that is just one of the many variables on which this Angels season could pivot.
Before making his 2018 Cactus League debut, against Cleveland at Tempe Diablo Stadium, he never had played third base in a game. Never, as in ever.
He said he pitched a little as a kid and played second in the low minor leagues for one game because of a sore shoulder.
Other than that, Cozart had been a shortstop — “from 7, 8 years old until now,” he explained — playing the position so exclusively that he couldn’t recall if he ever had fielded a bunt.
Though he remains on the left side of the infield, the angles are different and so is the pace, third base known as the hot corner for a reason.
“Every day seems easier,” Cozart said. “But it’s hard to mimic things without being in an actual game.”
His first appearance of the spring didn’t offer many opportunities to become more familiar with what awaits him this season. In his four innings in the field, Cozart handled his only chance successfully, a line drive.
He joined the Angels as a free agent in December, signing a three-year, $38-million deal after six seasons in Cincinnati, the final three of which ended with 98, 94 and 94 defeats.
After all that losing, Cozart said the Angels’ more aggressive approach to winning made the decision to switch positions an easy one.
“I want to fly under the radar now,” he said, “and just play ball.”
That would be quite different from last season, when being Zack Cozart meant soaring onto everybody’s radar, arcing brilliantly across the sky on the back of a donkey.
Go beyond the scoreboard
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