MIAMI -- Reporter after reporter arrived at Zack Cozart's table at Monday's media availability at Marlins Park, asking some variation of the same question:
"What's the story with the donkey?"
Perhaps, you, too, have been wondering how a donkey -- not "The Big Donkey," as former Reds All-Star Adam Dunn was known, but an actual donkey -- became one of the more interesting subplots of tonight's All-Star Game presented by Mastercard (FOX, 7:30 p.m ET). Or maybe you know the gist of it, which is that fellow All-Star Joey Votto owes Cozart, a first-time participant in the Midsummer Classic, a donkey for reaching this summer stage, and you're just wondering when the former National League MVP is going to deliver said donkey.
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It began, quietly enough, with Cozart taking his now-2-year-old son to the donkey farm near the Reds' Spring Training complex in Goodyear, Ariz., after a day of work in 2016.
"What'd you do yesterday?" Votto asked his teammate the next morning.
"I took Cooper to feed the donkeys," Cozart replied.
"Oh," said Votto. "You like donkeys?"
"Yeah," Cozart replied, "I like donkeys."
From the seeds of this extremely mundane morning chat grew a story that serves as an example of what makes the All-Star Game and baseball fandom so great. Cozart got off to a scintillating start in '16, and Votto, whose brain is as quirky as his bat is productive, told him, "If you make the All-Star team, I'll buy you a donkey."
Didn't happen. Cozart, still working his way back to full speed after 2015 reconstructive knee surgery, had a slight statistical fade as the first half wore on, and that was that.
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But the offer, evidently, was still on the table this season. And as it became clear that Cozart was playing himself into a worthy candidacy for the NL starting nod at short, the donkey offer became public. Votto donned a donkey costume on MLB Network to drum up some support, and the supportive Cincinnatians took it from there. Cozart's batting ninth in Joe Maddon's lineup tonight.
Fun story, right? Yeah, but once the fun is over, it's time to get down to the very serious matter of donkey procurement.
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Votto, like so many of us, had no idea how one acquires a donkey. He joked about hiring a donkey assistant when he signed his gargantuan 10-year contract with the Reds. But as is often the case in life, ask enough questions and have enough money, and you can make things happen.
"Once I started to make calls and give people my American Express," said Votto, "it became serious."
Cozart had to make a call, too. Namely, to his mother, whose open land in the Nashville area is where this donkey will roam.
So… where's the donkey? Well, if you live in the Cincinnati area, he's coming to a ballpark near you! The Reds begin the second half with a 10-game homestand at Great American Ball Park and, though Votto did not give a specific date, the donkey, which is expected to be a miniature donkey, will be delivered to Cozart on the field in a pregame ceremony before one of those games.
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Sadly, Votto's efforts to get Dunn there for the ceremony don't appear to be panning out.
"We're just trying to make sure it's a donkey that can handle the stadium and the fans and stuff like that, because we're going to deliver it to him on the field," Votto said. "It's not just his donkey. It feels like it's Cincinnati's -- the fan base's -- because they did all the work to vote him in."
Votto is also planning for Reds fans to lend a hand with name suggestions for the donkey via social media.
"You've got to see the personality, see how it goes," said Cozart, "before you give it a goofy name or something."
In case you haven't already discerned this, this is not just a story about fans supporting players but teammates supporting teammates.
Votto saw Cozart's All-Star potential before baseball fans, at large, did. And it is Votto's influence as that ever-discerning disciple of strike-zone discipline that helped a now-healthy Cozart tap into that potential. While Votto is having an incredible season even by Joey Votto standards (.315/.427/.631 slash with 26 homers aft the break after never hitting more than 37 in a full season), Cozart's .316/.394/.547 slash from the shortstop position and career-best 11.6 percent walk rate is equally eye-catching. And Cozart said it is a Votto-like change in his setup, with his bat on his shoulder to help him get in hitting position quicker, that helped make it happen.
"You see Joey do that, too, and obviously he's the best at it," Cozart said. "I used to be intimidated by him, because he was 'MVP Joey Votto.' But we've become good friends. He's helped me out not only with this vote, obviously, but becoming a better player."
Soon, he'll have the donkey to show for it.
Tonight at 7:30 ET, tune in to the 2017 All-Star Game presented by Mastercard live on FOX, and during the game visit MLB.com to submit your choice for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet via the 2017 MLB All-Star Game MVP Vote. The 88th All-Star Game, in Miami, will be televised nationally by FOX, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 160 countries via MLB International's independent feed. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB.com, MLB Network and SiriusXM will also provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. For more information, please visit allstargame.com.
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.