CINCINNATI -- No one can accuse left fielder Ryan Ludwick of being a loner in the Reds' clubhouse. It's not enough that he treats
his teammates like brothers -- Ludwick, as he happily intermingles with any group, will let a player know, in a robust voice, that he is his "BROTHERRRRR!"
It's not quite the way ex-wrestler Hulk Hogan used to say it, but oh brother, it can be pretty funny to hear it from Ludwick. But the moniker that has helped Ludwick form bonds with his baseball family didn't come from a baseball-related game.
"It started with an NHL hockey game on Xbox. The first matchup ever was me and Sam LeCure vs. Sean Marshall and Mike Leake," Ludwick said. "Me and Sam kind of became blade brothers. The brother thing just took off. Before you knew it, everyone was dropping a 'brother.' "
Reds social media maven Jamie Ramsey started calling attention to Ludwick's "BROTHER-isms," and it soon became part of the local fan lexicon.
"It was kind of between us, and it got out," Ludwick said. "I'm the kind of guy that doesn't want something to be all about me. I don't want to twist it to where it's Ryan's thing, because it's a team game. When it got out, I was wary, but it's taken off in a positive way. It's cooled off a little bit, but I guess it was hot enough that Nike made a shirt."
Ludwick has blended in to become one of the characters of the Reds' clubhouse in his first season. Friendships were formed quickly as he wasn't afraid to strike up conversations with anyone.
"He meshes well with everyone with his personality, whether it's with an older guy or younger guy," Reds right fielder Jay Bruce said. "He doesn't take himself too seriously, but he's a gamer."
Gamer. Results. That's ultimately what counts the most. While Ludwick had his good-clubhouse-character reputation intact over a big league career that began in 2002 with Texas, he knew full well that he needed to rebuild his credentials on the field.
Back in January when outfielder Ludwick agreed to terms with the Reds, his goals were entirely modest.
"I'll try to open some eyes, be a good teammate and help the club win," Ludwick told MLB.com on Jan. 19.
Nine months later, Ludwick can be credited for going 3-for-3.
"It's a good statement," laughed Ludwick when told of what he previously said.
Ludwick kept the goals simple, largely because he had to. In 2010 and part of '11, he was lost in a hitter's wilderness known as Petco Park, where he batted .228 with 17 homers and 90 RBIs over 160 games. In 38 games after a Trade Deadline deal to the Pirates last season, he batted .232.
"He was a tremendous teammate, and he didn't make excuses," Padres third baseman Chase Headley said this week. "It didn't go the way that he wanted it to here, flat out. But he still came to play every day. You never saw it affect him or his mood. He was always a great guy to be around. He's a professional."
Cincinnati wound up landing Ludwick at a relative bargain -- a one-year contract worth $2.5 million, with a $5 million mutual option for 2013.
Now a National League Comeback Player of the Year Award candidate, Ludwick got back on the map. In 115 games this season, he is hitting .275 with 25 home runs, 75 RBIs and a .534 slugging percentage.
Ludwick, 34, has repeatedly admitted this year that the expanse of Petco Park affected him mentally at the plate. He pleaded guilty to becoming a pull-happy hitter in San Diego and acquired bad hitting habits.
"Obviously, this is a much better hitter's ballpark," Ludwick said of tightly confined Great American Ball Park. "It's a deeper lineup. When you're winning baseball games and you're around a really good group, it's a lot easier to come to the field. The fun factor and the ballpark have definitely helped."
By June of this season, Ludwick still hadn't snapped out of his offensive funk. Ludwick was batting .201 as of June 13, but he started getting the ball off of the ground and hitting line drives to all portions of the field. Then his numbers started picking up.
In his 70 games since, Ludwick is batting .317 with 17 homers and 48 RBIs. During much of that time, the Reds were without their best hitter in Joey Votto, who missed 49 games with a knee injury. Ludwick eventually moved into the cleanup-hitter role and did his job well.
"He's had a tremendous impact, especially when Joey got injured and Scott [Rolen] has been up and down," Bruce said. "Ryan became the four-hole hitter. That's been great for us and for him. Everybody knew he was capable of this. He's in a good place now, it seems like. He's a pleasure to have on the team. He makes it fun."
When Votto went down on July 16, the Reds were clinging to a one-game lead over the Cardinals in the NL Central. By Thursday morning, the lead had increased to 11 1/2 games as Cincinnati nears its second division title in three years.
Ludwick has loomed large in what the Reds accomplished thus far.
"I would like to think that I helped out," Ludwick said. "I think I've done my part. There are a lot of guys that have done their part, and that's how you win division titles and world championships. When Joey went down, it was a different guy every night."
These past three months of 2012 are the closest he's come to replicating some of his production when he was with the Cards. In 2008 for St. Louis, where he won a Silver Slugger Award, he had 37 homers and 113 RBIs while batting .299. In 2009, he had 22 homers and 97 RBIs.
"A guy like that who works so hard and cares about baseball, it's not surprising to me that he's having this type of year," Cardinals second baseman Skip Schumaker said on Monday. "What he is doing this year ... that's Ryan Ludwick."
Ludwick's homer production has slowed to where he hasn't hit one since Aug. 18. In the 20 games since, he's gone 20-for-71 but has only two extra-base hits. With Votto back in the lineup, Ludwick's bat will still need to be among those that factor for the Reds to have success in October.
For Ludwick, playing in October will be his first taste of the postseason since his lone trip in 2009.
"If you're not playing to win a ring, you're playing for the wrong reasons," Ludwick said. "I do think there are guys out there that do play for just the paycheck. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't part of it for me. I think we all need to make a living.
"I think for me, when I grew up as a kid, in the backyard playing Wiffle ball with my friends, I always envisioned being in a big situation in the World Series on the biggest stage."
If the Reds make it that far, no stage will be too big for Ludwick's call of "BROTHERRRRR" to be heard.
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon.