Sanders joined the Reds in February and immediately began to work on his game. In an effort to become a more effective leadoff man, he practiced bunting and hitting to the opposite field. "I realized there's a lot of money to be made over there in leftfield," the lefthanded-swinging Sanders says. A career .264 hitter coming into the season—an embarrassingly low average for a guy who could outrun Silver Charm—he also developed more patience at the plate and understood at last that with his otherworldly speed a single or a walk is often as good as a triple. (He recently scored from second on an infield single to shortstop.) Larkin, as only he can, described one of the more subtle advantages great speed affords Sanders: "Infielders cannot take the time to find the seams on the ball before they throw, so he gets on base a lot because of weak or inaccurate throws."
Sanders's 19 steals in April were the most in that month since Henderson swiped 20 for the Yankees in 1988. It should be noted that, along with speed, Sanders possesses another essential that made Henderson the preeminent base stealer of all time: arrogance. He doesn't strut nearly as much on the diamond as he does on the football field, but he doesn't lack for confidence when he reaches base. "Being disruptive, man," he says. "That's what I like. That's my favorite part of the game."
Rickey on Deion: "I used to be distracting like that on the bases, and they said I was a hot dog. But guys who hit behind me had good averages because pitchers stopped concentrating on them. Deion does the same thing with his hand motions, strutting, faking. You start thinking so much about Deion, you forget the batter."
Deion on Rickey: "Rickey's my man. He's my idol. I want to be just like him out there, man."
As at most of the stops in his dual careers, Sanders draws raves from his colleagues in Cincinnati for his willingness to work on his game and his commitment to the team. "The thing people don't understand is that it all comes down to his work ethic," says Oliver. "He works as hard as anyone. After BP, he's in the cage, he's in the weight room, he's talking to Barry and Reggie [Sanders] about pitchers. He's really serious about the game."
Curtis Goodwin bats second in the Reds' order, plays leftfield and watches Sanders's every move. He recently began to sprint to his position at the start of each inning because he saw Sanders do it. Goodwin compares Sanders to a former well-known teammate of his, an outfielder from the Scottsdale Scorpions of the Arizona fall league, where Goodwin played in 1994. "He's just like Michael Jordan," Goodwin says. "They're probably the two most famous people in the world, but they're both just regular guys who work hard and don't act like anyone special."
Sanders's teammates are amazed at the abuse he takes from opposing fans, who often treat him as if he were coming into town with the love-'em-or-hate-'em Cowboys. "It's just vicious," says Harris. "I guess that's what they're like for football, but I don't know how he puts up with it. I couldn't do it. I'd climb in the stands."
On a recent trip to San Diego, the home plate umpire heard the catcalls and asked what Sanders had done to deserve them. "I said, A little thing called the Super Bowl,' " says Sanders. "[The San Francisco 49ers] beat their team, and it didn't help that I high-stepped down the sideline about 90 yards [during a regular-season game against the Chargers]."
Sanders admits that the football Deion has to be a different player from the baseball Deion because the games are so different. Football's weekly explosion of emotion is replaced by baseball's daily test of mental strength and concentration. "Football is just one big show, straight-out game day, and there's nothing like it in the world," he says. "Baseball is every day. You can't sit on it. You can't ride it. You've got to show up and do it again the next day."
Sanders says the best part of both games is the camaraderie. Some of his Cowboys teammates play on a charity basketball squad in the off-season, and he says, "Man, you don't know how much I wish I was there with them. Those guys are so special to me." Still, he says, the Reds have one of the best clubhouses in baseball.