- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
La Casita, the best of the three Mexican restaurants in Porter, Texas, has a decor only a blind person could dig. The concrete floors are the color of storm clouds. The walls are a heinous aqua. The menus are coated with a sticky plastic that appears to have entrapped particles of food from the eatery's grand opening 3� years back. Don't even ask about the bathrooms.
One day this past winter Cincinnati Reds outfielder Adam Dunn, 22 years old and proud to be a lifelong Porter Rican—as some townsfolk jokingly call themselves—stopped at La Casita for his favorite meal: chicken fajita nachos and an iced tea. The next day he again stopped at La Casita for chicken fajita nachos and an iced tea. And the next day. And the next.... For 15 straight days Dunn made the quarter-mile drive from his parents' house to La Casita, sat down and ordered chicken fajita nachos and an iced tea. He wasn't being superstitious. He just likes the food.
The basics of life make Dunn, the Reds' slugging leftfielder and emerging star, a happy man. Prada and Porsche and pommes souffl�es? As Dunn likes to say, in his best Johnny Cash drawl, "Heeeeelllll no." Though he got an $800,000 signing bonus from the Reds after they selected him in the second round of the 1998 amateur draft, will make a healthy $260,000 this season and, if last year's production—19 homers and 43 RBIs in only 66 games—is an indicator, should collect superstar dollars for years to come, Dunn describes himself as "a small-town redneck hick." He even whips out a canister of snuff from his back pocket to prove it.
Dunn owns four suits, all of which he has purchased within the past year, but has worn only two. During the off-season his daily schedule went something like this: hunt, fish, hunt again, maybe fish a little more, eat chicken fajita nachos at La Casita, fish again, three hours of PlayStation, hunt, go four-wheeling, eat dinner at home, hunt and then sleep (all the while dreaming of hunting and fishing). While most of his Porter peers can't wait to be able to afford to leave home, Dunn is content to continue occupying a small bedroom in the house of his parents, Skip, a welding-equipment salesman, and Pat, a stay-at-home mother. Seeing the 6'6", 260-pound mass of muscle lumber through the modest ranch-style home is like watching a water buffalo squeeze through a pipe. "He could move," says Dunn's friend Brian Peters, "but he'd rather have his parents pay the bills and do his laundry."
Dunn is as pleasingly simple as his hometown, a nondescript 7,000-person burg 40 miles north of Houston, where cows graze and a haircut costs $7. The Dunns have resided in Porter for 40 years, since Skip's father, James, and uncles T.J. and Freeman decided Houston was too bustling. Branching off Porter's main thoroughfare is Dunn Lane, a blacktop strip that leads to nine houses, all of which are occupied by relatives of Adam's. On Thanksgiving and Christmas 80 to 110 family members gather in the family rec hall near the Dunn Lane cul-de-sac.
"It's always been family first for me," says Adam. "No matter how well my career goes, nobody here will ask anything of me. I'm just another Dunn to them."
Says Johnny Almaraz, the Reds' assistant director of scouting, "What Adam is as a professional hitter is what he is as a human being. He's simple. Other young guys constantly think, I've got to do this and I've got to do that, and before you know it, they're all twisted up. Adam is a pure natural hitter. He just hits."
It has been that simple since Skip first instructed four-year-old Adam, the middle of three sons, to swing at a batting tee. Although Adam is naturally righthanded, Skip immediately noticed that when Adam hit from the left side, the ball soared twice as far. Adam has been a lefthanded hitter and righthanded thrower ever since. "Otherwise, there was nothing I did to make him a good ballplayer," says Skip. "Adam deserves all the credit."
Last year the Reds expected Dunn—who in 2000 had batted .281 with 16 homers and 79 RBIs in 122 games at Class A Dayton—to continue to make progress with the Double A Chattanooga Lookouts, perhaps earning a late-season promotion to the Triple A Louisville River Bats. The plan went out the window after Dunn exploded (.343, 12 homers and 31 RBIs in 39 games for Chattanooga, then .329,20 dingers and 53 RBIs in 55 games for Louisville) and after Cincinnati imploded en route to a 96-loss season. Dunn was, Reds manager Bob Boone says, the perfect call-up. "We have a history in this game of calling guys 'the next Mickey Mantle'; then they come up and fail," says Boone. "Adam is different. He doesn't let things get to him."
When he approaches the plate, Dunn isn't thinking about the game situation or his last at bat. (Although he watches tape of the opposing pitcher before each game, he says he is getting only a quick overview.) Asked to sum up his thoughts when he steps in against the pitcher, Dunn smiles and utters four words, pure as a Porter sunrise: "See ball. Hit ball."