Jonathan India becomes the Cincinnati Reds' first NL rookie of the year since 1999

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Jonathan India was surrounded by family at a convention center in his hometown, Coral Springs, Florida, when Johnny Bench made the announcement India waited all year to hear.

India was the Jackie Robinson National League Rookie of the Year, a runaway winner over finalists Trevor Rogers (Miami) and Dylan Carlson (St. Louis) with 29 of the 30 first-place votes from the Baseball Writers Association of America.

He became the Cincinnati Reds’ first Rookie of the Year since Scott Williamson in 1999 and the franchise’s first position player to win the award since Chris Sabo in 1988.

When Bench donned a Reds cap during his announcement, India broke into a laugh as his family cheered behind him. His mom hugged him from behind as he sat in front of a camera. India shook his head and said, “that’s awesome, man,” as he tried to process it.

“To have him announce my name, a legend like that, it's the coolest thing ever,” India said. “He put the hat on, that's how he announced it, that was pretty cool for me. That was a pretty cool moment in my career. I'll always remember that – Johnny Bench announcing me as the Rookie of the Year.”

Winning Rookie of the Year was a goal India set for himself at the beginning of the season during interviews. Personal goals centered around stats aren’t his thing. This award, however, stuck out to him. He had only one chance in his career to win it.

And he did.

India became the Reds’ eighth rookie of the year winner in franchise history, joining Williamson, Sabo, Pat Zachry (1976), Bench (1968), Tommy Helms (1966), Pete Rose (1963) and Frank Robinson (1956).

“That was just one thing that came to my mind at spring training,” India said. “I could have said, ‘I want to hit 40 homers, or I want to get MVP,’ but that was the one thing that stuck to me before I started the year was, ‘you know what, I am going to win Rookie of the Year this year.’ I said it on interviews. I just had a feeling that’s was what I wanted, and I was going to accomplish it.”

India is just the seventh second baseman to win NL Rookie of the Year, joining Rose, Steve Sax (1982), Ted Sizemore (1969), Jim Lefebvre (1965), Ken Hubbs (1962) and Junior Gilliam (1953).

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Family and friends texted him often at the end of the season about winning the award. India and Rogers, the runner-up, were the only players on all 30 ballots.

“You can say, ‘he's going to win, the odds are with him,' but I was excited more than anything,” India said. “I had butterflies in my stomach until this moment. It’s an amazing feeling. I told you guys at the beginning that I wanted this award. I said it out in words, and I made it come true. For me, it's just a huge accomplishment to make this come true and, oh man, I was at a loss for words when I heard. I didn't even know what to say.”

Cincinnati Reds second baseman Jonathan India pumps his fist as he rounds the bases after hitting a two-run homer during a Sept. 3, 2021 game.
Cincinnati Reds second baseman Jonathan India pumps his fist as he rounds the bases after hitting a two-run homer during a Sept. 3, 2021 game.

India certainly deserved the award based on his stats. He finished his rookie season with a .269 batting average, .376 on-base percentage, 34 doubles, 21 homers, 69 RBI and 98 runs. He became the first rookie in MLB history with at least 20 homers, 20 hit by pitches and 10 stolen bases.

It was everything else that stood out to his teammates and coaches. His energy was infectious. His hustle and long hair made him a fan favorite. Teammates respected how much he played through injuries and never complained.

“The 2021 National League Jackie Robinson Award to the eighth Red to win the Rookie of the Year award and the man that I was so impressed by the entire year,” Bench said in his MLB Network announcement. “It is unbelievable the way this young man plays. I was so proud of him. He carried that ballclub. You deserve it, my friend. Congratulations from everybody at the Reds and from me as well.”

Cincinnati Reds second baseman Jonathan India scores during a April 20, 2021 game.
Cincinnati Reds second baseman Jonathan India scores during a April 20, 2021 game.

If there was a moment that shaped India’s rookie season, it was June 5 when manager David Bell wrote his name in the leadoff spot for the first time all year.

"I couldn’t sleep that night, honestly," India said. "I remember the day before I was batting seventh, in my normal spot, and David called me that night, ‘you’re batting leadoff. You ready for this?’ I got chills hearing that just because of how I wanted it and to be in that spot."

India drew a walk in his first plate appearance. He homered two innings later. His third plate appearance was a leadoff double. For the final four months of the 2021 season, India always found a way to make an impact. When he played well, the team usually followed.

He reached base in 50 of his first 55 games as a leadoff hitter. Not coincidentally, the Reds vaulted back into the playoff race.

Cincinnati Reds second baseman Jonathan India (6) slides into home during a June 24, 2021 game.
Cincinnati Reds second baseman Jonathan India (6) slides into home during a June 24, 2021 game.

“I just trusted my ability to play the game I know how to play since I was 3 years old,” said India, who will turn 25 in December. “Everyone is going to get thrown into the fire at some point in their career. For me, it was early. For me, it was learning a new position right away and hitting in the leadoff spot two months into the season. I made the most of the opportunity and looked at it as a positive and ran with it.”

The Reds weren’t surprised by India’s talent. He was the No. 5 pick in the 2018 MLB Draft out of the University of Florida. He was the SEC Player of the Year in his final collegiate season. He turned heads at the club’s alternate site in 2020 when the minor-league season was canceled.

Still, he surpassed expectations in a lot of ways.

“I think it's just the way I approach the game when I'm out there, my actions, my competitiveness,” India said. “I'll go to battle against anyone. I think that's what stands out the most about my game, the player and the competitiveness on the field and how bad I want to win.”

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Cincinnati Reds' Jonathan India named NL rookie of the year