Almost all of the money Adam Dunn has made in his career - and there's been a lot of it - has come because of his ability to, every 13.98 at-bats or so, test the alertness of fans in the right-field upper deck with a towering blast off his maple bats.
Yet there is something almost defiant about Dunn's attitude toward defense. He's been hounded by critics, jeered by fans and implicitly told he would be better off in the American League, where he could DH and not worry about playing the field.
Still, Dunn is in the National League in his 10th year and with his third team, doggedly refusing to be cast as a hulking, one-dimensional slugger.
For the first time in his career, he's beginning a season solely dedicated to playing first base, a position he's manned - and just as importantly, practiced at - only intermittently through his first nine seasons.
Getting it right is as important to Dunn as anything else he'll do this year.
"I know that's what we need to be successful, me to play first base," Dunn said. "I don't want to go out there and make a jackass of myself. I want to learn the position, and be 100 times better than I was last year."
Almost everything about the way Dunn plays the game invites a deeper look beyond the assumptions most people make. He's averaged 180 strikeouts over 162 games during his career, but he's almost overly patient at the plate, posting a career .383 on-base percentage while racking up called strikeouts. He takes jujitsu classes to improve his balance and footwork in the offseason and stated his preference to stay in the National League while he was a free agent before last season.
His Ultimate Zone Rating was 25 runs below average in the games he played at first base, but after a rocky start at the position, he acquitted himself down the stretch. He arrived early to camp this year to work with spring instructor Tim Foli and third base coach Pat Listach. With the extra time, rather than the half-hour or so of infield work before games, Dunn said he's been able to see why he made mistakes, not just that he made them.
"It's been fun so far, actually going, 'Oh, that's why I couldn't get to those balls last year,'" Dunn said. "It's going good so far."
The impetus for Dunn to learn the position is simply about helping the team this year, he says. But his contract is up after this season, and the Nationals are talking to him about a multi-year extension. If that falls through, he could end up getting traded sometime this summer, quite possibly to an American League team that sees him as a DH.
He can cement his future in the National League, though, with a strong defensive showing this year. Still, Dunn's motivation is more elemental than that: He wants to be known as a complete player and finally put the typecasting away.
"I'm not worried about the next stage of my career. That's another thing. They can say what they want," Dunn said. "Whatever. I'm worried about the present, now, and whatever happens, happens."