Members of the Philadelphia Phillies take the field at the start of their workout at Bright House Field on Feb 20, 2016 in Clearwater. Photo | Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
Phillies spring training has begun and for the first time in many years, it has a different feel. It’s like the opening of a new department store that sells only bargain basement goods.
Now I don’t mean that in a bad way. It is what it is. The personnel is the personnel.
But it’s almost refreshing that things are different now. There used to be two long tables in the Phillies clubhouse at their training facility. The one closest to the shower room was only for veterans players, who held sway: Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Jayson Werth, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. No rookies, no younger players were welcome. They sat at the table further back in the room. See, team harmony didn’t matter back then when the Phils were a hitting machine with a great starting pitching staff.
Today, they are in the midst of an identity crisis. There are two veteran holdovers: Howard and Carlos Ruiz (who never sat at the big table anyway because he was always busy catching some such arm). The rest are younger players who haven’t yet given us a firm indication of whether they can play, and a bunch of prospects invited to camp.
The latter is what makes this camp so interesting. Read more »
Okay, we know this team doesn’t look like much on paper. (Chad Billingsley? Really?) You know what, though? Neither did the Sixers back in October, and look how much fun they’ve turned out to be! This Phillies team could surprise you. (Ben Revere!) Actually, if it does anything at all, it will surprise everybody. (Domonic Brown!) And how perfectly Philly would that be? A city that’s home to the patron saint of underdogs (“Adrian!”) should never (Aaron Harang!), never (Darren Ruf!), never (Jesse Biddle!) say die until the umpire signals the last out. Ryan Howard, just picture every line drive you hit landing in Cataldi’s big fat mouth.
Photo | Howard Altman
The best third baseman ever to play the game sits down on a metal picnic bench between the Phillies’ spring training practice field and Bright House Field and fiddles with his new press pass.
“I have the Gold Card,” Michael Jack Schmidt jokes to a group of reporters who have gathered around to hear him speak publicly for the first time since being diagnosed with skin cancer last summer.
The 64-year-old Hall of Famer, who will be returning to the broadcast booth during Sunday home games this season, spends the next half hour talking about coming back from cancer, his own limitations as a broadcaster, the current state of the Phillies and his bromantic crush on former Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay.
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Photo | Kim Klement, USA TODAY Sports
Sitting in front of his locker in a padded folding chair, across the room from the raucous noise of Howard and Byrd and Rollins and rap, the man they call Chooch is for a moment alone, quietly looking down at the glowing screen of his cell phone.
It is nearly five hours before the Phillies – the 1-and-8-and-1 Phillies, the worst-spring training record-in-baseball Phillies – will take the field for Grapefruit League game number 11. And Carlos Ruiz, who returned to the team on a much-chided three-year, $26 million contract, is tuning out the cacophony.
Inside the locker room and outside as well.
“I feel great with the group we have,” says Ruiz, who turned 36 on Jan. 22. “If we stay healthy, we can do a lot of good things.”
If we stay healthy.
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An upbeat image for this cold, dreary February day:
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