November 2010

11/28/10 – Giving Thanks, Looking Back, Looking Forward

My wife and I normally spend our Thanksgiving holiday visiting my in-laws in Florida. This year was no different. Living in the northeast for my entire life, it’s been very interesting these last several years to gather around the dinner table, give thanks, and eat way too much food… all while wearing shorts (luckily, this last Black Friday wasn’t like another Black Friday years ago). In just under two months, I’ll be back in Florida, not only wearing clothing I’m not used to donning in the middle of January, but also sporting a nifty little number supplied by the Philadelphia Phillies.

It’s been a pretty excruciating year for me, my wife, family and friends, but there is a LOT to be thankful for. I am truly a lucky man.

——————–

Now that one major eating and drinking holiday is over, it’s time to get cracking on getting myself into decent shape for four straight days of baseball. From Thanksgiving until my birthday, there is a perfect storm of overindulgence in my life… Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, wedding anniversary, and birthday… I thank the baseball gods for flexible pants. This year, I’ll be extra conscious of what I’m ingesting. Not that I am a total out-of-shape blob, but I could get off my tookus, not take the subway or hail cabs as much, walk a little more, etc. It’s getting cold in NYC and I have no problem just hunkering down and only moving to get another snack. So I’ll pound the pavement, take extra long walks in Central Park, get off at a different subway stop, anything to get my blood pumping a little more. More stretching and some light muscle-building exercises should round out my path to better health nicely. Just in case, I’m still going to Costco and buying a metric ton of Icy Hot and Advil.

What I really need to get cracking on is getting my hitting in order. I plan on making many-a-visit to Manhattan’s Baseball Center to get plenty of swings in. If there is one aspect of my game I have never gotten a handle on is being able to hit a baseball. I’ll run around the outfield ALL day, shagging fly balls, snaring line drives, gunning the ball to the cutoff men, but when I step in to that batter’s box? I believe you have heard the term, “Mendoza Line”?

Anyway, “I’ll start my diet tomorrow”.

——————-

Since I found out which former Phillies will be in attendance at Camp in January, I’ve been scanning through my baseball cards, remembering what each one of these players meant to my fandom (or “Phandom” if you’d like). I decided I would mark some significant days in the Legends’ lives (and ours as fans) as they occur. Since I’m a month late getting to this, these will be retroactive to October 27th, the day I received the email with the official list of Legends…

Mitch Williams – 1994 Topps

November 17th – Mitch Williams’ birthday. I don’t believe any Philadelphia sports figure has had a phoenix-like resurgence as much as The Wild Thing. After that fateful pitch to Joe Carter in the 1993 World Series, Williams was almost immediately run out of town by rioting townsfolk with torches and pitchforks. Years went by and he returned to the Philadelphia area, first as an operator of a New Jersey bowling alley, then as a local on-air personality for 610 WIP AM and Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia. He is now on the fantastic MLB Network and has become an incredible and entertaining baseball commentator. Recently, he did coverage for FOX during the 2010 World Series… come on Mitch, we love you, but please do not go down that particular path.

Kevin Stocker – 1994 Topps

November 18, 1997 – Kevin Stocker is traded to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for Bobby Abreu. Stocker
made a splash in 1993, debuting for the Phillies midway through the season. He injected a massive dose of youthful energy into the already popular squad. With a young Desi Relaford waiting in the wings, the Phils pulled the trigger on a deal for a young and unproven outfielder. The Devil Rays had drafted Abreu in the expansion draft and immediately moved him to Philadelphia. Stocker only lasted for two more seasons and Abreu became one of all-time best outfielders in Phillies history. While his career was brief, Stocker’s time with the Phillies will never be forgotten by fans.

Bob Boone – 1974 Topps
Dickie Noles - 1982 Topps
Dickie Noles – 1982 Topps

November 19 – Bob Boone and Dickie Noles’ birthday. Also, on this day in 1998, Ricky Bottalico is traded to the St. Louis Cardinals, along with Garrett Stephenson, for Jeff Brantley, Ron Gant and Cliff Politte.

Bob Boone and Dickie Noles are two players that live through my baseball cards, video replays, and memories from my dad. Both left the team after the 1981 season. I was only 5 years old at the time, too young to experience their playing days for the Phillies. Boone is a legend: a home-grown, long-tenured catcher who was a main cog in the late ’70′s playoff teams and 1980 World Champions. Probably one of his most famous plays was actually a dropped foul ball that was scooped up by first baseman Pete Rose in the 9th inning of Game 6 of the ’80 Series. His father was a Major Leaguer. His two sons were Major Leaguers. The name “Boone” is baseball royalty.

As I mentioned in my orientation recap, the player with the dubious distinction of the most doubles of any 1982 Topps baseball card I owned belonged to Mr. Dickie Noles. At least that’s what it seemed like. That curly ‘fro haunted my dreams. Noles only spent a couple years with the Phillies, but was crucial in the relief role in the 1980 World Series, playing some chin music to George Brett of the Kansas City Royals. It was a pleasure meeting him the night of the orientation, especially since his hair is short now.

I’ll be completely honest, Ricky Bottalico’s tenure with the Phils is a bit of a blur to me. He played for the team during a period where the Phillies were not quite a priority for me. The combination of the strike in ’94 and ’95, and the fact the team left something to be desired did not leave a good taste in my mouth. Like Mitch Williams, Bottalico was a very effective and electric reliever, but also a tad bit shaky, causing many-a-grey hair. He was the Phillies only All-Star in 1996, the year Philadelphia hosted the game. Also like The Wild Thing, Ricky now is a fantastic analyst for Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia.

Greg Luzinski – 1981 Fleer

November 22 – Greg Luzinski’s birthday. Like Boone and Noles, Luzinski’s time with the Phillies lives on in my imagination. Like the current team, who is made up of home-grown talent and has started their own dynasty, Luzinski came up with other rising stars from the Phillies farm system to form the first dynasty of the organization in the late ’70′s. Luzinski was the big bat behind the equally-sized bat of Mike Schmidt. The Bull has been a fixture in the Phillies organization since his retirement. Currently he rules the roost at arguably the best concession stand at Citizens Bank Park, Bull’s BBQ.

11/19/10 – Dandy Little Glove Man


At the rate the Phillies are going right now, Chase Utley may be forced in to retirement and asked to head up the grounds crew and/or Phanatic duty. In just over one week, the organization has hired three former second basemen in some sort of coaching capacity. Yesterday, another ’11 Phantasy Camp Legend will be imparting his baseball knowledge on hopeful, up-and-coming Phillies. Mickey Morandini, a main contributor to the success of the popular 1993 World Series team, has left his head coaching position at Valparaiso High School in Indiana and had been tabbed to manage the club’s short-season single A affiliate, the Williamsport Crosscutters.

On a side note, the organization held a contest asking people to suggest a name for the team several years ago. I was extremely disappointed they did not accept my suggestion of the “Williamsport Scrapplers”. I tell you guys, that was pure gold.

Anyway, welcome back Mick! See you and Sammy in January…

11/16/10 – Orientation


When I first inquired about Phantasy Camp way back in March, I was told an orientation meeting would be held sometime in November. That seemed like an eternity, especially since the baseball season hadn’t even begun. Well, the World Series has ended, the weather is colder, and wouldn’t you know it, it’s November already. Only two months to go until camp, and after last night’s orientation, it has finally sunk in. Months and months of emails, letters, research, speculation and anticipation came to a head yesterday, one floor below Citizens Bank Park. I haven’t even stepped foot onto the field in Florida and I know this will be one of the greatest experiences of my life.

The weather was lousy. Rainy, windy, and chilly. Citizens Bank Park looked like an ominous monster when I exited the subway station. None of the lights were on, save for a few small points of illumination. No cars in the parking lots. As I got closer, I saw a huge banner in the final stages of being hung above the third base entrance, celebrating Roy Halladay’s Cy Young Award that he won only a couple hours before my arrival. Of course, that award was well-deserved. Yes, he didn’t achieve the predicted Herculean stats like 30+ wins and a ’68 Bob Gibson-esque ERA, but he gave us a season the likes Phillies fans haven’t seen since “Lefty”, Steve Carlton.

When I arrived at the south entrance on Pattison Avenue, I met a gentleman and his wife who were making their way in as well. We entered the lobby, going past some impressive memorabilia (game-used bats, balls, the lineup card from Halladay’s NLDS no-hitter against the Reds, etc.). We took the elevator down. The gentleman, Gene, asked me if I was playing or just going as a “Phan” (the camp offers packages for players to bring down family members and friends to accompany them, and will provide them with fun excursions and of course, seats at all the games). I told him I was playing and he gave me a funny, “uh oh”. It became immediately obvious that I am definitely one of the youngest players. Little do they know, they can probably run laps around me. This was also Gene’s first time at camp and he and his wife were very excited about this whole experience, as to be expected.

We came off the elevator and walked right in to the Phillies media room. Other than the army of camp employees manned at numerous locations, a table of food, and balloons, the first thing that caught my eye was the oh-too-familar backdrop and podium everyone sees when the Phillies hold a press conference to introduce new players, coaches, etc. This is when it truly hit me.

I checked in and finally got to meet Joanne LeVeque, the wonderful enrollment coordinator I have been speaking to on and off for the past eight months. She and the other women checking campers in were like rays of sunshine. A perfect way to start the night. From there I went on a Phantasy Camp conveyor belt, going from table to table to meet other employees who were in charge of different aspects of the experience. At each table, every single person gave the widest of smiles, welcoming me to camp, asking me if I was excited, and telling me how much fun I will have. If you have ever been on a cruise, then you know how enthusiastic the crew is toward you and your fellow passengers. Now, turn it up to 11 and you have these folks. Yet, since this is a relatively small group of people, and not a boat full of 1,000 people, you are truly made to feel like a king.

In addition to to all the various paperwork, receiving very cool, customized luggage tags, and a huge gym bag with an embroidered Phantasy Camp logo AND my requested uniform number, 31 (my favorite Phillie, Garry Maddox… yes!), I was given a form to fill out asking me if I have another fantasy I would like the players to fulfill for me. The women said they have done things in the past where players can recreate certain game scenarios (bottom of the 9th, game seven of the World Series, bases loaded…). I found a chair and sat down to gather my thoughts and calm down. At this point, I felt like a seven-year old in Disney World for the first time. My brain was going in a million different happy directions. I grabbed some food to help me stop my head from spinning, although those cookies probably didn’t help.

I sat with a clipboard, checking over my player bio that they will be putting in to a media guide. After that, I started looking at my fantasy request form. I was drawing a complete blank. How much more could they possibly do for me other than bringing down the entire 2010 team for me to have beers with? As I was pondering this, another couple came and sat next to me. I hear the gentleman say to me, “can’t figure out what to write, huh?” I laughed and said, “this whole thing IS fulfilling my fantasy.” The man introduced himself, and as it normally goes, I immediately forgot his name. He asked me if this was my first trip down and I said yes. He told me this will be his fifth year in a row and that it never ever gets old. I told him how thrilled I was to be doing this and had a feeling I would be signing up for it again as soon as I arrive back home. He closed his eyes and gave me a slow nod. He then paused, gave me a serious, yet comforting look, dropped his voice a few decibels, inched a little closer to me and said, “you will have the time of your life.” Unlike everyone else who had been rep
eating that phrase over and over to me, this time, I actually felt that statement reverberate in my bones. He was like some wise sage who knew the secrets of the universe. He also had a particular look in his eye that I have definitely seen before…

An old co-worker of mine named Mike attended the New York Mets fantasy camp a couple years ago. I remember him coming over to my desk to talk about his experience after he returned. His face told it all. He couldn’t stop smiling. It was one of those grins that is purely honest and true. He was like a little boy, not being able to talk fast enough to get all his thoughts and stories out. I also play softball with him on one of my teams. Whenever we had a chance, it’s all we ever talked about while sitting on the bench. I’ve always wanted to attend a fantasy camp, but he definitely was a catalyst in getting me to seriously start entertaining the idea.

I eventually filled out and turned in my fantasy request form (I’ll let you all know later if this actually happens). Now it was off for my uniform fitting. A few other campers and I were led through the maze-like hallways of Citizens Bank Park on our way to the clubhouse. On the way, our guide gave us a little tour of the area, pointing out certain rooms and lounges, including the lockers of the Phillie Phanatic and the umpires. The funniest moment of the night came at the expense of the said umpires. Our guide pointed out that the signs for every door also has a braille translation. The signs not to have braille imprinted on them? The ones to the umpire lockers and lounges. Goodnight, don’t forget to tip your waitress.

As we made our way closer to the clubhouse, we arrived at the batting cages used by the players. I particularly liked the Charlie Manuel Observation Windows on the left.

We came to an intersection. Left took us to the Phillies dugout and the field. Right took us to the clubhouse. I’ll be making that left come next August at Phantasy Camp reunion.

We made our way to the clubhouse, passing by the mailboxes for all the players and coaching staff. Funny enough, the first box I noticed was for Davey Lopes. No forwarding address has been given yet I guess.

Just like when I walked in to the media room just a half hour or so before, the reality of this experience hit me for a second time. Another platoon of camp employees were set up at different stations around the side of the clubhouse. We were first brought to a display table showing us all the different awards we can win while at camp. These would be given out at the awards banquet on the last night of our trip. These include Most Valuable Player, Gold Glove, Batting Champion (the trophy is a bat signed by all the Phillies Legends), Cy Young, “Charlie Hustle” for the “spark plug” of the team, an impressive ring for the World Series-winning team, including being etched into the Phantasy Camp Championship Trophy, and a “Maje McDonnell” Award, named after the Philadelphia sports staple, given to the player with the best personality and class on and off the field. Also, daily “Gamer Award” pins will be given out for on-the-field excellence. Once again, this is just another aspect of this experience to make the camper feel incredibly special.

While our guide was telling us about these great awards, I couldn’t help turning my head back and forth to look at all the different lockers. I was standing in the clubhouse of my favorite baseball team. This is where the Phillies have had numerous champagne and Bud Light showers for the past four seasons. Now I know that being able to visit everything I just mentioned is not that unique. Anyone can sign up for tours of the park and see what I just saw. My nine-year old nephew this past summer got to take a very similar tour when he attended his own youth Phillies camp. But you know what? I’ve never seen it, so damnit, I’m going to act like a little kid!

Next up was my hat fitting (oh man, Chase Utley’s locker). Luckily, I just got a haircut, so they didn’t have to send in the oversized Phillies cap they use to put on William Penn’s head on top of City Hall. With my hat and a jersey, I was now getting my picture taken for the media guide. You didn’t have to tell me to smile.

Before going over for my uniform sizing, the organizers softened the blow of how awkward I will look in stretch pants. The camp brought in three folks who will be sharing the five days with us. Down the line, I got the opportunity to shake hands and converse with Marty Bystrom, our own ’10 San Francisco Giants-style save-the-day rookie sensation, Scott Palmer, a sports anchor staple in Philadelphia, now the director of public affairs for the Phillies, and Dickie Noles, easily the one Phil I had the most baseball cards of. I swear I think all the card companies had a mandate that a Dickie Noles should be placed in every other pack. I’m glad that I finally got to meet the real thing and not have to keep looking at 36 duplicate ‘82 Topps cards. All three of them were absolutely charming, telling me how much fun I will have. Again, I could see it in their faces. They LOVE doing this.

Behind the red curtain I went to get fitted. I was brought over to a chair, situated right in front of Roy Halladay’s locker. The next thing I know, I was standing in my underwear… in Roy Halladay’s locker… the guy who just won the Cy Young Award earlier in the day….

Well, I just got my money’s worth. I can go home now. Thank you very much.

When I emerged, I was given a complimentary Dick Perez print commemorating Halladay’s perfect game earlier in the season. The women said that would be it and I can go back to the media room with a guide… or I can stick around and take pictures. I of course, chose the latter. The first thing I had to do was text message my wife from Carlos Ruiz’s locker. That got exactly the reaction I was hoping for from her. I went around the horn, snapping photos of everyone’s lockers… Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Jayson Werth…

I begrudgingly decided to leave, going with the same guide I came in with. On the way back we passed an impressive mural of photographs from the 2008 season, including a massive panoramic shot right after Brad Lidge struck out Eric Hinske. Directly across from this was a series of window box frames with the jerseys of all the Phillies players who have had their number retired by the club, including the great Jackie Robinson.

Everything was in order and was cleared to go. I stopped by the front desk to say goodbye to Joanne and thank her again for all her help. “See you in Florida” she said. And that was that. I waited eight months for orientation. I only have two months more to go.

I left the park and headed back up Pattison Avenue to the subway for the first step of my multi-stage trip back to New York. The weather was still lousy, but nothing could have brought me down at that moment.

11/15/10 – Ryno

The Phillies have kept the retro train rolling this week. Today, another famed second baseman from the ’80′s has been hired to coach in the Phillies organization. Hall-of-Famer Ryne Sandberg, the most famous second baseman to only play 13 games, has been tabbed to run the ship for the AAA Lehigh Valley IronPigs. Sandberg has proven himself to be a very successful coach at the minor league level for the Chicago Cubs, so this looks to be a wonderful addition… and reunion. As any fan of baseball is well aware of, Ryno was involved in one the most lopsided trades in history. The Phillies and Cubs swapped longtime shortstops in Larry Bowa and Ivan de Jesus. Because of the age disparity, the Cubs requested another player and the Phillies “threw in” Sandberg. De Jesus was a bust and Sandberg went on to become one of the greatest second basemen and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005. *sigh*

Better late than never, even if it’s been 30 years. Welcome back Ryno!

——————–

Tomorrow the National League Cy Young Award is being given out. 

Tomorrow night is also my Orientation for Phantasy Camp.

Tomorrow is shaping up to be a really good day.

11/11/10 – Sammy

Word came today that the Phillies hired Wall-Of-Famer Juan Samuel as their new third-base coach and outfield instructor. Samuel was such an electric player as a member of those mid-to-late 80′s squads. I was so happy for him this past season when he briefly held the role as interim manager for the Baltimore Orioles. It was just so cool hearing the phrase “manager Juan Samuel”. So even though I am already thrilled to be meeting Juan, it will now be extra special because of his new role in the organization. Welcome back Sammy!

Photo Day 1989… dig Tom Jones to Sammy’s left.

11/4/10 – One long year

Today is the one year anniversary of my dad’s passing.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I should write for this specific entry. But I decided that I would reprint the article I wrote for prosportsblogging.com last March. I think it perfectly summed up my feelings then and now, almost eight months later. It was the best therapy for me. I’m still comforted when I read it. And true to my word, I became more passionate about the game. I watched Phillies games this season with more fervor, but took their losses in stride… as best as I could. I was able to watch the World Series without a trace of disgust or envy (well, maybe just a little). Instead, I put myself in the shoes of Giants and Rangers fans, and remembered what it felt like to experience something so incredibly special. This season I was truly a “baseball fan”, and I could not be any prouder.

Dad, we miss you. We love you.

Dad’s glove

Originally printed on 3/25/10

FOR THE LOVE OF THE PHILLIES. FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME.

In the last couple weeks, I have been racking my brain trying to come up with a great preview of the 2010 season for the Philadelphia Phillies. What should I focus on? Should I add fuel to the fiery debate that was the blockbuster trade of Cliff Lee for Roy Halladay? Should I compare the defensive metrics of Pedro Feliz and Placido Polanco? Should I discuss what kind of season the Phillies will get from Brad Lidge and more importantly, Cole Hamels? Should I even spend a few keystrokes on the thought of Albert Pujols in red pinstripes? Should I start getting you all prepared for the possible departure of Jayson Werth? Should I mention the beard?

Finally, I realized that all of these issues have already been beat in to the ground. Every Tom, Dick and Harry Kalas has weighed in. What could another random blogger possibly contribute to the vast sea of internet banter?

So, I decided I would take a cue from myself and pen another piece similar to this particular article from last season. Like every other baseball fan who lives and dies by “the statistic”, I thrive on cold, hard facts.

This time, you will not be getting anything of the sort from me.

——————–

On the morning of November 4, 2009, the same day as Game 6 of the Phillies-Yankees World Series, my father passed away. I awoke that Wednesday excited about the upcoming game that evening. Yes, it did not look promising for my beloved team, but I had a glimmer of hope. When you’ve gone that far, there is no turning back. All you have is hope. That was all forgotten in a matter of seconds. When I received that call, nothing else mattered. The Phillies had become meaningless.

During the next couple hours, thoughts about the World Series started creeping back into my head. Like in any trauma, a person’s brain will begin to veer off into illogical and strange directions. I thought about my mother-in-law, an avid Yankees fan. I began to feel a sense of sadness that my father’s death will be ruining her joy in seeing her Yankees possibly win another World Series. I didn’t think that maybe she was feeling exactly the same way I was feeling, that baseball didn’t matter, and that a man she had come to respect and love with all her heart, was gone.

On the train ride back to his home, I pulled out my phone to check for any email or voice messages. As if I begrudgingly decided to tackle that nagging chore I needed to do, I checked the score of the game. Fifth inning, 7-1 Yankees. When my wife asked how it was going, I gave a shrug.

When we arrived at his home, I turned on the television. The first image to pop up was a shot of Ryan Howard and the rest of the Phillies bench, dejected. The crowd, roaring. Next pitch, Shane Victorino grounds out to Robinson Cano. The Yankees didn’t even start their celebratory mobbing before I promptly turned off the set. Again, I gave another shrug.

During this winter, as I was trapped by the massive bastions of snow outside our windows, I began to ponder about this upcoming season. In the middle of watching the constant rebroadcasting of classic games on the MLB Network, I kept thinking about how high will my enthusiasm be this summer. Will I even care? These thoughts scared me. At a time when I needed a positive distraction in my life, the thought of baseball was not bringing me any comfort or joy.

——————–

Spring Training is in full swing, and all has changed. Much like the hope and promise every Major League ball club exudes during the spring, my life is now filled with that same sense of positivity and anticipation. The weather is getting warmer, flowers are beginning to bloom, the air smells fresh and new… and the start of a new baseball season is right around the corner. Now I’m excited.

My dad would not have wanted me to shelve my love for this game. That would be completely unacceptable. One of the many areas in our lives that brought us closer was our love for the Phillies. If I discard them, I am discarding a piece of me, and even worse, the memory of my father. Why would I want to ruin some of the best memories of my childhood… the same memories that have been repeated over and over between father and son for a century? Some of the most valuable lessons in life I learned from my dad in the backyard, having our daily catch after he got home from work (even though he encouraged me NOT to use two hands to catch a fly ball if I wasn’t comfortable with that. To this day,
I still get an earful). In these last three, postseason-bound seasons, the first lesson I learned about baseball was driven home even more. It’s just a game. A glorious, intelligent, beautiful game. Just have fun. And that was our attitude going in to each and every series. Sure, during the regular season we would analyze every player, praise a player one day, damn him to the seventh circle of baseball hell the next, but when it came to the playoffs, our mindsets changed. We would call each other after every game. We didn’t breakdown pitch sequences. We didn’t scrutinize a particular player’s at bat. We just made very general observations of that game… “how about that play?!” If they won, we just told each other how happy we were and how much we were looking forward to the next. If they lost, we just shrugged. True, we could not see each other, but we knew. We’ll get them next year…

So I can now answer the question I posed to myself back in the winter. Will I care? More than ever. I will go to more games. I will embrace my inner 10 year-old even more, collecting more baseball cards. This summer I will coach my softball team. Next winter I will be in Clearwater, FL, participating in Phillies Fantasy Camp…with my dad beside me.

Yes, I have plenty opinions on what transpired in the off-season with the Phillies, and I will have many many more as the season moves along. But for now, I am reveling in the beauty of the game. No statistics. No contract talks. Just the sound of a ball snapping inside a glove. Just the game.

…and the Phillies will win the NL East and return to the World Series for a third straight year.

(Oh well, one out of two ain’t bad.)

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