Results tagged ‘ Ryan Howard ’

Reunion Day Recap Under Construction

I spent a typical Saturday morning shagging flies and hitting BP at Citizens Bank Park yesterday. No big deal.

Right.

I’m currently editing the photos and still gathering myself together after a ridiculously amazing day. The recap will be up very soon.

Until then, please enjoy my little juxtaposition success during the Phillies batting practice…

1/20/11 – Day Two of Phillies Phantasy Camp - afternoon


 

“You Are Here… on your way to lunch”

 As I started typing this, I realized I omitted a couple items from the morning workout and drills. Along with the infield, outfield, pitching and batting drills, there was a baserunning workout with the new third base coach for the Phillies, Juan Samuel. Ashburn Field was not quite up to par for the groundskeeper’s standards, and they wanted to save it until the afternoon games. So our baserunning clinic involved us rooks huddling around Sammy at home plate. He spoke about the basics of running starting from home plate and moving from station to station. Baserunning just seems natural: run straight. If the ball went further than you expected, turn at the next base and run straight again. Repeat and rinse if necessary. OK, obviously there is much more to that, but it’s incredible to hear it from an expert who ruled the base paths in the ’80′s. For the rest of the camp, when I did find myself hustling down the line, I found myself recalling Sammy’s tips, and most importantly, actually stayed on feet.

Right before Scott Palmer announced that lunch was served, we had a quick BP/fly ball-shagging session on Schmidt field.  I met a great fellow named John in rightfield. He had told me he had been really enjoying reading the blog. We stood and chatted for a while before I headed in for a couple swings. After a few hacks, one of the many player representatives stepped up next to the cage and simply said, “Shorten your stride”. Next pitch, I hit the ball square on the barrel and sent it screaming in to leftfield. It’s like these people know what they are talking about or something.

I made my way to Bright House Field for lunch. The buffet was situated under the same tent where Kangaroo Court was held a couple hours before. Since everyone ended the drills and workouts at the same time, there was quite a long line that extended past the bar of Frenchy’s. However, this provided me with front row seats to the small parking lot below. Why would this be exciting? Well, you’d be excited too if you got the nice surprise of seeing Ryan Howard strolling to the main batting cages located directly underneath where we were standing. I already knew this, and saying it will be redundant, but man… he is a big dude.

I promptly replaced all the calories I burned missing and overthrowing baseballs in the morning. Scott Palmer appeared to announce the teams. The Legends and GMs had conferred and made their selections. I felt like I was back on the playground being chosen for a pickup baseball game, except the kids are ex-Major Leaguers.

Amazing.

My name was finally read off. I selected for a team called the Drillers, coached by Kevin Stocker and Mike Lieberthal. That really jazzed me up. Those two were easily some of my favorite Phillies. These two West Coasters were famous for their laid back and friendly personalities. I was excited to get this started. I made my way to Ashburn Field to meet my team, my player rep, my two new coaches, and to finally get ready to play some games. We huddled around outside our dugout. Stocker came right out and introduced himself and within a minute, I knew this was going to be a blast. Stock seemed to get the idea of this camp experience down pat. We were here to play baseball, get advice from ex-Major Leaguers, but most importantly, we were here to have fun. Lieby was not quite as vocal; more chilled, but still had that same loose attitude. This was Mike’s first year participating as a Legend at Phantasy Camp, so my impression was that he was probably still trying to feel everything out.  Stock informed us that we were the only team out of ten that were completely full of rookies. Images of the Bad News Bears started creeping in to my mind.  Kevin read off the lineup, which he assured us, was filled out at random. Positions were set, but they let us know that if we want to switch with someone else, we could do it at any time. If we wanted to come out, no problem. If we wanted to go back in, not a problem. This had all the seriousness of a family reunion whiffle ball game.

——————-

One of my dad’s more classic moments happened on a beach in North Carolina during a marathon session of whiffle ball. At one point during a game, someone made a diving catch, which resulted in a dramatic end-over-end tumble. Later in the game, I was facing my dad and hit a line drive right back to him. He didn’t move or react. He stood there, cool as a cucumber, and snagged the ball nonchalantly. He waited a couple seconds, then dove to the ground and rolled on the sand, pretending he just made a highlight reel-worthy catch. We could not stop laughing for the rest of the day. I still smile when I think about that.

——————–

So out I ran to take my position in leftfield. I only had one fielding opportunity when a seeing-eye single came my way. I quickly realized that I probably wouldn’t be getting many more chances this game. Our man on the mound, Pete Wichterman, was a captain and starting pitcher for LaSalle University, and our opponents, the Red Barons, were getting mowed down one by one. Unfortunately, we were facing another buzz saw in Tony Carfagno. Tony, as I came to find out, had won the Camp’s Cy Young award the previous two years. Wonderful.

In typical Bryan Sargent-style, I struck out swinging at my first at bat. I was just sizing him up… yeah. The rest of the game was a fantastic pitcher’s duel. Because of this, and the fact that all 14 members of the team bats, no matter if they are in the field, my number of trips to the plate were limited. I eventually moved to third base. As I took my position, I had another one of those “where am I?” moments. Juan Samuel, one of the two Legends coaching for the Red Barons, along with Ricky Jordan, was standing there coaching third. I gave him a tip of the cap, said “hello Juan” and turned my attention back to the game, shaking my head in disbelief. Again, no fielding chances. That was probably best for the team’s success.

The Red Barons got us for t
wo runs at the top of the last inning. I took my second at bat against Carfagno, and I am proud to say, hit a solid line drive over the shortstop’s head for a single. If I don’t get another hit for the rest of the Camp, I’ll be happy knowing I got a knock off the best pitcher in Camp. We couldn’t manufacture a comeback and lost our first game. Did it really matter? Hell no. Stock and Lieby drove that message home in their post-game talk. They showered nothing but compliments, and maybe a few good-natured ribbings that we all quickly learned was Stock’s calling card.

Due to an impending rainstorm, another game was added to the schedule in case games had to be cancelled the next day. Our second game was supposed to be on Joe DiMaggio Field across from the complex, but because it’s condition was not optimal for playing on, we were “forced” to move our game to Bright House Field. Normally, this does not happen until the Legends game on the last day. So this was an incredible treat. It was only day two, and I was going to be stepping foot on to the same field where the Phillies play their Spring Training games. Sorry, I believe that’s my jaw on the ground. Let me get that out of your way.

With one game now under my belt, there was something else that really warmed my heart and brought me back to my childhood: playing baseball with a wooden bat. I learned how to play baseball with a wooden bat. We only used wooden bats in my first couple of years of Little League. This is a small aspect of the game I truly miss. Nothing feels or sounds sexier than a baseball hitting a wooden bat. Speaking of which…

On our way to Bright House, the sound of what my friend Sam referred to as a “howlitzer”, was blasting from the underbelly of the stadium. I deduced that this must be Ryan Howard taking batting practice (it was confirmed later that it was indeed Howard, as well as rookie prospect Domonic Brown). Now, the echoes of the tunnel did amplify his hits, but still… the “authority” of that sound, again from Sam, was overwhelming.  Like I said before, there is a regular person hitting a baseball… then there is a Major Leaguer. Just awe-inspiring.

Now, an issue arose right before our first game. It seemed that we had no catchers on our team. All the players who had “catcher” as their preferred position were snatched up in the draft. Thus, it was like pulling teeth to get folks to volunteer for the position.  We arrived to our dugout at Bright House. Stock came over to me and asked if I could be catcher for this game. As much as I wanted to run away screaming, I figured this was going to be problem for the duration of the Camp. I was sure I would eventually have to catch at some point anyway, so I might as well get it over with.

As far as I can remember, I have only caught twice in my life. Luckily, both instances were documented on film.

When I was three years old, my dad decided I should try and catch in our house. To make the experience authentic, he equipped me with his black glove and a beach toy to sift sand, attached to a baseball cap with a piece of twine for my mask. He lobbed a large plastic baseball to me in our living room. Baseball-reference.com doesn’t seem to have any statistics from that performance.

The other time was during my first year in Little League in Claymont, DE in 1982. According to my dad, it was the longest game he ever sat through. Apparently I didn’t do a very good job actually catching the baseball. I would just let the ball go to the backstop, get up, retrieve it, then throw it back to the pitcher. Repeat and rinse. I believe I was sent down to the minors after that game. Bless your soul dad.

I suited up and got a few tips from Lieberthal. Then I realized: I’m getting advice from a two-time All-Star and Gold Glove-winning catcher! Wow. I waddled out to home plate, got my bearings (holy sh!t, I’m catching at Bright House), and introduced myself to the umpire. He also gave me a few pointers, most likely more for his protection. Can’t say I didn’t blame him. He must get his fair share of bruises and knocks calling these games at Camp. Lucky for him, I was going contribute a few more war wounds to his collection!

The game ended before it even started. Our opponents, the Bay Sox, led by Marty Bystrom and Von Hayes, were a force to be reckoned with. They exploded for six runs in the first and eight runs in the second inning.  If I wasn’t feeling any pain earlier, I was feeling it now. After the first inning, I came back to the dugout. Stock greeted me very encouraging words. Mike stopped me, and with a big smile said, “you did a great job back there!” I smiled back, glowing in the fact this famed catcher just complimented me on my play behind the plate, thanked him very much, then asked, “how the hell did you do this sh!t?!

Even though I was playing baseball in these glorious surroundings, enveloped in a warm, late afternoon sun in the middle of January, the whole game was a complete blur. I was bumped up to cleanup in the batting lineup. I went 0 for 1 with a walk and strikeout. But to be honest, I don’t even really remember those at bats. My goal was to finish out the game the best I could behind the plate. I wasn’t that adept with a catcher’s mitt, so there were many instances of me completely missing the pitch and immediately hearing a loud “whack” followed by a painful “ungh!” I felt so bad after awhile. He kept reassuring me it was OK, but still. In between watching balls flying out past our outfielders and having baserunners pass me at home, I experienced my first foul ball-tip-straight-in-to-my-helmet. Luckily, there isn’t much up there to get injured
, so all was good. I also came very close to making a decent play catching a foul ball. Again, I do not know how catchers are able to pull off that move. The disorientation factor is through the roof.  During the second inning, there was a dispute about the number of outs. Some coaches had one. The umpire had two. I joked with him that I had three and the inning was over.

After the dust settled, the Drillers were once again shut out, this time by the score of 18-0. It wasn’t even close. Eh, what are you going to do? It was still a lot of fun. The twenty or so people in the crowd made me feel like I was playing for the Florida Marlins. This Camp thought of everything to make this a true Major League experience!

I headed back to the clubhouse, very sore and very tired. I groaned as I peeled off layer upon layer of my uniform. Playing baseball never hurt so good.

8/24/10 – Things to Come

When I first spoke to Joanne at Phillies Phantasy Camp back in March, she had mentioned that in addition to the five-day camp experience, there would be an alumni reunion that next August at Citizens Bank Park. All the 2011 camp-goers would don our customized uniforms, go on to the field and be announced by longtime Phillies PA announcer Dan Baker. When I told my family and friends about this extra little perk, every single one of them pleaded with me to tell them the date as soon as it was confirmed, as they all want to be in attendance. All of a sudden, I feel like Ryan Howard every time the Phillies visit his hometown of St. Louis to play the Cardinals. I’m going to need to get a LOT of tickets.

Last Saturday, the Phillies were at home hosting rookie pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg and the rest of the Washington Nationals. One of my cousins had posted a status onto Facebook saying that he was at the Phillies game with his dad, one of my father’s older brothers. He had taken my uncle as part of his birthday present. I thought that was fantastic, especially since my uncle is not apt to going to a lot of live sporting events.

About five minutes after his posting, my cousin sent me a message telling me that the 2010 Phantasy Camp attendees were on the field before the start of the game. I shook my head in disbelief. Of all the games he could have taken my uncle to, it happened to be this special August game for the camp alumni. All of this may seem like nothing more than a coincidence to most people, but what makes this little story more special for me is my uncle and father share the same birthday.

————————-

A month ago when the Phillies fired their hitting coach, Milt Thompson, the team was mired in a deep funk. In addition to a month-long, team-wide slump, the injury bug seemed more like an injury infestation. At one point, this squad was leading the division by five games. Within two months, they found themselves in third place, seven games behind the first-place Atlanta Braves and even worse, the New York Mets. At this point, I had made my peace with the fact that this team may not make the postseason. It would be OK. What I have experienced in the last couple years has gone beyond anything I could have ever wished for as a Phillies fan. It’s extremely hard for a major league baseball team to accomplish what they already have in the last three seasons. Yes, this team is just as strong as the others and another World Series appearance was not out of the question. But, as most sports fans know, a team on paper and a team on the field can be two completely different realities. Not only does a successful baseball season require skill and talent, but there’s a whole lot of luck involved too. This seemed like one of those seasons.

Well, just as Al Pacino once said in that movie that is somehow associated to the first two Godfather films, “Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in”.

The Phillies have pulled up their bootstraps, and in the last month have played their best baseball of the season. In just one week, they reduced their deficit from seven to two and a half games, where they currently stand. At one point, they were only one game behind the current division leader, Atlanta. As of now, they stand in first place of the Wild Card lead, just ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants. For the first time since the beginning of the season, the Phillies fielded their original opening day lineup. Everyone is back. September is right around the corner and the timing couldn’t be any better.

This last year has been very tough for my wife and I. But, just like this team, we’ve dusted ourselves off and got back doing what we do best… living our lives. Even if the Phillies just sneak in to the postseason with the Wild Card and gets embarrassingly swept in the NLDS, I would consider this season a complete success, almost as much as the 2008 championship. Just like a regular baseball season, life is a marathon, filled with long, hot streaks and seemingly unending deep slumps. You take what’s given to you and you adapt. If you can get through the adversity, and know that at the end of the day, you can honestly say you have done your best while staying true to yourself, then you are truly a success.

And just like baseball, if you have bad year, there’s always next season…

Introduction

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for IMG_5336.jpg
2010

I don’t know exactly what age I was when I first learned that my favorite baseball team, the Philadelphia Phillies, held an annual “fantasy camp” at their Spring Training facility in Clearwater, FL. According to the “second most important male voice in life at the time”, Harry Kalas, attendees would spend several days playing baseball with other camp-goers and ex-Phillies players.  I looked to my dad to make sure I heard that correctly.  Harry might as well have said the entire Phillies team will come to my house and play nine innings in our backyard. It was that preposterous. Harry wouldn’t lie to me, right? Dad gave me a reassuring smile and told me it was indeed true.

My hopes were immediately dashed though when I found out that you had to be at least 30 years of age to attend. Once again, the powers that be were denying this kid the basic human right to have fun. Thirty?! That’s an eternity! (So goes the thought process for every boy and girl that age).

Years went by and my desire to fib about my age and attend Phantasy Camp had waned. My love of baseball turned to other interests like music and playing drums. My posters of Mike Schmidt and Pete Rose were being replaced with rock stars and Sports Illustrated swimsuit models. In addition to Schmidt, it also did not help that my favorite player, Garry Maddox, had retired. Compound that with the fact that my team went through a pretty long period of less-than-stellar play on the field, save for the statistical outlier that was 1993 (easily one the most fun-filled seasons following the Phillies… although did you have to lose 15-14 at my first ever World Series game? Come on. That was painful).

I moved to New York City in early 2001 and I followed the Phillies with even more fervor.  Baseball was slowly making a comeback in Philadelphia. There were a lot of reasons to get excited about this organization. That season saw them turn around with a winning record, led by new manager and Phillies legend, Larry Bowa. A new ballpark was on the way. Amazing homegrown talent was coming up like Jimmy RollinsRandy Wolf, and Pat Burrell. Catcher Mike Lieberthal was coming in to his own. Outfielder Bobby Abreu became a quiet superstar. Later, free agent Jim Thome graced Philadelphia with his presence. Chase Utley soon followed, along with a first baseman making a lot of noise down in the minor leagues named Ryan Howard.  And as any baseball fan knows, what has become of Philadelphia Phillies baseball in the last half of this decade has been nothing short of pure bliss for their fanbase. Right Harry?

My dad and I outside Citizens Bank Park, July 24, 2004.

In the last several years, my dad and I became even more fanatical about our team. Whenever it was on the phone or face-to-face, our conversations centered round the Phillies.  He and I had always been extremely close. The Phillies made us even closer.

On November 4, 2009, my father passed away.  Apart from the obvious shock, pain and heartache that surrounded me that day, what made it even worse was the fact that it was the same day as Game 6 of the World Series against the Yankees… a game (and Series) the Phillies would lose. I wrote an article for prosportsblogging.com detailing that day.

Once I was able to start focusing again on the things I loved to do, the idea of attending the Phillies Phantasy Camp went off like a light bulb. Why not? I had the time and resources now (I also finally met the age requirement. I would turn 35 during the camp in January 2011… same day as Carlos Ruiz… let’s add in “birthday present to myself” shall we?) I ran the thought by my wife. She didn’t even let me finish my sentence before she gave me a hundred emphatic “yeses”.  Not only would this be a wonderful, exciting, and therapeutic experience for me, but it would be the ultimate tribute to my father: A man, no matter how tired he was after a long day at work, would rush home to have a catch with his son in the backyard before the sun went down and to talk about baseball. A man who used sports as a way to comfort ourselves after my mother passed away when I was 14. A man who made his only child his number one priority.

I called the very next morning. After a 20-minute phone conversation with the enrollment coordinator, I knew I made the right decision.

And I knew I had to document this entire process…

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.