Results tagged ‘ Washington Nationals ’

12/16/10 – “We’d like to introduce…”

At three 0′clock yesterday afternoon, I got very excited. At 3:01, I had the chills. Cliff Lee was back, wearing a Phillies uniform again. This time, for good. At the end, I became a giddy schoolboy. I don’t think I’ve been this excited for an upcoming baseball season… and this is after four straight years of baseball nirvana. Excellence on the diamond has almost become old hat for the Phillies, but with the addition of Lee, this just turns it up to 11.

You could see it everyone’s faces. The moderator, Phillies Public Affairs Director Scott Palmer, stood in front of the podium to introduce Ruben Amaro Jr. and Cliff Lee. Scott has a very distinctive smile, one that all Philadelphians know from his days on Channel 6. I saw that smile firsthand the night of the Phantasy Camp Orientation. It’s a truly genuine smile…. So there he stood, in the corner of the press room… the same room I started my Orientation in… and beamed. He beamed like a little kid on Christmas morning. His joy over the return of Cliff was clearly obvious.

Ruben spoke first and had the exact same smile. This was more than just landing a big free agent. This was bringing pure elation to a loving and devoted fanbase. Amaro has been a Phillie from birth: From his father, a former Phillie, to growing up in the area, to having two tours with the team as a player, to working his way up through the front office to General Manager… today, he was simply a fan.

After the press conference was over and Amaro had handed Cliff his old number 33, MLB Network’s Matt Yallof and Phantasy Camp Legend Mitch Williams (both Comcast Philadelphia alumni) interviewed Lee. Mitch, who makes no bones about the fact he is still a tried and true Phillies fan, also fell under Lee’s spell. As comfortable he was questioning him and being as objective as possible, you could see how excited he was about his return… the whispering, the joking around… A truly special time in the franchise’s history has been taken to a whole new level.

Other than his constant reiterations about how much he wanted to be in Philadelphia and play for this team, the one statement that actually got me to say out loud, by myself, “yes”, came after a question about Lee “leaving money on the table” and not taking the much bigger contracts offered to him by the Yankees and Rangers:

“I guess I did. I mean, I could potentially earn this in a shorter term, so whatever. It’s plenty of money. When you hit a certain point, enough is enough. It’s a matter of where you’re comfortable, where you’re happy, where your family is most comfortable, what team gives you the best chance to win.”

Two hours earlier, about 90 miles south of Citizens Bank Park, Jayson Werth was introduced to the Washington Nationals. If you saw the press conference or have been reading Werth’s comments, you know that the Phillies-Nationals games will be very interesting now.

But my favorite quote of the day from Werth easily had to be this:

“I’ve been to the postseason a lot the past few years, and that’s what it’s all about.”

*thud*

12/5/10 – Jayson Werth

Other than the actual events that occur on the field during the regular season, my favorite time of the sports year is the Major League Baseball off-season. The wild rumors, the complicated trades, the ridiculous contracts…. I LOVE it. Even if it doesn’t involve the Phillies, I thrive on the annual ebb and flow of tidal player movement. However, there is one aspect of these games that usually leave me leaning over the side of the boat. What happened late this afternoon made me want to jump off.

Major League baseball is a game. I also understand that it is a business. There is a LOT of money to be made and no one can be blamed for wanting a big piece of that particular pie. It’s like anything else in life. We consistently work hard year after year for the prospect of getting properly compensated for our job well done. Some of us are lucky enough to be working hard at something we love… something that other people only can dream of. Sometimes that always doesn’t equal to a hefty paycheck at the end of the day.

Sometimes it does… very handsomely.

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I have been playing music for the good part of 20 years. When I was a teenager in my first band, I could not imagine getting paid millions upon millions of dollars just to play drums. Someone was willing to pay someone like me to sit behind my kit and play music all day? An absolute dream. I love playing the drums so much. I have been willing to spend countless hours in dank rehearsal rooms, stuffy recording studios and empty venues for the sheer pleasure of writing and performing music. My compensation? Gas money and a few free beers. Also, and most importantly, the extreme satisfaction of being able to exhibit my craft to others around the world, something lots of people are completely envious of.  I could never put a price on that.

Before I would spend my days imagining opening up for U2 at a sold out Spectrum, my plans were centered around my skills in the outfield and how they would benefit the Phillies. Almost immediately, I realized there wasn’t going to be a snowball’s chance in hell that was going to happen. Still, that didn’t stop me going out on the field, wearing nasty polyester uniforms in stifling heat for teams that lost by a couple touchdowns, shagging fly ball after fly ball, and barely hitting over .200. Why? I adored it. It’s a glorious game that still continues to bring me incredible satisfaction. And like the drums, I could not imagine being so incredible at your craft that someone would be willing to lay out a significant amount of money for your talents.

The minimum salary imposed by the Major League Baseball Player’s Association is $400,000 a year. Four hundred thousand dollars… to play baseball. Four hundred thousand dollars to travel the country and play a child’s game in front of tens of thousands of fans every single night. Where do I sign up? Hell, you could give me minimum wage and I’ll still be first in line to enroll.

In 2010, Phillies rightfielder Jayson Werth earned $7.5 million. In his four years with the club, he earned just over $12 million. In those four years, he also went to the postseason four times, twice to the World Series, and once, able to call himself a World Champion. He was an all-star on and off the field. He was THE rock star of the Phillies. Women loved him and guys wanted to be him. This off-season saw Werth become a free agent, and with his exemplary play, was due to earn a new and healthier contract. A lot of teams were very interested in his services, including the Phillies who wanted him to return. The Phillies were most likely not able to dole out the amount of money some other clubs could, but with the extremely positive state of the Phillies as it currently stands, one would think that any reasonably compensating contract would be completely satisfactory.

But, as any baseball fan knows, this scenario usually does not come out on the right side for a club like the Phillies, no matter who they are. Today was no different.

Today, Werth did not sign with the Red Sox. Not the Yankees. Not the Tigers. Not the Angels. Not even the Phillies. Instead, in a deal that came completely out of leftfield (or rightfield as it may), Werth signed an incredible 7-year, $126 million deal with perennial National League East basement-dwellers, the Washington Nationals. That’s $18 million a year to play for a team that will most likely not be sniffing at postseason play for a good number of years. Yes, they have Ryan Zimmerman. Yes, they have Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper waiting to burst on to the scene (again for Strasburg). But at this point, this team is still trying to build any sort of foundation. There is no logical reason for a player to give up a situation like he had in Philadelphia for the one in D.C.. Sure, we do not know if there were any personal issues that would want to make him leave Philadelphia. We may not know the whole story, but it was no secret that he and his super agent Scott Boras were going for the gold. The Phillies were willing to give it up. As were the Red Sox. The Nationals gave him just a bit more… a few more years and a few more millions.

That’s all that mattered to him.

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As it has been for the last 20 or so years, a large number of people have paid a good sum of money for a single five-day trip to Florida for the rare privilege of getting a very small taste of what it’s like to live the life of a Major Leaguer. Even though there is an exact dollar amount associated with this camp, I know for a fact that my experience will be completely priceless. This is chance for me to live out a dream that I have been having since my childhood… the same dream that players like Werth also had, but now are actually living it out, playing a game and getting to showcase his talents to the delight of millions of fans, all while achieving the ultimate reward in being called the best in baseball.

That’s all that should matter to him.

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.

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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…

3/23/10 – The Call

When I called the Phantasy Camp Headquarters, I got their automated menu system. This was not your run-of-the-mill phone directory prompt. The voice on the other end was “The Voice”. I immediately beamed. I thought to myself, “this is the coolest damn thing I have ever heard in my life”. However, it also saddened me. Harry had passed away that last April before a game against the Nationals in Washington. I had seen the breaking news report on the MLB Network and quickly called my dad. I felt like I was informing him a family member had just passed. He clearly was upset by the news. A voice that was synonymous with generations of Phillies fans was silenced. This was also the voice that first told me about the wonders of this camp. The significance of this did not escape me.

I spoke to a wonderful woman named Joanne LeVeque who was the enrollment coordinator. She was excited at my enthusiasm to want to attend the camp. When I told her I lived in New York City, she immediately asked how I was coping with being surrounded by Yankees and Mets fans. It was a fun conversation and once again, I knew I had made the right decision.

She took all my information and emailed me a couple forms, including the application.  As soon as I started to peruse the application, I immediately became aware what this camp was all about. After asking your name, the second question was, “Nickname you would like to be called at Camp”. This was going to be great.

My nickname? Gary Matthews and I may be duking this out.

Other questions included preferred uniform number and position(s) you would like to play. (Note: the numbers I chose were “31″ for Garry Maddox and “47″ for the year my father was born. I later realized it was also Larry Andersen‘s number, the crowned ring leader of Phantasy Camp. How fitting). Before the legal agreements and final signature, the application had two mini-essay questions. First they asked you to tell them a little about yourself. The second, “Phulfill Your Phantasy: What is your ultimate phantasy for this experience?”. All of a sudden, I got pangs of anxiety. I didn’t want to botch this question up. I felt like Ralphie in “A Christmas Story”, writing his essay to Mrs. Shields justifying his desire for a Red Ryder B.B. Gun. I needed to come up with the best answer I could so they would accept my application. I did NOT want to get a C+ on this one. I pondered what to write in those eight blanks lines. I shook my head to give myself a mental wake-up. I was clearly thinking about this way too much. This was not going to make or break their decision on whether or not they should let me attend. I basically gave them a condensed, eight-line version of the introduction to this diary. That should do it.

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