"Don't forget," a Phillies representative says into a city-wide loudspeaker every morning as we all shuffle mindlessly onto the transports that take us to the cheese steak pits, "the Phillies will not be fulfilling any fantasies you may have regarding quality baseball. Please seek gratification and summer fun elsewhere."
And nobody's really listening, since it takes the utmost concentration to not slip and fall into the bubbling grease vats of the steak pits, an accident that ends with the mayor taking a folded-up city flag to your next of kin along with a lifetime of all-purpose meat, sliced or chopped to their preference.
But baseball is "officially back," now, according to baseball, though even the fake games don't start for weeks. The Phillies are still required to have games, and Citizens Bank Park will be open for them. After three straight years of baseball nobody wanted to watch, they now enter spring training with an arsenal of PR techniques designed to keep people interested, starting at the preseason press conferences.
"I think we have a much better team than people think." --Chase Utley
"You can't count us out." --Cole Hamels
"I still think we can compete. Is that crazy for me to think that? You tell me." --Jonathan Papelbon
This is a bit of an overshoot. Maybe the Phillies will be better than people think, but people think they will be pretty bad. And two of these three players quoted above are likely not with the team come season's end. This sounds more like the players are trying to be at 11 on a public relations scale of 1-10, so that they can get everyone else up to maybe 3.
"What do you expect, for them to come out and say the team is going to be bad?" I mean. Sort of, yeah.
No, obviously they wouldn't do that, but let's look across the way at the Sixers, who managed to address that they were reconstructing everything while still attempting to get people out to the games with the "Together We Build" thing.
At this point, there is little reason to even get quotes from the players, because they are either being asked to say something like this, or to confirm that they are healthy, or to mention that they're sitting on a secret ankle sprain (Chase, you've got to take care of yourself), or to respond to unanswerable questions on their future with the team by smiling, snickering, shrugging, or consulting a child's toy.
Then, there is the manager:
"We have a chance to surprise some people... We can be a surprise type of a team. The other thing we can do is try to improve every day with our players and develop some younger players. You never know in baseball. You get the right guys together on the same page, you just never know."
The part of Sandberg's plan, the part where the Phillies convince everyone that they are not a threat, has gone off without a hitch.
Though that quote comes from an article on the Phillies' official site with the headline, "Sandberg eyes '15 as transition year for the Phillies." Sandberg is stressing that the term "rebuild" not be used, preferring "transition," which is a statement he made at a press conference in which he seemed to be more honestly talking about the season without any PR reps waving frantically or coaching him to use specific terms.
Perhaps this is the concept from which further team messages will branch; it's not a project, it's a setback. #TogetherWeTransition
Cliff didn't need a magic 8 ball to answer this question: pic.twitter.com/QAkfeXe59b— Phillies (@Phillies) February 19, 2015
So let's turn away from the players and toward the team, to see how it filters what the players are saying.
This seems as though somebody saw "World Series" in the quote and tried to mold it into an inspirational poster, when in actuality it is very sad: "Until we get out on that field, I can convince myself of any fantasy I want."
Wow, the Phillies are really taking this pace of play stuff seriously. Having shifted their workouts to focus solely on moving the game along, Phillies losses will go by at a far quicker pace than in recent years.
Also, Kyle Kendrick is not on the team and Jason Giambi has retired, so we will not have to wait as an opposing batter goes for the single game home run record.
If a meteor hits the bullpen, the Phillies' future will be a smoldering heap, possibly rich with alien bacteria. How is this team planning for meteors? Why is no one asking this question? Why doesn't this scenario fall under the umbrella of "anything can happen?"
Looks like somebody attended that "Making Emojis Work for You" seminar at the Winter Meetings!
At this point, it seems a good guess what the Phillies are going to be this year, and no one, from the fans to the front office, seems to be second guessing that. So there is humor in the routine press conference fodder that the players give out this time of year, and no one is doubting that they'll go out there and give their darndest.
The point is, right now, I'm so desperate for baseball I've been binge-watching Youtube clips while the voicemails from loved ones pile up, so if they put a team of deformed creatures infected with meteor viruses out on that field, I'd pay for a ticket.