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2016 Phillies Exit Interview: Andres Blanco

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Andres Blanco brought more than just statistics to the... you know what, you’ve heard enough of this.

MLB: New York Mets at Philadelphia Phillies Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Remember this.

At the time of that bellowing, the Phillies had just finished a 3-1 victory over the Marlins. They were 23-17, 0.5 GB the Nationals, winners of 14 of their last 21, and were exactly where everyone said they wouldn’t be a month and a half prior. Six weeks of better than mediocre baseball had turned people into beaming optimists, and with the promotion of scrappy comeback story Tommy Joseph, the cast of this feel-good Wild Card tale was really coming together.

But this isn’t the exit interview of Joseph, who would hit twenty home runs in a season-long performance that I just can't stop talking about. This is the exit interview of the man shouting his name in celebration of a big win on a night that the Nationals lost to the Mets, gaining the Phillies precious ground in their putrid division. Andres Blanco was more than a versatile cog to come off the bench and bring veteran experience to anywhere in the infield; he was the cheerleader the young squad needed to alleviate awkward silences, brain-melting pressure, or giving into the urge to climb out of a window and flee into the night.*

Things like tying a game against the Nationals by forcing Peter Bourjos to race home and smash his face into the catcher’s helmet really helped Blanco's standing.

Back in March, this narrative was already fermenting. "ANDRES BLANCO PROUD TO LEAD BY EXAMPLE," literally everyone was screaming at each other. At 31 years old, he was clearly channeling the spirit of the mentors he’d had throughout his career, passing on a legacy of leadership and understanding.

"It’s something that didn’t happen to me when I was a rookie," Blanco said.

Oh. Uh.

With a positive attitude swirling in the disgusting Florida air, Blanco recovered from a shoulder injury early in spring training to close out the Grapefruit League with an Astro-shattering grand slam, likely inspiring the young Phillies to make their hot start come April and May.

Following that Bourjos-destroying single that clearly unraveled Jayson Werth’s confidence, and a three-hit day on April 26 also vs. Washington, Blanco hadn’t been put in a consistent enough role to make a huge impact. Still, the narrative was there, and he started May by hitting his only triple of the year. For a guy who seemed like he doubled constantly, he didn’t hit many doubles. But again, that didn't matter. Because of the leadership.**

After Blanco fractured his finger on July 24, the Phillies went a painfully boring 12-14 in August, and their players - who were young and directionless now, remember - could do little more than stand there quietly or repeatedly bonk into each other. Blanco would miss 40 games - August in its entirety - and show up September for the 62-77, fourth place Phillies’ stretch run. They went 5-10 in games in which he appeared through the end of the season. I don’t think we can blame Blanco at that point. The rotation had been bounced off the pavement a few times and the offense had long departed for sunnier shores. It was a pretty cool accomplishment that the Phillies all remembered their hats every day.

Truthfully, it was right around his proclamations of Tommy Joseph as a hero (mid-May) that Blanco himself had reached his season’s peak. He was slashing .310/.396/.548 at the time with 13 hits, seven of them for extra bases, and three walks. From there on out, he was essentially in free fall, barring a few minor surges here and there, and the missed time did not help. He came back in time to fill in for Maikel Franco when he jammed his thumb and ended the season at .253/.316/.405, which is not great for someone who is on the bubble of a rebuilding team.

But is Blanco on the bubble? He is a familiar face to the franchise, an exemplary veteran for the youngsters, a multifaceted infielder, and a clutch hitter when all of his finger bones are intact. He’s the sort of guy who is completely unheralded when a rebuild ends, as when the paperwork and prospects stop flying, he may not even be around. Yet, in its intermediary stages, he is a compound that keeps it together, keeping starters of the future focused when they have to go out and play another dumb game in the stupid heat in front of 14 barely awake people.

Andres Blanco is a good guy to have on your team, even if his numbers are plummeting and the team sucks. Just listen to him preach the lessons of Roberto Clemente to some local school children when the Phillies were at their most unwatchable in late September:

"Do what you love ... Be responsible and work to get better," said Blanco.

"If you don’t get better, you’re going to get worse. Every day, you have to have the energy to get up the next day and move forward," he said. "That’s the way you want to find success."

Indeed.

Children knowing that, should they lack in will power or motivation for a single second, they are in danger of deteriorating out of reach of their dreams, is exactly what this city needs from its youth.

Anyways, if the fates land Blanco on a playoff squad, he will be heralded as he deserves to be, probably get a profile some Sunday on how sharpened his leadership skills are, and when he delivers a game-winning post season hit, he will be forever remembered in the annals of another city's history. It would be so nice if that city were Philadelphia, where he once planted seeds to "adapt or die" in its youth. But it may not be. If it isn't we will only be able to smile and nod at his success elsewhere, knowing that at least one season of his stewardship among the Phillies' future core may have gotten them through the schedule a little easier.

Because he's Andres Blanco. And maybe he's the hero of the game.

*You don't want to be outdoors at night in Philadelphia. That's when the rat kings drift down the sidewalks like tumbleweed. They're not dangerous, they're just often in a hurry and seem quite rude.

**I'm not being sarcastic. Leadership is important. Watch that .gif again. Do you feel nothing? Are you not human?