Welcome to The Homestretch, that fun two week period when we know the players are down there in Florida, but we can't really see them yet. We'll do our best to keep you going with a series of posts as we all sprint that last 90 feet to baseball season.
Matt Klentak. Andy MacPhail. Peter Bourjos. David Lough, Bobby LaFromboise, Taylor Featherston. Red uniforms. PHIL the supercomputer. Who/what the hell are these people/things?
In times of intense change, many would tell you that clinging to the past as a means of feeling safe is deeply flawed. But it's those people who are deeply flawed! Change is terrifying! Quickly, everyone; let's huddle together in this and tell tales of those familiar faces and things that have survived the onslaught of progress!
We all knew this was coming. For years, it's been understood that Ryan wasn't going anywhere, and here he is. Philadelphia was throwing tantrums about him for years, first harping on the shortcomings of his game but joining in the cheers when he'd hit a home run; then having full-on meltdowns when his power went down and he became a far less valuable asset. Now, like when a terrible child falls asleep on the car ride home after throwing a fit in the junk food aisle, people are just exhausted and resigned to the fact that until some AL team gets desperate enough, Howard will be here one more year.
There are worse players/people to be stuck with. Howard has been through a lot by now off the field and still manages to be pleasant. Jonathan Papelbon spent less than four years in Philadelphia and he seemed to have multiple outbursts every year. Howard has been scrutinized daily by the cretins of this disgusting city and has yet to rip anyone's head off. In fact, he channeled his energy into a children's book series. That's got to be considered a little better than grabbing his crotch?
The Phillies have hinted at Maikel Franco becoming a first baseman, as the freshly stocked farm system does not have a definitive replacement among its upcoming generation. Nobody wanted to be blocked by Howard until a way was discovered to conclude his eternal tenure, and now there's just sort of a Howard/Darin Ruf mess over there. Maybe Andrew Knapp could get pushed out there if he maintains his 2015 breakout numbers? He could still wear his catchers gear if that makes him more comfortable.
I don't know how many catchers have a Cy Young Award, but Chooch is one of them. But sharing in Roy Halladay's 2010 season of horrifying dominance is only one of the many accolades in Ruiz's long career. Chooch lost his starting job to Cameron Rupp last season, but still forced his way into the bullpen to catch sessions with pitchers with whom he felt like he needed to develop a better understanding. That's a lot to ask of a pair of 37-year-old knees, and that's why the Phillies didn't - they wanted the exact opposite to happen, actually, so that Ruiz could theoretically survive the season.
He burst in there anyway, in classic "Chooch" form. The guy is starting to look pretty cooked at this point, making it into only 86 games last year; the fewest of his career and one of only two times he didn't break the 100-game barrier. You can probably let go of any high expectations born from that incredible hitting display he put on as a bonus from 2010-12 and just hope the number of mental errors e saw last season doesn't balloon when he does see playing time.
Chooch will never have an enemy in Philadelphia, though - unlike that Ryan Howard, who is bad on purpose all the time - partially due to his prolific services as a backstop since 2006, and because his nickname is perfect for fans, in that it does not sound not too different from booing, making the transition from booing everything to cheering for the catcher quite simple. This is a tough group to keep focused. Chooch helps.
Citizens Bank Park
Not much is left from the days when the Phillies employed Todd Pratt, but The Bank still punches through the city skyline. Not the main part of the skyline, but you know what I mean. The Sports Complex skyline; the southern tip of the city to which the sports have been contained, like a virus.
The Phillies' 12th season at CBP may not be particularly fun at certain points, but it will presumably be more fun than the past few seasons. What the venue makes more special is the fact that as the development of new stars and 37-year-old backup catchers continues, it will do so in the same building that housed Utley's deke, Jimmy's franchise-leading hit, Howard's homers, and whatever crusted fragments of Aaron Rowand's face are still fused to the outfield wall.
Plus, MLB really, really wants you to know that Billy Joel is performing at CBP on July 9! Isn't that exciting?! You might say the Phillies will be Movin' Out that night to make room for a concert! They haven't done that for The Longest Time! If you think Joel is a Big Shot then You May Be Right! Afterward, we can grab dinner and see some Scenes From An Italian Resta[THIS SEGMENT HAS BEEN ABORTED].
The broadcast team
It's not that Tom McCarthy is a bad person, or even a bad announcer. He's just not a Phillies announcer, he's a professional doing his job, which just happens to be here.
We're a spoiled bunch in this regard, coming from decades of Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn and currently enjoying the unprecedented work of Scott Franzke and Larry Andersen on the radio feed (How sick of that comparison must McCarthy be by now). But McCarthy has the capacity to stumble through a big moment, and it is very clear when he is just covering silence rather than actually saying something. He seems to sound more at home when giving a corporate advertising spiel than when narrating the action of a ball game.
Then, there are other times:
He caught a Freddie Freeman home run while broadcasting from the center field stands and the combination of Jamie Moyer's prolonged, wordless moan and McCarthy's lack of enthusiasm for throwing the ball back on the field (His hesitation reeks of "What if we get in trouble??") made for a real banner moment in broadcasting history.
People forgive everything when a team is winning, and McCarthy took over as the Phillies were already great, and had to inherit the very cool job of narrating their downfall. I don't know what he could sound like to not infuriate or annoy people following an infuriating, annoying loss, but he has not sounded like it yet.
We still get Mike Schmidt for Sunday home games, which is a surprisingly polarizing notion among Phillies fans, and Matt Stairs provides color commentary. Stairs is able to provide some in-depth factors when it comes to hitting,a and while he lacks a certain smoothness, (Go ahead and try to escape receiving complaints when doing anything of merit around here, I dare you) he does provide real insight on hitting while sitting on top of a heap of good will that McCarthy just doesn't have. And Gregg Murphy will be haunting the seats, wanting to sit in McCarthy's chair, so, so badly.
How unsurprised would you be to be leafing through an illustrated history of Philadelphia, only to come upon an image of Larry Bowa in 1776, screaming about somebody cutting in front of him in line to sign the Declaration of Independence? He has simply been alive - and yelling somewhere in Philadelphia - forever.
Bowa is 70 years old now, and he's still hanging around, having served as the Phillies' starting shortstop, third base coach, manager, post game analyst, and bench coach. And despite his longevity and versatility, he never seems to be shifting too much personality wise, barking at rookies and veterans and opposing players and umpires alike.
Despite the futuristic new concepts being introduced into the Phillies' repertoire, Bowa remains, an ambassador for the way things used to be. He doesn't come out and say a whole lot, but writers tend to know who to go to in the clubhouse if they want the crotchetiest take. I don't know how amicable Bowa is behind the scenes, but I picture him folding his arms and staring through a window at PHIL the supercomputer's rows of blinking consoles, wondering just where in the hot blazing hell baseball went so, so wrong.
An affiliation with Match.com
Plastered all over any MLB team site on a given day are ads for a variety of eye-rolling sponsors, but no plastering is more jarring than that of Match.com. They're back for another season of claiming the sexiest place for a first date is Citizens Bank Park, where you can lustfully explain the Phillies' rebuilding plan to someone who for some reason wants to listen to you.
There is an advertising person who was tasked with heading this merger between baseball and dating, and I want to meet that person. I just want to hear about the plan, and which parts of which thing they plan to connect to really drive their point home. With the push toward turning baseball into a dating scene and prominently advertising for a series of Billy Joel concerts, baseball itself is really trying to accomplish what the rest of us have been attempting to do in our personal lives for years: to expand beyond baseball.
Maybe it will go better for them.
Playing a college team to start the preseason
The Phillies were playing the Florida State Seminoles for a while, starting in 2007. In 2008, the game was canceled due to weather, and they didn't play each other again until 2010. Back then, it was a fun treat for college players, and a novel way for the Phillies to start their annual campaign of dominance.
"Ha ha," we'd say, "look at those college kids, trying their hardest. These are the best days of their lives."
Now, the outcome is far more of a toss-up than it was ever supposed to be. Last year, when the Phillies definitely lost to the University of Tampa - something that was fun for everyone to say, but they also didn't really use any veteran players, and the Spartans were in the middle of their Division II season and had an 11-1 record, and oh my god I am actually making excuses for the Phillies losing to a college team.
But, following the loss, Ryne Sandberg was able to adequately explain to the press in so many words what the issue was: "we suck."
"Well, you know, it kind of shows where we're at as far as seeing players and workouts and seeing the work that needs to be done. I think it just emphasizes that."
It certainly did, Ryne! Let's hope Pete Mackanin's Phillies have a little better luck against the Spartans.
"Ha ha," we'll say. "Let's still not watch, though."
We can look forward to the Phanatic gunning down pigs, using chunks of their of their own friends and relatives as ammunition, for years to come!