South South Philly

The third day of my spiritual rehab took me to Clearwater, spring home of the Phightin’ Phillies since 1948.  Florida’s signature sunshine poured abundantly over the Carpenter Complex, but the temperature hovered around 50 and the gusty winds made it feel closer to 40.  However, quite a few families were here on vacation from the Delaware Valley, and they refused to be deterred by such relatively balmy weather as another blizzard pounded their homes.  Consequently the Phillies drew by far the biggest crowd I saw on my three-day tour of MLB training camps.  Clearwater has become an unofficial sister city to Philadelphia.  Thousands of tri-state-area retirees have brought a burst of Brotherly Love to this once-sleepy Tampa suburb.  Clearwater is the only town within a thousand miles where you can find scrapple or a “hoagie” or a Tastykake.  Photos of Mike Schmidt, the Broad Street Bullies, Billy Penn, the Italian Market, and the Italian Stallion adorn the walls of many local watering holes.  It’s a way for expats like me to feel at home again. 

At the heart of this wonderful transplant community is baseball.  The Phillies emerged from the tunnels of BrightHouse Field to loud applause, and these fans had no trouble recognizing the players even though they all wore jackets over their jerseys.  As they split into groups to stretch and throw, they seemed to me more focused and business-oriented than the Blue Jays had been for their workout, but also looser and more confident than the Pirates. 

The pitchers joked and bonded with one another while executing fielding drills for almost every conceivable situation.  They threw pickoffs to every base, turned the 3-6-1 double play, covered the plate on a passed ball… they even practiced vacating the mound when an infielder called for a popup. 

Then they took turns throwing from the mound, beginning with Roy Halladay, as the hitters took turns at the plate.  I was beginning to think they were not supposed to swing, until Domonic Brown finally dared to challenge Halladay and managed a few soft grounders.  Chase Utley and Raul Ibanez decided to save face, as both just stood there window-shopping.  Halladay threw speeding darts with movement.  He appeared to be in mid-season form in February which, given the growing legend of his work ethic, is not surprising.  Danny Baez looked wild; I’m still not sure why they signed him.  Then I wandered over to the backfields where Michael Zagurski and Scott Mathieson weren’t exactly looking like Cy Young either.  It’s still early. 

I settled down at the least windy field for batting practice, where I marveled at Shane Victorino.  I always thought that switch-hitters had slightly different bats for each side (like Chipper Jones, who uses different colors to distinguish them).  But the Flyin’ Hawai’ian hopped back and forth every couple pitches and continually rapped out hits from both sides.  The players in the group who were not hitting ran the bases, one at a time, reacting to the ball off the bat the way they would in a game situation.  I’ve never seen any other team do this, but it’s gotta be more productive than just standing around the cage.  Victorino took it seriously, sprinting from first to third on a grounder to right and then later dancing off first so provocatively that Milt Thompson laughingly called a balk on Rich Dubee.  Andy Tracy was the only one I saw who was able to muscle a homer out against the wind. 

Finally the workout concluded shortly after noon, and the Phils all jogged back in toward the warmth of their clubhouse.  I must report, as objectively as possible, that they are clearly the team to beat in the National League. 

more pics – click to enlarge 

Alright men, let's go win a pennant!

J.A. Happ squares up for a comebacker.

Come on, Cole, keep poundin' the corner

Kutztown alum Ryan Vogelsong's problem has been homers, not bunts.

The Doc is in.

Straight outta Cooperstown: Utley vs. Halladay

There's that sweet quick swing!

Chase and Cholly

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One Response to “South South Philly”

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