Pitchers and catchers reported to Clearwater, Fl. last Thursday as the Phillies set their sights on their most important season since 1980. Management had loaded this team with the talent that is needed to finally get over a hump that has been haunting them for 11 years.The final pieces are in place and it is now just a matter of getting it done on the field, as the Phillies enter this season with the most talent since their championship run in the early 80s. With the Phillies entering a brand new stadium, Citizens Bank Park, all eyes will be on the boys in red to make it happen this year. Entering the season, the Phillies are the early prediction to win the NL East.
Easier said than done, but for this squad the excitement has been building since the Phillies were knocked out of contention a year ago. The team has been knocking on the door for the past three seasons, but has not been able to make it to the playoffs.
When the team walked into their Florida locker rooms, there was a shirt neatly hanging in every man’s locker that read “Now is the time.” This feeling is dually shared among the players, management and a fan base that has been put through enough heartache to last another twenty years.
Although only pitchers and catchers were to report on Thursday, the team found itself almost fully united when all but Bobby Abreu and Placido Polanco showed up for the first day of workouts. There is a buzz throughout the organization because the players know that this is the year it all needs to come together.
The missing pieces have been added and there are no excuses left for this talented bunch. The Phillies acquired another starting pitcher named Eric Milton from the Twins over the winter. The pickup of this crafty lefthander combined with Millwood, Padilla, Wolf and Myers should create one of the strongest rotations in all of baseball.
After last year’s performance by Jose Mesa, the Phillies quickly bid him farewell at the season’s end. They picked up fire-baller Billy Wagner from the Houston Astros. Wagner is a fun player to watch as one will see that he will continue to mow down his opponents in the final inning of each game with a fastball that consistently breaks 100 mph.
With other additions of Tim Worrell and Roberto Hernandez, the bullpen looks ready to go as well. David Bell is coming off a season-ending injury, and will be a key component to the success or failure of this team. He has been battling back problems for some time, but is said to be ready to go for this season. Another major factor is Pat Burrell who had a horrific season last year, when he flirted with a .200 batting average all season long.
He is said to have worked with Larry Bowa and is looking like his old self again. This is an important time for Bowa as well, because this group will live or die under his command, and many think that if they are not getting it done then it will be over for him in Philly. Bowa, always known as a fiery fierce competitor, is in a new boat this year because he is with more veterans than ever before.
Bowa has been known to blow up at his players in the locker room from time to time, but this group won?t need that extra kick because they all have the same goal going into this season. So for Bowa, it’s just a matter of how well he handles all the skill around him.
The beloved Philadelphia legend Tug McGraw passed away this off-season, and will be remembered with a special patch to be worn on the players? uniforms to honor his memory. His jersey will also be hanging in the clubhouse. It should be an interesting season for the Phillies, but being Philadelphia sports fans we just need to remember Tug?s old saying “You gotta believe,” because that’s all the we have for now.