March 2007

A ballplayer's life

You wake up on a sunny Monday morning in Clearwater and when the 1:05 afternoon game starts, you learn you are no longer a Phillie.

Such is the life of a ballplayer, in this case, 25-year-old right-handed pitcher Justin Germano.  Assistant General Manager Ruben Amaro visited Germano in the clubhouse as the game got underway to inform him he was claimed on waivers.  “Ruben told me I was going back to my old club,” said Germano.

Justin, who came to the Phillies last July from Cincinnati in exchange for Rheal Cormier, thought Ruben meant the Reds.  He then learned it was San Diego, the club that originally drafted him in the summer of 2000.

Germano was out of waivers, meaning the Phillies had to ask waivers on him before they could assign him to their minor league camp.  San Diego put in a claim.  So, instead of potentially landing on the Phillies’ AAA roster at Ottawa, Germano will be flying to Arizona tomorrow trying to land a spot on the Padres roster.

Earlier in the morning, the Phillies cut five other players, all going to the minor league camp next door.  Ken Mandel has the details on this website.

Those five will still sleep and wake up in Clearwater.  Germano will sleep in Clearwater one more night and then head for Arizona. 

Stay tuned

Two weeks from tomorrow, the Phillies open the season.  Who will be on the field that day?  A lot of those answers will be made between now and then.

Oh, don’t panic, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Brett Myers, and many other, will be there on April 2.

Bench positions and bullpen depth are the areas that will require decision-making. 

Pat Gillick would like to add some depth to the back end of the bullpen.  That commodity is rare.  There was an article in the St. Petersburg Times this morning stating the Devil Rays are looking for bullpen help and the market is scarce.

Gillick has a battery of scouts spread throughout spring training.  Some are on the east coast of Florida, others are on the west coast and yet another batch is in Arizona.

He’ll be holding numerous conference calls with the scouts over the next couple of weeks to receive updates on who might be available.  It won’t be easy but Pat’s willing to pull the trigger and gamble when the right occasion arises.

Stay tuned.

Mr. Carrasco?

Phillies today continued a tradition that was started by Tug McGraw some 30 years ago….wearing of green uniform jerseys and green hats for St. Patrick’s Day.

A full house turned out on a sunny but breezy day for the Yankees.

Entertaining the fans was Mr. Carrasco, the official mascot of the Rakuten Eagles of the Japanese Pacific League.   The Eagles were an expansion team in 2005. 

According to the press information, “Mr. Carrasco is really a crow, but personally believes that he is an eagle, and first put on a mask when he saw that he did not look anything similar to other eagles.”  I would tend to agree that he doesn’t look like an eagle. 

It is the first USA appearance for Mr. Carrasco.  He’ll be back again tomorrow.  If only Phillie Phanatic were here to defend his territory.

Former Phillies right-hander Larry Christenson threw out the ceremonial first ball.    Jamie Moyer, today’s starting pitcher, stood off to the mound and told LC, “You were one of my heroes when I was growing up.  You and Lefty (Steve Carlton).”

Darren Daulton and three of his children were also in attendance.  On Thursday night, 80-year-old RHP Bob Miller, one of five living members of the 1950 National League champion Phillies, was at the game.

Tomorrow, the Phillies have split their camp roster because of two games, one in Ft. Myers against the Twins and one for a game at Bright House Networks Field against the Devil Rays.

A dozen Phillies minor league players will be added to the roster for the trip to Ft. Myers.  They won’t mind the 7:45 a.m. bus departure and the two hour, 40-minute trip.

Spring cleaning

While Charlie Manuel’s team is in Clearwater getting ready for the 2007 season, there’s another team busy at work back in Philly at Citizens Bank Park.

The gates will open on Friday, March 30, for the first of a two-game, weekend On-Deck Series set against the Boston Red Sox, 7:05 that night and 1:05 the next afternoon.  It all starts for real at 1:05 on Monday afternoon, against the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park.

Before the gates open two weeks from today, there is plenty to be done waking the park from a long winter’s nap.

Every sprinkler system in the park will be cleaned, bird netting will be installed in a couple more areas, carpenters will be checking the ceilings, flooring and wainscoting in the various Suites, electricians will be working on neon ad signs, plumbers are well into de-winterization, gas and electric is being turned on in the concessions stands and Frank the Painter will be working on paint projects in several areas. 

Eventually, the cleaning team will take over with high-power pressure washing and window washing. 

For some reason, this brings on goosebumps.  Can’t say the same feelings apply to spring cleaning my house.  What’s the opposite of goosebumps? Goosedumps?

Shedding tears

Yesterday’s day off was welcome following a long, emotional day on Tuesday. 

Three buses left Bright House Networks Field at 5:30 a.m. for a trip north to attend the memorial mass and reception for the late John Vukovich, one of the most respecting persons ever to wear a big league uniform. 

A video clip of Vuk’s career that was aired on Comcast SportsNet was shown to the 96 people on the Delta charter.  The breakfast entrees included a chocolate donut, Vuk’s favorite.  If Frank Coppenbarger didn’t have chocolate donuts in the clubhouse every day during spring training, he would get lectured (chewed out is a better description) by Vuk.

Logistically, everything went smoothly, including a police escort from the Philadelphia airport.  One New Jersey state trooper had a red Phillies cap in his rear window as a testimony to Vuk, who lived in that state.  We were back on Clearwater soil by 6 p.m., a bit drained but so appreciative that we could pay our respects to a man loved by so many.

Bonnie Vukovich, son Vince, daughter Nikki and son-in-law Brian Stolarik began greeting friends, neighbors, members of the Phillies organization, the three buses from Florida and numerous other Phillies Alumni at 9:30 a.m.  The parade of people, many with tears in their eyes, ended nearly two hours later.  Over 700 people were there.

It was the largest array of Phillies Alumni in one place since the closing ceremonies of Veterans Stadium. 

In addition to the Florida contingent, Alumni came from all over the country, **** Ruthven (Atlanta), Warren Brusstar (Napa Valley, CA), Doug Glanville (Chicago), Mike Ryan (New Hampshire), Mitch Williams (New Jersey), Ricky Bottalico (Connecticut), Ruben Amaro Sr. (Phoenix), Lenny Dykstra (Los Angeles) and Del Unser (Scottsdale, AZ).

Alumni who flew on private planes included Bobby Abreu, Scott Rolen, Mike Schmidt, Curt Schilling, Terry Francona, Brad Mills, Mike Lieberthal and Randy Wolf.

The memorial mass was beautiful.  Faith reflections were given by Jim Fregosi and David Montgomery.  Each was outstanding in capturing Vuk. They were followed by an extremely touching tribute by Nikki, who held her emotions in check fairly well considering the circumstances.

During her comments, one noticed tears galore throughout the congregation.  Dad was looking down from above. He, too, was shedding tears.

Camp number reduced

Players were beginning to file in the clubhouse as early as 7:30 a.m. today.  For some, it wasn’t going to be a good day.

Pitching coach Rich Dubee (pitchers) and bench coach Jimy Williams (position players) sought out 13 players individually.  “Charlie (Manuel) wants to see you” was the message. 

As each walked into the manager’s office, Pat Gillick, Ruben Amaro and Mike Arbuckle were also there.  The message: you were being sent to the minor league complex next door at Carpenter Field.  For a list of the names, read Ken Mandel’s story on this site.

After the game, RHP Yoel Hernandez received the same message, reducing the number of players in camp to 46.

Tomorrow, many of the key players and a lot of staff will be in Philly for the memorial mass for John Vukovich.  There’s no crying in baseball, except tomorrow.

Five zeroes

It doesn’t get much better than this for a spring training game in Clearwater.  Bright sunshine, blue skies, 79 degrees at game time and a packed house for the Tigers.

When the attendance of 9,380 was announced in the seventh inning, it represented the second-largest at Bright House Networks Field.  People were everywhere, especially the grass berm in the outfield where treated to a double-header–a baseball game and sun-bathing.

Jamie Moyer put on a clinic, pitching five shutout innings.  As he left the dugout to walk to the clubhouse in the left field corner, fans stood and cheered. 

During spring games, the media is permitted in the clubhouse once the starting pitcher has left the game.  Greg Casterioto and his media relations assistant, Kevin Gregg, team up on the process.  One will head for the clubhouse to check with the starter on when he is ready for the media.  Some pitchers need to ice their shoulders or elbow, others want to lift weights, do some running or even more throwing.  Some prefer to get the interview out of the way and then continue their routine.  Moyer asked for 30 minutes while he iced and showered.

At the other end of the clubhouse, a half-dozen players who left the game were glued to the ACC basketball game on the tube. 

Soon, the 60-player camp will be reduced.  Eventually, the Phillies will need to get to the 25-man player limit for opening day, which is three weeks from tomorrow.

Paying their respects

John Vukovich, who left us last Thursday, had an enormous impact on so many people, not just in the Phillies family, but in baseball.

A memorial mass is scheduled for Tuesday.  The Phillies have chartered an airplane for a trip north that day to pay tribute to a man so loved by so many. 

It starts at the top with President David Montgomery, chairman Bill Giles, GM Pat Gillick and the vice presidents. The group also includes Harry Kalas and Chris Wheeler and numerous personnel from the team’s major and minor league staffs.  The rest of the entourage of more than 100 persons reads like a Who’s Who in baseball:

2007 Phillies: Mick Billmeyer, Eude Brito, Pat Burrell, Geoff Geary, Cole Hamels, Ramon Henderson, Ryan Howard, Davey Lopes, Ryan Madson, Charlie Manuel, Jamie Moyer, Brett Myers, Milt Thompson, Chase Utley.

Alumni: Ruben Amaro Jr., Larry Andersen, Bob Boone, Larry Bowa, Mike Compton, Darren Daulton, Lee Elia, Jim Fregosi, Dallas Green, Greg Gross, Von Hayes, Dave Hollins, Tommy Hutton, Kevin Jordan, Joe Kerrigan, Darold Knowles, John Kruk, Greg Luzinski, Jerry Martin, Gary Matthews, Dickie Noles, Gary Varsho.

Umpires: Jerry Crawford, Bruce Freomming.

Other clubs: Ned Colletti, Billy Connors, Gene Michael, Stump Merrill, Don Zimmer.

There are others who are making the journey on their own: Jimmy Rollins, Mike Schmidt, Terry Francona, Bobby Abreu, Curt Schilling, Scott Rolen, Tim McCarver, Ruben Amaro Sr., Lenny Dykstra, Pete Incaviglia, Mike Lieberthal, Randy Wolf.

Remembering Vuk

VukWe held a moment of silence before today’s game in memory of John Vukovich, a dear friend to so many. The Red Sox lined up on the first base foul line, the Phillies on the third base line.

Phillies executives and staff, announcers and Phillies Alumni such as John Kruk, Jim Fregosi, Greg Gross, Jerry Martin and Lee Elia were on the field, lining up along the left field foul line.

Opie Cheek, the Bright House Networks Field supervisor, painted a white “Vuk” in the third base coaches box. Jimmy Rollins and Pat Burrell carried a John Vukovich # 18 jersey with a black arm band.

Hall of Fame announcer Harry Kalas handled the field microphone:

“The Phillies family, along with all the fans and the entire world of baseball, lost a dear friend with the passing of John Vukovich.

“’Vuk’ began his professional career 41 years ago in spring training right here in Clearwater. During his playing career he was a member of two World Championship clubs, the 1975 Reds and 1980 Phillies. His coaching tenure with the Phillies from 1988 through 2004 stands as the longest in team history.

“Please pause for a moment of silence for one of the most respected persons ever to wear a big league uniform.”

Throughout the day, former teammates called, Doug Glanville, Bob Uecker, Barry Lersch, Ron Reed and Von Hayes, all offering their condolences. Terry Francona sought out numerous Phillies persons to offer his thoughts. He and Curt Schilling are going to be at the memorial mass for Vuk next week. More about that another day.

We’ve received numerous e-mails from fans with the same sentiment. Thank all of you who took the time to express yourselves.

Eddie Bochman, the scout who signed John Vukovich 41 years ago, also called today. I asked the 86-year-old Bockman about Vuk.

“I first saw him at American River Junior College. He was a great kid from a great family.”

What about his tools? “Well, he could play the game and knew how to play the game. He was a great defensive third baseman. His bat was kind of soft at times but he could hit one out of the park.

“His timing with the Phillies wasn’t the best because we signed a guy named Mike Schmidt. You ever heard of him?”

Missing a dear friend

We knew it was a matter of time for our dear friend John Vukovich but when we received the news this morning, it flattened all of us.  Tears and hugs took over.

He and Tug McGraw succumbed to the same illness, brain tumors, and they were both 59 years of age.  That’s scary.

The response from the baseball world—current players, former players, coaches, managers, umpires, writers, broadcasters—has been overwhelming.  Phillies Alumni have been calling and e-mailing ever since the news broke this a.m.

When the 2006 season ended, he looked as he always did.  Six months later, he’s joined Tug, Johnny Callison, Richie Ashburn, Gene Mauch and Eric Gregg in baseball heaven.  “Vuk” loved to argue.  Heaven just got a little noisier.

Vuk was old school, hard-nosed.  He believed in working hard as a player.  As a coach, he could be as tough as a Marine drill sergeant.  His knowledge of how to play the game qualified him as having a master’s degree in baseball.

He could have a bark as scary as an angry German shepherd.  Yet, under that hard shell there was an enormous heart.  His smile would light up a room.  He was an unbelievable story-teller who would often have his audience in stitches. There were times he himself would laugh so hard, he couldn’t get the punch line out for the rest of us.

As a player, he was a student of the game.  He knew he didn’t have the greatest skills but he worked and worked and worked.  He learned to play the game the right way and preached that the rest of his career. Defensively, there were few better at third base. 

He recognized his offense – or lack thereof – with a sense of humor.  The combination to his suitcase was 161.  “My batting average.  Can’t forget that,” he would laugh.

He once joked, “My second career (coaching) was much better than the first (player).”

To me, he was like a brother.  I don’t have one but he filled those shoes.  He could tell when I was down and when I was up.  He’s stop by the office often during the season and call when the team was on the road and in the off-season.  He expected you to call him, too.  If you didn’t, he’d call and let you know.  He did that to me shortly before last Christmas when he was having difficultly speaking and remembering things.   Under his condition, I was pleased that he chewed me out because he sounded like the “old Vuk”.

He’d get on me about walking every day.  There were many times he’d stick his head in my office door: “Walk!”

So many of us were truly blessed to have been touched by this man.  His time with us was just too short.