As the Winter Tour rolls through Philadelphia and heads toward Reading, the Phillies are making themselves visible, and accessible, this offseason.
With football, basketball and hockey in full swing, the Phillies have not faded into the Philadelphia sports landscape. Two Jan. 18 baseball columns from Phil Sheridan and Bill Conlin and two coverage articles of the Winter Tour stop yesterday are a good indication the Philadelphia papers have a surpluss of ink since the Eagles season went in the tank.
Labeled a team that does a poor job connecting with fans, the Phillies find themselves in a comparable situation as the pre-Andy Reid Eagles. Remember when they were a team without identity and direction? Now, a Super Bowl appearance later, even mediocre center Hank Fraley is on soup commercials.
That bubble appears to have burst a little, while the Phillies are only beginning to inflate theirs. Usually a forum to blow hot air, yesterday GM Pat Gillick did something completely different as the Winter Tour stopped at Citizen’s Bank Park. He was honest about his team’s situation and admitted the Phils, in their present state, are not contenders.
The honesty was contagious. Pitcher Ryan Madson was candid about his desire to start, not set-up. Brett Myers concurred, telling Comcast he’d rather see his friend in a starting role. One gets the sense the decision makers – Gillick and manager Charlie Manuel – would rather see it too, but they’re stuck.
If nothing else, it shows why set-up man, like starting pitcher, are the two big question marks this offseason. The difference is, a battle-tested set-up man could have been acquired through free agency. A number one starter, the kind that can stop a losing streak, could not, not even for $55 million, which is what the Blue Jays paid A.J. Burrett, a statistical equal to Vicente Padilla.
The Phillies may not be closer to a championship, but at the very least, they cultivated more captivating, young talent in 2005 to interest fans.
Breakout star and future face of the franchise Chase Utley was a guest on Angelo Cataldi’s show this morning. In fact, nearly all the young, dynamic players you’d want to hear from – Utley, Myers, Ryan Howard and new center fielder Aaron Rowand -- have made themselves available. Tonight, Madson and infielder Abraham Nunez will be guest bartending at McFadden's Restaurant and Saloon.
Meanwhile, the left-coast contingency of Cory Lidle, Randy Wolf and Mike Lieberthal participated in a highly publicized charity poker tournament. As for the suits, Gillick, along with assistant GM Ruben Amaro, Jr., have checked in with WIP to update the hot stove. Manuel made himself available as a guest on Comcast Daily News Live to endure the bullets immediately following the season.
If the problem is a lack of connection, you can’t fault the Phillies for not trying. The stars are aligning the right way, it seems, for the Phillies to make some kind of splash. Eyes have shifted off the Birds and are looking for the next big thing.
In the meantime, it's a good thing the papers have some ink in reserve.