Last week, with great fanfare, the Philadelphia Phillies announced that the team’s equipment truck had departed for Clearwater, Fla. It should be there and unpacked shortly for pitchers and catchers, who report to Bright House Field this week to begin spring training for the 2013 season.
The truck included the usual stuff baseball players require: cases of bubble gum and sun flower seeds, along with 350 pairs of shorts, 450 pairs of socks, 600 pairs of pants, 600 hats, 200 fleeces, 1,200 bats, 2,000 T-shirts, 2,400 baseballs, 10,000 12 oz. cups and 150 pairs of batting gloves.
It also contained some unusual items. According to the Phillies website, the team also sent south “one wedding dress, four bridesmaids' dresses, one groom's suit, one groomsman's suit...and one cake topper.”
Don’t worry—the Phillie Phanatic is not eloping. His heart remains with the Phillies. The wedding gear belongs to Phillies director of baseball communications Greg Casterioto, who is getting married in Clearwater.
There is one truck that better make good time. A missing bat is one thing. A missing wedding dress is a whole other thing, indeed! Hope for the best. Hope too that the Phillies put a few other unusual items on the truck this year. These include:
1. A Mitt
For the first time in a while, Michael Young, the third baseman that the Phillies acquired from the Texas Rangers in the offseason, is going to need to use one of these things consistently. Young started only 64 games at third base the last two seasons at Texas.
The Phillies need Young to take the field a whole lot more than that. In case the team forgot the lesson it learned in acquiring aging first baseman Jim Thome last year, there is no such thing as a designated hitter in the National League.
It does a body good, right? It certainly does not run the risk of getting one suspended from the game. In the past year, the Phillies have lost two players to suspensions for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Freddy Galvis, the team’s exciting young prospect at second base, received a 50-game suspension last June.
That preceded the punishment meted out to Phillies veteran catcher Carlos Ruiz, a 25-game suspension that begins with Opening Day. Numbers can be replaced. Character cannot.
3. Seat Cushions
The infielders for the Phillies are not getting any younger. Ryan Howard is 33, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins are 34 and the “new kid,” Michael Young, is 36. And oh, by the way, Utley, Howard and Young are all vying to be candidates for comeback player of the year. A career .301 hitter, Young hit only .277 last year for the Rangers while managing to hit eight home runs.
Meanwhile, due to injuries, neither Utley nor Howard played meaningful baseball for the Phillies last year until July. Rollins played all of last summer, but his batting average fell by 13 points in the season’s second half, from .256 to .243.
If the Phillies want to get more “whiz” than “wheeze” from this infield, its members will require regularly scheduled rest.
4. Arm Rests
Same for the pitching staff, particularly the big three. Roy Halladay turns 36 in May while Cliff Lee celebrates his 35th birthday this August. Cole Hamels is only 29, but he constitutes a considerable investment for the franchise as the recipient last July of a contract extension for six years and $144 million.
Manager Charlie Manuel must resist the pressure, especially early in the season, to let his three aces go deep into ballgames in search of wins. The window to win with this set of arms is closing quickly. Manuel must figure out a way to win early and save his aces to play later.
5. Base Hits
These are tough to pack and store for when you need them. Still, for the Phillies to contend once more, the team needs to hit. It really is that simple. In baseball, hits often lead to runs. These enable starting pitchers to exit earlier, aging infielders to rest more regularly and, most importantly, teams to win more consistently.
Last year, the Phillies averaged only 4.22 runs per game, 19th in the majors, with as many losses as wins. In 2008, the Phillies averaged 4.90 runs per game and won the World Series. Maybe baseball is not that simple. But what if it is? Forget the bubble gum. This year, pack some hits.
All statistics in this article are from www.baseball-reference.com.