Appreciating the Philadelphia Phillies' Recent Victorious Run

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Appreciating the Philadelphia Phillies' Recent Victorious Run
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In a way, it was like getting a call from an old friend you hadn't seen in a few years.

You don't really know what to make of it, and it may be a little awkward at first, or maybe even a little surprising.

Then, you settle in and reminisce about old times, good and bad.

Back in the early part of this recent decade gone past, the Philadelphia Phillies struggled to establish themselves as anything other than fodder, the butt end of jokes in and outside of the city.

They were best known for having a roster filled with mediocre talent that was just good enough to win maybe 75 or 80 games. Oh, how far we've come.

Yet, we got a bit of a reminder this week just how far the Phillies have come. Should you have been scouring the MLB transaction wire in the last couple of days, you may have seen the signing of closer Jose Valverde by Detroit or the signing of first baseman Adam LaRoche by Arizona.

Buried in there somewhere is a little note that, if nothing else, brings back a whole lot of memories: "Phillies signed RHP Brandon Duckworth to minor league contract." 

Heck, on some websites, it wasn't important enough to make the transaction wire.

Here in Philadelphia, however, it was a blast to the past for those who have been with this team through thick and thin, who remember just how bad things were about nine years ago.

The year was 2001, and the Phillies had a real shot at the playoffs for the first time in a long time.

Throughout the year, fans heard plenty about a then-25-year-old Duckworth, who was tearing up Triple-A to the tune of a 13-2 record.

In August, Duckworth was called up to the Majors, and performed well.

He started 11 games, went 3-2 with a 3.53 ERA, and cemented himself a spot in the rotation for 2002. Not bad for a guy who signed with the Phillies as an amateur free agent after twice being drafted and not signing.

To make a long story short, the Phillies failed to make the playoffs in 2001, just like they had failed every year since that magical 1993 season in which they made it all the way to the World Series. 

Unfortunately, just like many highly touted Phillies prospects, mostly pitchers, that had come through the system in that time period, Duckworth was a whole lot of hype and a whole lot of disappointment.

I'm talking to you, Garrett Stephenson, Carlton Loewer, and Bud Smith.

The bottom line is, we probably should not have expected much out of Duckworth.

However, our front office personnel failed us, the fans, for years. They were the ones who put so much stake in guys like Duckworth, Loewer, Stephenson, and Smith, and told us they were part of the Phillies' future.

They weren't. They were never sure things, and prospects never are. 

Things have changed.

Maybe it was the signing of free agent Jim Thome which restored pride to the organization, even if that didn't lead to the slugging first baseman bringing Philadelphia a championship. 

The general manager changed, from Ed Wade, to Pat Gillick. Gillick brought the city a winner in 2008. Ruben Amaro Jr. is off to a fast and furious start in his tenure as GM.

The managers changed, from Larry Bowa to Charlie Manuel; from fiery and fervent to relaxed and approachable.

Most importantly, the decision-making changed.

We no longer, at least for the time being, must be subjected to the likes of players such as Duckworth.

Instead, Cole Hamels, Carlos Ruiz, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard have all recently come through the Phillies' system.

The scouting has gotten better, the managing has gotten better, and the players have gotten better here in this fine city of Philadelphia.

There has been a remarkable transformation process over the past few years, and as fans, it's sometimes hard to grasp how that not-so-lovable bunch of losers has turned into a lovable bunch of winners.

Yesterday, the Phillies signed pitcher Joe Blanton to a three-year deal, avoiding arbitration with the right-hander.

They also gave a similar deal to center fielder Shane Victorino.

Pardon me for a moment, but it's refreshing to hear players talk about how much they enjoy playing for the Phillies.

Blanton could have tested the free-agent market next offseason, but stressed how important it was that he wanted to play for a winner.

Sometimes it's troubling to watch organizations like the Royals and Pirates and wonder what their exact plans are.

The Phillies' plans have changed over the years, for the better.

Hey, Mr. Duckworth, welcome back. Welcome back to a winner.

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