April 10, 2005

Notes from media day

Jim Deschanie fields questions from Pat Principe of WGAL-8 TV during Reading Phillies media day Wednesday. The Berks Phillies Fan was there.

Second baseman Brian Hitchcox sat in full uniform on a bucket of balls, sipping coffee from a styrofoam cup, watching some of his teammates give interviews with local reporters.

"I'm running on my own clock right now," Hitchcox said, after asking how he could possibly sip hot coffee on the warmest day of the year. "We've been going non-stop. Guys are still trying to figure out where they're going to live, and how to get their cars up here."

Three games into 2005 and the Reading Phillies are still trying to settle into a comfortable routine after spring training. Their flight from Florida departed at 4 a.m. Monday, and the players had only a few hours to doll themselves up for their first official undertaking of the season: the King of Baseballtown banquet on Monday night at the Sheraton Hotel, where they sign autographs and meet town dignitaries under the warp of jet lag.

The team was back on parade Wednesday afternoon for media day at First Energy Stadium, and for the second year in a row, I got to go.

As before, I was there to collect promotional poster information for the Reading Eagle newspaper, and to eat awesome stadium food. During the season, the Eagle runs ad-supported color posters of each player on the back of the sports section. Jeff Fazio, our marketing photographer, takes action shots at the ballpark, and I supply supporting information on each player. This year, I attended the event with our intern Laura Flippin.

On media day, I have about an hour to rush around and gather signatures from each player, to verify information from the Phils media guide (numbers like height, weight and birth date are often wrong) and to ask two tough questions: favorite hobby and favorite baseball player.

At first, players are pretty reluctant about the whole thing, and being approached by someone their own age about hobbies is a little odd, even on my end.

The television and print reporters grab the big names early – prospects Michael Bourn and Chris Roberson, and returning veterans Jim Deschaine, Hitchcox, Danny Gonzalez and Juan Richardson. Meanwhile, I try to pry information out of players like Korean pitcher Seung Hak Lee.

Lee has been back and forth between Reading and Scranton since 2002, and now finds himself back in Reading listening to some guy ask him who his favorite player is. He didn’t understand my question, and the only Korean player I could think of was Chan Ho Park.

“Chan Ho Park,” I said.

“No, no,” he said.

From the dugout, his teammates shouted any Asian player they could think of.




Lee just said no, so I left that question blank. Who can blame him? Chan Ho Park stinks in any language.

I’ve always liked underdogs, so I’m naturally more interested in guys that follow rocky paths toward the bigs. Reading has an unusually high amount of older indie ball and minor league veterans this year. I recognized one, Allen Davis, because I met him Monday night at the banquet.

Davis, a 29-year-old southpaw, pitched for the Ft. Worth Cats of the independent Central League last season, went 10-7 with a 3.38 ERA, 128 strikeouts, allowing only 29 walks. Before that, he was out of baseball. He signed with the Phillies as a minor league free agent and played three games with Clearwater last season. I’m glad the Phillies did extra homework and gave him a chance after a productive job in the Central League. It’s not something the team often does.

Davis started the rain-delayed continuation of the season opener Friday and earned the win, shutting down Altoona over five innings.

Pictures are worth a thousand words, and my eight-year-old Sanyo digital ran out of juice just as I was about to take a picture worth a million: Alex Prieto curled up and sulking in the corner of the dugout.

You didn’t need a media guide to figure out which player played in the majors last season and was now down in Double-A Reading. Prieto, 28, got two brief call-ups with Minnesota and even hit a home run, but ended the season in Triple-A Rochester. He was signed by the Phils as a minor league free agent back in January.

To cheer him up, I asked him his favorite hobby. His first answer was something I won’t repeat. But after a few moments, and when his teammates stopped laughing, he quietly said “fishing.”

The cheerier side of Alex Prieto.

Another guy I liked was RHP Jeff Wilson. In today’s baseball world, a right-hander with a name like Jeff Wilson needs to pitch like Roger Clemens to get noticed.

Wilson, a 28-year-old South Carolina-native and minor leaguer since 1997, comes to Reading as a bullpen arm. His best year appears to be 2002, when he went 4-4 with a 2.18 ERA and 10 saves with Double-A Bowie.

Sandy Koufax was his favorite pitcher when I asked, only after I misplaced his stat sheet twice and called him Mike Smith once. After that, he pulled out a name tag and attached it to his belt. Even professional ballplayers can’t get any respect, it seems.

Jeff Wilson, left, with Michael Bourn. Note Wilson's name tag in belt.

Right away, there is something interesting about this team. They’re older, still hanging on. At this early stage, they’re still getting to know one another, and as I walked around, asking these questions, it had another purpose – for the players listen in and get to know one another.

Here are some more photos from last week:

Despite a long day that started with a 4 a.m. flight from Florida, pitcher Allen Davis is all smiles at the King of Baseballtown banquet.

Pitchers Travis Minix and Seung Hak Lee sign autographs and greet fans.

Third baseman Juan Richardson offers up an autograph.

Outfielder Ryan Fleming lists spending time with family as a hobby.

Catcher Tim Gradoville had a walk-off hit for the Phils this spring.

Growing up in Oakland, Calif., outfielder Chris Roberson said his favorite player was Ricky Henderson.


At 8:02 AM, Anonymous Tom G said...

Good stuff Jason.

Incidentally, I heard a good trivia question:
What is the worst park in all of baseball?
Chan Ho Park.

(bah-da, bah!)


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