R. A. Dickey, The R. A. is for Really Awesome.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know of my fascination with the knuckleball. I found it quite unexpectedly, by meeting Frank Viola, III (you can read that story HERE.)  Viola, was being tutored by Blue Jays’ pitcher, R. A. Dickey, also a knuckleballer.

Living in Dunedin, I had seen Dickey around town and discovered that we share a hairstylist. I had gone to see her and since she knew I was a baseball fan, she was very excited to tell me about her “famous” client. I found it cool that I had the same stylist.

I took to watching every game that Dickey pitched. With the way that Viola spoke of him, I got the feeling that he was a great guy and I respected the way Dickey was helping my friend along.  Once I started watching Dickey pitch, it became, “must-see TV” for me.  Every fifth day I’d watch him pitch or at least the highlights.

So when Spring Training came, my one goal this year was to try to get his autograph for my collection. I never managed to be in the right place at the right time. I had heard he was going to pitch at the minor league complex this morning and even though we had tickets to the Phillies-Jays game, I considered just not going so that I could try to get Dickey’s autograph.

Baseball Ross convinced me with my schedule, I just didn’t have time to make it to see Dickey, the ball game and my appointment at the end of the day, so I just went to the game. If you saw the “highlights” you know it wasn’t an easy game to watch. During the 5th inning, Ross and I decided to head home. On the way to the gate, I saw the Major League Alumni charity auction table.  I jokingly said, “The only way I’m going to accomplish my goal is to buy a Dickey ball.” Wouldn’t you know it? There was one…and only five minutes left in the auction.

There was only one name on the list and it was at the reserve price of $80. I bid $85, the next increment and waited. When it was over, they circled all the winners names….and I won! I felt great. I finally got my Dickey ball!

R. A. Dickey

R. A. Dickey

Then, the person who had bid first came to see if he won. He was 10 and very sad he didn’t win. I felt so bad about that, but rules of the auction were rules. I went home and got ready for my hair appointment.  I took the ball with me to show my stylist, I thought that may be I’d take a picture of the two of us and write about it.

What happened next, blew me away. Andi was so happy to see me when I arrived…she had something for me…

My note from R. A. Dickey

My note from R. A. Dickey

Dickey had been in to see her and she had told him about me, so he left me this little note! Oh My GOD!

I could have fainted. I was as giddy as a school girl. I thought the note was one of the most thoughtful and amazing gifts I’d ever been given.

I started the day thinking my ONE goal for the season wasn’t going to happen and the day ended with not only a signed ball but also a personal note from R. A. Dickey!  I’m still in shock! What a great day!

Aaron Nola’s First Phillies Spring Training Game

Last summer, I had the privilege of witnessing Aaron Nola’s first professional game when he took the mound for our Clearwater Threshers.  It was a rainy, stormy night…and you can read about it HERE.

It was a solid start for the pitcher out of LSU who had just completed the College World Series. I thought that he may have been a bit tired, since he had pitched the entire college season and was starting basically a second season pitching for the Threshers. I remember that he did “Okay” but thought that fatigue might be a factor in his performance last season.

Paramount in my mind yesterday, was getting a chance to see Nola pitch in a game with a fresh arm. Only then, could I get a more accurate feel for the kind of pitcher he is.

It had been announced he would start but when I got to the bullpen, Jonathan Papelbon was warming up. I was disappointed because my only reason for going to the game was to see Nola. I very nearly left as the weather was turning for the worse. The temperature was dropping and living in Florida, I knew this meant a storm was coming.

However, my perseverance was rewarded as Nola started warming up in the bullpen.

Aaron Nola warming up in the bullpen.

Aaron Nola warming up in the bullpen.

 

I was excited to see him pitch. He looked much more relaxed and frankly, more powerful than he did in his short stint with the Threshers last summer.

I was impressed.

Aaron Nola

Aaron Nola

Aaron Nola

Aaron Nola

He went into the game to face the dreaded Yankees, including Alex Rodriguez. After the game, A-Rod was quoted as saying, “Good arm, power slider, power change-up. I think he has a bright future.”

After his performance:  3IP, 5H, 4K, 0W, I think A-Rod might be onto something.

 

Garcia and Harang a Study in Contrasts

Yesterday the starting pitchers for the A ball games really gave me pause. It shows, in my opinion, the hope and hopelessness of the Phillies organization.

You can contrast the youth, health and play of just these two players and get a sense of what is wrong with the front office’s plans.

Garcia and Harang

Elniery Garcia and Aaron Harang

garcia and harang

Elniery Garcia and Aaron Harang

Garcia is 20 and in the peak of health.   Harang will be 37 and has already two missed starts this season due to back issues. If you saw my picture from the first day of Spring Training, it’s easy to see that he did not report to camp in shape.

Aaron Harang

Aaron Harang

To me, this is the most glaring problem with the organization, they bring in a high-priced older player with obvious health issues, pay them a ton of money (for Harang it’s 5 MILLION) and then are stymied when they break down.

Contrast that with kids like Garcia, who are in great shape and developing, improving with almost every start, kids that are barely making enough money to get by.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’d rather lose games because a kid is learning how to play at a higher level where they can use the loss to improve their play than to lose because a “veteran” isn’t able to perform at a high enough level.

Garcia is in MiLB camp, which started later than MLB camp, so he hasn’t been “stretched out” as much as Harang…but if you look at their lines, it makes the problems with Harang seem glaring, like the lights of Las Vegas. Both pitched against A-ball teams.

Garcia: 3IP, 1H, 0R, 0W, 2K (both swinging)

Harang: 5IP, 7H, 3R, 0W, 5K

For me, this is what is going to make the MLB season long and arduous…and give me hope for quality minor league teams. The more I think about it, the more excited I am getting for  the minor league season to start. With some of the young players we have, Garcia, Franklyn Kilome, Aaron Nola, Roman Quinn, Dylan Cozens, Matt Imhof, Jan Hernandez, Rhys Hoskins, JP Crawford, Deivi Grullon, and Grenny Cumana we could have some contenders in the minor league system. So if you want to catch me at a game, don’t look for me at Citizens Bank Park.

 

Because They Got Personality

When I started to write this blog today THIS SONG kept playing in my head. It’s an oldie, but a goodie.

In the last two weeks, I’ve encountered three Phillies LEGENDS: Dickie Noles, Dallas Green and Dick Allen and had three totally different experiences.

Dickie Noles was a relief pitcher with the Phillies, Cubs, Rangers, Indians, Tigers and Orioles. (Interesting side note: Noles is one of only four players in baseball history who was traded for himself. In 1987, he was traded from the Cubs to the Tigers for a “player to be named later.” 33 days later, the teams were unable to reach an agreement and Noles was returned to the Cubs, thus completing the “trade for himself.”)

Noles is now a Employee Assistance Professional and pitching coach. He spends a good portion of the year in Clearwater working with the young players and over the years I’ve gotten to know him to the point, that when he saw me last week he called out, “Good morning, Sunshine.” He has a stellar reputation among the younger players, many of whom refer to him as “my brother”.

Dallas Green is now a member of the Phillies front office, but is most recognized as the manager of the 1980 World Series winning Phillies team. He’s often around the Carpenter Complex and he too, often says hello to me in passing. He recently had a book signing of his book, “The Mouth That Roared-My Six Outspoken Decades in Baseball.”

The Mouth That Roared Dallas Green

I purchased a book and when I got to the table to have it signed, I recounted to Green that as a young child I was *cough, cough* “sick” the day of the World Series parade so that I could stay home and watch it on television.  I asked him to “not tell my mother I faked illness to see the parade” and he had a hearty laugh.

Dallas Green laughing at me faking illness to watch the 1980 WS parade.

Dallas Green laughing at me faking illness to watch the 1980 WS parade.

 

He even left a nice inscription in my book.

Gail-Enjoy the book + baseball stories--Dallas Green

Gail-Enjoy the book + baseball stories–Dallas Green

Both of those are great and memorable encounters that I will cherish. One of these days I’ll ask Dickie Noles for a picture and I know he will take the time for me.

Over the years, I have had many encounters with the greats and have always come away feeling like they valued me as a fan. What happened last week really left me feeling badly.

Dick (Richie) Allen was a seven time All-Star, AL MVP in 1972, two time AL Home Run Champion and the AL RBI Champion in 1972. I truly appreciate his contribution to the game and when I saw him exit the office building at the Carpenter Complex at the end of the day of practice,  I realized that his birthday was the day before so I took a minute to wish him, “Happy Birthday.”

He stopped and laughed before thanking me for remembering. He was laughing and made a little small talk. (Let me state that there was very few people left at this point of the day…mostly just players leaving.) I worked up my courage and politely asked if we could have a picture taken together. What happened next left me gobsmacked.

“NO! You’ll just sell it. Here, take my card you can see all the pictures you want of me on my website.” He shoved the card into my hand and walked away.

The card he shoved in my hand before walking away.

I was flabbergasted. First why would I sell a picture that had both of us in it? Who would want to buy a picture with me in it? Second, I would have been happy if he had said, “I’m sorry, I’m not in the mood,” or “Not today, thanks.” Instead he accused me of wanting to take a picture to sell?

It left me feeling like I’d been kicked like an unwanted puppy. I “get” that it may get tiring always being asked to have your picture taken, but come on, did he have to accuse me of wanting to sell the picture?

It’s really hard to take when you find out that one of the people you’ve long respected turns out to be, frankly, not worthy of your respect.

It left me feeling “Where is the Love?”