Sunday night we arrived in Clearwater, Florida for a week of baseball, beach, and whatever else fills the time. What a happy time to arrive, just days after Bryce Harper signed in town. After an off-season in which the Phillies brought in three 2018 All-Stars, a former NL MVP, and a former All-Star closer. And all of this while I’m not home in Pennsylvania, dealing with snow, but rather dealing with sunburn on the Gulf of Mexico.
There hasn’t been so happy of a time to be a Phillies fan since the last time I was here, in 2011. J.T. Realmuto, arguably baseball’s best catcher, is here. Jean Segura, a 2018 All-Star and perennial 200 hit threat, may represent the biggest position upgrade on this team since 2018. Obviously Harper has Phillies fans dreaming of championships, in the plural, over the next 13 seasons. David Robertson’s presence as an elite late inning reliever will allow Seranthony Dominguez, Hector Neris, and Pat Neshek to all settle into defined roles, avoid being over worked, and thrive as they have in the past. All of this, and I haven’t brought up the acquisition of Andrew McCutchen, my formerly favorite non-Phillies player and former NL MVP- a player who’s gigantic defensive upgrade in left field will both save runs, and all Rhys Hoskins to return to his natural first base. The team’s defense is wildly improved in at least three spots. Expectations are up.
And not to add to those expectations, but I see why. The 2019 Phillies are built much more like the 2008 and 2009 Phillies than any other roster than any other in club history. They will be expected to hit, a lot, and always have a chance to bash their way to victory. They will have a really deep, effective bullpen to hold their leads and win games they lead in after six innings. Their starting pitching isn’t elite on paper, but they are banking on the young arms improving enough, and the possibility of adding the extra arm they may need later. In both of those seasons, the Phillies were resourceful in finding the arms they need in multiple ways.
None of that has been much on my mind though the last two days. It’s been fun watching prospects like Mickey Moniak stroking a double yesterday in a 9-7 loss to the Blue Jays, or Malquin Canelo getting a walk-off hit to beat the Cardinals, and watching our young, big league ace Aaron Nola make his 2019 debut. I watched the sunset from Fort Desoto State Park yesterday, and had a great dinner in Dunedin at Casa Tina (get the enchiladas en salsa roja if you ever go, you’ll thank me). Trips to Spring Training are not much about wins and losses in exhibition games, and are every bit as much about about getting a sunburn at Honeymoon Island beach. You can’t really experience a game over at Blue Jays camp without getting a beer on Douglas Avenue, in my case at the VFW Post 2550.
Tomorrow this trip will come to an end, unfortunately. We’ll get up pre-dawn and hit the road, driving up to my uncle’s in suburban Raleigh to get dinner and crash for the night. Then it will be back to Pennsylvania. The next time I’ll see the Phillies, the games will count, and I actually will really care about the baseball. However I will be there bringing the good news- the Phillies are back, and built for a very bright future.