Kapler brings in the perfect man to drive home 'Be Bold' mentality

Kapler brings in the perfect man to drive home 'Be Bold' mentality

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Phillies players were welcomed to spring training with an inspirational multi-media presentation and dinner (the menu included creamed spinach) at a Clearwater restaurant on Sunday night.

The welcome event continued Monday morning when Philadelphia’s most sought-after speaker walked into the clubhouse before the team’s first full-squad workout.

Two weeks after winning the Super Bowl and emphatically punctuating the victory parade with the most famous speech in the state of Pennsylvania since Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Eagles center Jason Kelce, already on vacation in the area, popped into camp to fire up the lads with a few words of wisdom.

“Champions have stories to share and they’re effective,” said new manager Gabe Kapler, who jumped at the chance to have Kelce stop by and speak to his team. “They’ve been through the ups and downs, they’ve displayed courageousness, they’ve come together as units, they’ve felt what it feels like to have people count them out and then they’ve proven them wrong.

“Jason’s message was tremendous. I don’t know that there was a No. 1 takeaway. I think there were eight to 10 takeaways and a lot of them have to do with it’s OK to fall down, be fearless, get back up, be bold and do it all over again. He referenced that several times.”

Being bold is the theme of Camp Kap. Before Monday’s workout, players were given red T-shirts emblazoned with the words Be Bold. The letters VAM – Value at the Margins – are on the sleeves. Kapler is stressing how small details can lead to big things in his first camp and bringing in Kelce for a visit was of them. So was Sunday night’s video presentation, produced by team officials Kevin Camiscioli and Dan Stephenson. The video featured victorious and inspirational moments from the Eagles, Flyers and Sixers. There was also some Rocky in there.

“We feel like we're in a partnership with the city, the fans and certainly the teams,” Kapler said. “You saw it today with Jason. He was part of our family.”

Kelce wore a red Phillies shirt, No. 62, of course, and a red Phillies cap. After speaking with the club, he had a picture taken with lookalike Cam Rupp – “He’s a thick boy and he’s got a good beard,” Kelce said – and took in the spirited two-hour workout.

“The environment was created by players,” Kapler said. “They came out and they gave us everything they had. We have high expectations. We expect you to come prepared. We expect you to come in and bust your ass and to come and do it the next day and they started off on the right foot.”

After the workout concluded with conditioning drills and yoga for some players, Kapler knelt in the outfield and spoke with three young players, Andrew Pullin, Dylan Cozens and Scott Kingery. Kapler spoke to them about balancing hard work with recovery. He talked about nutrition and maintaining healthy body fat to help ward off injury. He told them that it’s OK to indulge sometimes.

What are Gabe Kapler’s indulgences?

“An occasional glass of wine, scotch, steaks,” he said. “I really like creamy vegetable stuff. We had some creamed spinach last night. It was incredible.”

By all accounts, Kelce was pretty incredible during his chat with the Phillies.

“Awesome,” said pitcher Mark Leiter, Jr. a Jersey Shore kid and diehard Eagles fan. “He talked about his journey, not being highly recruited, being undersized and now he’s a Super Bowl champion. He has that forever. You have to respect that. It’s something you have to work for.”

Yes, Kelce dropped a couple of F-bombs for emphasis. He was in a locker room, after all. During his speech for the ages on the Art Museum steps two weeks ago, Kelce, filled with adrenaline, emotion and maybe a few adult beverages, dropped a couple memorable F-bombs as he saluted all the underdogs that made the Eagles' championship a reality.

“It was pretty crazy,” Kelce said. “The speech had been building up for a long time and it just came out at that moment. It was stuff that had been brewing for a long time.

"The night before, I couldn’t really sleep. I was just sitting there thinking. They had just told me I was going to talk. I was thinking about what I should say. That’s when I started thinking about all the guys who had overcome things and been counted out and rebounded. It was really from the top down. From there you started to see that parallel to the city of Philadelphia. The city had struggled for this championship for a long time.”

Now, the Eagles have that championship. The Sixers and Flyers are well into their seasons. And the Phillies are just getting into their long grind. Philadelphia’s most sought-after speaker was here to help them kick it off on Monday.

Phillies’ focus turns to Aaron Nola, Scott Kingery, bench competition

USA Today Images

Phillies’ focus turns to Aaron Nola, Scott Kingery, bench competition


FORT MYERS, Fla. – The Phillies began their final full week in Florida on Sunday with a game against the Minnesota Twins. It provided manager Gabe Kapler the opportunity to look at a number of important areas — some settled, some unsettled — of his roster.

To wit:

• The opening day battery of Aaron Nola and Jorge Alfaro worked together. Nola battled through an early rough patch and delivered five innings of two-run ball. He will have one more start before he gets the call in Atlanta in 11 days.

• Scott Kingery, everybody’s favorite prospect, got the start at third base. He had two hits, raising his average to .378 (14 for 37), and made a nice play on a bunt. Kingery is projected to open at Triple A so the Phillies can control his rights through 2024. But that doesn’t mean he’ll be down there long. He projects as the second baseman of the future, but Cesar Hernandez is at the position for now. Third base could be a temporary landing spot for Kingery if Maikel Franco struggles. Kingery played some third at Triple A last season. Yes, Kapler wants to create versatility on his roster. But it was still notable that Kingery got his first look of the spring at third. He will get more time in the outfield before camp ends.

“We want him ready to step in and play all over the diamond whenever that time is,” Kapler said.

• The battle for bench spots was in full display. It’s not clear if the Phils have two or three spots open on the bench because they don’t need a fifth starting pitcher until April 11 and that could allow them a five-man bench at the outset. Regardless, the competition will come into focus this week.  Candidates Ryan Flaherty, Adam Rosales, Pedro Florimon, Jesmuel Valentin and Roman Quinn all played in the game.

Quinn, Florimon and Valentin are all on the 40-man roster so that could help their chances. Quinn, an outfielder by trade, got another look at shortstop. Florimon played left field, had a hit and walked twice. Valentin, an infielder by trade, got a look in right field and belted his third homer of the spring, a three-run shot, for the Phillies’ only runs in a 4-3 loss.

“Valentin has really put his strongest foot forward,” Kapler said. “He’s demonstrated pop, versatility and come up with huge hits.”

Flaherty, who played seven different positions with the Orioles over the last six seasons, started at first base and had a hit. He’s hitting .333.

“He’s having an awesome spring,” Kapler said.

Like Flaherty, Rosales, who has played parts of the last 10 seasons in the majors, can also play anywhere. Flaherty has an out in his minor-league contract on Thursday, so that could bring some clarity to his situation. If he’s still in the hunt Saturday, the Phillies must add him to the 40-man roster, pay him a $100,000 retention bonus or allow him to walk. Ditto for Rosales. So the bench picture will start to come into focus soon.

“There’s a lot to be excited about in that bench role,” Kapler said.

Charlie Manuel keeps his promise to Roy Halladay's son

Jim Salisbury/NBCSP

Charlie Manuel keeps his promise to Roy Halladay's son

DUNEDIN, Fla. – It’s not hard to find Charlie Manuel in spring training. In late mornings, he’s perched behind the batting cage watching Phillies hitters take their swings. During the game, he’s on the top step of the dugout, taking it all in and offering advice where needed.

Manuel didn’t stay for the game Saturday. He watched batting practice, showered and drove out of the parking lot 30 minutes before the first pitch.

Manuel, you see, had a promise to keep.

Back in November, Manuel was one of nine people to speak at Roy Halladay’s memorial service at Spectrum Field, the Phillies’ spring training home. Manuel stood at a podium near the very mound that Halladay trained on and spoke from the heart about what an honor it was to manage such a great talent and competitor. Manuel had jotted his words down on a paper, but he didn’t stick completely to his script that day. At one point, he looked down at Halladay’s two grieving sons, Braden and Ryan, and told them he’d be keeping tabs on their progress as young ballplayers. Manuel promised to attend their games. And that’s just what he did Saturday afternoon.

Braden Halladay, a lanky 17-year-old right-hander who bears a striking resemblance to his dad, on and off the mound, is a member of the Canadian Junior Team’s spring training roster. He was born in Toronto when his dad played for the Blue Jays, hence his eligibility to pitch for Canada.

On Saturday, Braden pitched a scoreless eighth inning against a Jays’ split-squad team on the very Dunedin Stadium mound where his dad began his career.

“I’m so glad I came over,” Manuel said after Braden’s perfect inning of work. “He did good. I’m glad he got ‘em out.”

This wasn’t the first time Manuel had seen Braden pitch. Braden pitches for Calvary Christian High School in Clearwater, where he is a junior. Manuel watched him pitch five shutout innings earlier in the week. And on Wednesday night, Manuel attended young brother Ryan’s practice in Clearwater.

Manuel has a warm spot for the boys for a lot of reasons. Obviously, there was the respect he had for their dad. “When I think of Roy, I think of the perfect game and playoff no-hitter first,” Manuel said. “Right after that, I think of his work ethic. It was the best I’ve ever seen.” 

But Manuel’s affection for the boys goes beyond the respect he had for their dad. Manuel was 18, the oldest son in a family of 11 children, when he lost his dad.

“I feel for those boys,” Manuel said. “I know what they’re going through and it isn’t easy. Not easy at all.”

It takes a lot of love to get through a tragedy like the one the Halladay family has gone through. The boys get it from their mom, Brandy, who is at all of their games. And they get it from people like Charlie Manuel.

Saturday’s first pitch at Dunedin Stadium, just a few miles from the Phillies’ ballpark, was scheduled for 1:15 p.m. Manuel wanted to hustle over so he could wish Braden luck before the game. Manuel made his way down to the bullpen area and spotted one of his former Phillies players, Pete Orr, who is a coach with the Canadian team. Orr called over to Braden. A huge smile crossed the kid’s face when he saw Manuel. He sprinted over and gave Manuel a hug. Orr, who grew up near Toronto, slapped Braden on the back of his Team Canada jersey and said, “He looks good in red and white.”

He sure did.

Braden chatted with Manuel for a minute or two, and Manuel wished him luck. A reporter from Philadelphia asked Braden what it felt like to have Manuel keep tabs on his baseball career.

“It’s pretty sweet,” Braden said with a big smile. “It means a lot to me.”

The reporter wished him luck and told him that all of Philadelphia was rooting for him.

“I appreciate that,” the young pitcher said before trotting off to join his teammates.

Braden Halladay is 6-3 and 150 pounds. He entered the game in the bottom of the eighth inning with his team down, 11-3, at first to a smattering of applause. That grew into a big, beautiful round of applause after the PA man announced his name and everyone in the crowd realized the magnitude of the moment. Braden knelt behind the mound and wrote his dad’s initials in the dirt before delivering his first pitch. His pitching delivery is smooth and fundamentally pure.

“You can tell Roy worked with him,” Manuel said.

Braden mixed his pitches nicely in getting two pop-ups and a ground ball. He hit 83 mph on the stadium radar gun. A few months ago, Braden announced that he had committed to Penn State. Manuel sees a lot of promise in the kid.

“When he’s 21, he’ll pitch at 205 pounds,” Manuel said. “He’ll get stronger. You watch, he’s got a chance to be real good. He has a good, quick arm, command of the ball and mechanics.”

Where the game will eventually take Braden Halladay is a story for another day. Back in November, he sat in the middle of a baseball field and listened to people eulogize his dad. It was an excruciatingly difficult experience and the look on his face that day said as much.

So on Saturday, it was just great to see Braden Halladay back on a baseball field with a smile on his face. And it was great to see Charlie Manuel there, taking it all in, just as he had promised.