Phillies

Big game in a 'Little' environment — Phillies players cherish their return to Williamsport

Big game in a 'Little' environment — Phillies players cherish their return to Williamsport

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa.  Phillies players retraced their baseball steps Sunday night with a trip back to Bowman Field, home of the franchise's New York-Penn League team.

A dozen members of the team's traveling party could trace the infancy of their careers back to a summer spent at the charming, 2,500-seat stadium in the town that is synonymous with baseball, and a colorful, handmade sign welcomed them all to the clubhouse.

But, actually, they went back further than the start of their careers and that early step on the professional baseball ladder in this trip through time and the Pennsylvania hills.

The Phillies and Mets spent the day in the town where Little League Baseball was born in 1939. Players from both teams visited the Lamade Stadium, where the Little League World Series is being played, in the late morning. They mingled with young players from all over the world before a game, posed for pictures and signed autographs before heading across town for the second annual Little League Classic, an official National League game.

The trip through time was special for Phillies players for a lot of different reasons.

Scott Kingery, who started the big league game at shortstop for the Phillies, played in the Little League World Series as a 12-year-old from Phoenix, Arizona in 2006. His brother, Sam, was a teammate and their dad, Tom, was the manager of the club. Sam and Tom also made the trip back to Williamsport for Sunday's event.

"It was pretty surreal," Kingery said. "I walked into the dugout as they were getting ready for a game and one of the Little League players was like, 'Whoa, Scott Kingery.' That's crazy because I remember sitting in that dugout and thinking how cool it would have been for someone to walk in who was playing Major League Baseball.

"It's my first time back. It brought back memories. Not much has changed. There wasn't a lot of stuff I remembered, but as soon as I got back there I kind of remembered everything. It was awesome."

As Kingery spoke inside the cramped clubhouse behind the first base dugout at Bowman Field, he wore a blue Little League cap with a W on it. It was the same cap worn by this year's West Region champs from Honolulu, Hawaii.

Kingery was a member of the West Region championship team in 2006.

Andrew Knapp was not so lucky. His Little League team from Granite Bay, California won the Northern California sectionals but came up just short of winning the West Region in 2003.

Knapp also wore a blue West Region championship cap before Sunday night's game.

"I finally got one," he said. "I didn't get one when I was 11 and I was devastated, so I had to get one."

Knapp paid $25 for his cap.

Kingery laughed when he heard that. He got his cap for free.

"Guess he didn't ask the right guys," Kingery said of Knapp.

Mets third baseman Todd Frazier and outfielder Michael Conforto are also Little League World Series alums.

The Williamsport Crosscutters share the area's baseball spotlight with Little League Baseball. Since 2007, the Crosscutters have been affiliated with the Phillies. They are a short-season Class A team and their season runs from mid-June to the first week of September.

"This was my first taste of pro ball right after I was drafted," said Knapp, who was recalled from Triple A before the game. "The bus rides, playing in front of crowds — for me, they are all great memories. This is awesome and I'm glad to be part of it."

Rhys Hoskins played here in 2014 — before the leg kick that he says changed his career.

Third base coach Dusty Wathan managed here in 2008.

Third baseman Maikel Franco played here in 2011 when he was 18. He and Bob Stumpo, now one of the team's catching instructors, were teammates.

Franco recalled the first game that he and Stumpo played in Bowman Field.

"Opening day, first at-bat, Stumpo hit a home run," Franco said with wide eyes. "I remember it. He was so big, I was like, 'Man, this guy is going to hit a lot of home runs this year.' When the season was over, I looked at the stats — one home run."

Franco chortled as he told the story.

And it was all true, confirmed by Stumpo, the former West Chester University star, himself.

There were a lot of smiles and laughs and good memories leading up to game time.

But at 7 p.m., it was all business. The Atlanta Braves lost earlier in the day, leaving the door open for the Phillies to slip into first place in the NL East. The seats at Bowman Field were filled with happy Little Leaguers done with their work over at the Little League complex, but there was an important big-league ballgame to play.

"We know this is big for baseball and we're happy to be part of it," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said of the day and all its festivities. "We know the relationship between Little League Baseball and Major League Baseball can enhance our game and we're not going to miss that opportunity.

"And then when game time rolls around, I can assure you our guys are still going to be having fun like we always do, but we are going to be taking this responsibility very seriously."

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Phillies to sign Matt Szczur, according to sources

Phillies to sign Matt Szczur, according to sources

The Phillies are about to sign a player with a resume chock-full of impressive — and important — accomplishments.

According to sources, Matt Szczur, the 30-year-old outfielder from South Jersey, has agreed to sign a minor-league contract with the Phils. The deal will include an invite to major-league spring training camp.

Szczur — pronounced SEE-zur — has spent parts of five seasons in the majors with the Chicago Cubs and San Diego Padres. He is a product of Lower Cape May Regional High School and Villanova University. He was a two-sport star at Villanova.

On the football field, Szczur was a dynamic receiver and return specialist for Villanova’s 2009 NCAA FCS national championship team. He racked up 270 all-purpose yards in the title game win over Montana and was named the game’s Most Outstanding Player.

On the baseball field, Szczur was an all-Big East player and a fifth-round draft pick of the Cubs in 2010. He played in 107 games for the Cubs team that won the World Series in 2016.

Szczur’s accomplishments extend beyond the playing field.

Off the field, he did something extraordinary when he took time off from his junior year baseball season at Villanova in 2010 to donate bone marrow that ultimately helped save the life of a young girl from Ukraine who had battled leukemia. Szczur’s life-saving gift started with his involvement in the Andy Talley Bone Marrow Foundation. Talley was Szczur’s football coach at Villanova. Szczur has subsequently started his own charitable enterprise, the Szcz The Day Foundation.

Szczur hit .259 with five homers and 24 RBIs in 185 at-bats for the World Series champion Cubs in 2016. He was traded to San Diego in 2017. He spent parts of that season and the 2018 season in the majors with that club. He signed a minor-league deal with Arizona last season and hit .322 with eight homers, 28 RBIs and a .967 OPS in 44 games at Triple A Reno. His season was shortened by a quad injury.

The Phillies are set at the corner outfield spots with Andrew McCutchen and Bryce Harper and Adam Haseley is going to get a chance to hold down the center field spot with Roman Quinn in the picture as well. Szczur will give the Phillies some outfield depth and his ability to play center field is a plus. He is an excellent defender at all three outfield positions and could push for a spot on the big club as active rosters will expand from 25 to 26 men in 2020.

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Winter meetings complete, what’s next for Phillies?

Winter meetings complete, what’s next for Phillies?

SAN DIEGO — A year ago, Phillies officials left the winter meetings with much of their offseason work still in front of them.
 
Manny Machado was still a front-burner free-agent item. Bryce Harper was still in the background and J.T. Realmuto was headed to Atlanta, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, New York … anywhere but Philadelphia.
 
You know the rest of the story.
 
Spring training had already begun by the time the Phillies settled their offseason last year. A year later, Phillies officials departed the winter meetings on Thursday with their heavy offseason lifting complete.

The Phils signed free-agent pitcher Zack Wheeler to a five-year, $118 million contract last week and free-agent shortstop Didi Gregorius to a one-year, $14 million deal at the meetings this week. The signings left the Phils about $5 million under the $208 million luxury-tax threshold for the coming season and the club will be mindful of that. It’s likely — though not certain — that any further moves the Phillies make will qualify as tweaks.
 
Here are a few things to keep an eye on over the remainder of the offseason.

The starting rotation

Aaron Nola and Wheeler give the Phillies a “1 and a 1-A,” as manager Joe Girardi said.

Jake Arrieta is healthy and will be ready to go Day 1 of camp and Zach Eflin will hold down a job. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez are slated to battle for the fifth job, though it would not be surprising to see the Phils bring back Drew Smyly on a minor-league deal to join the fight. The Phils were keeping an eye on Rick Porcello to see where his market was headed, but he signed for one year and $10 million with the Mets. Lefty Wade Miley could be someone to keep an eye on, depending where his market goes. The Phils are committed to having top prospect Spencer Howard start the season in Triple A, but he could have a major impact as the season goes on. The Phils will watch Howard’s workload — because of injury, he pitched under 100 innings last year — so adding bargain depth is a must.

The bullpen

At the moment, it looks like a fairly unchanged unit. The Phils are banking on Adam Morgan and Seranthony Dominguez being healthy again and Hector Neris, Jose Alvarez and Ranger Suarez carrying a heavy load again. Pivetta, Velasquez or both could be used in the ‘pen, depending on the depth that is added in the rotation. If the Phils want to push the tax, they could make a play for former Yankee Dellin Betances. Someone from the system like Garrett Cleavinger or Connor Brogdon could surprise in spring training. How about Tommy Hunter? The Phils put a lot of time into his rehab after elbow surgery last year. Could he be a fit on a bargain deal? Ditto for Jared Hughes and Mike Morin.

The bench

Former All-Star and .300 hitter Josh Harrison has been signed on a minor-league deal. He can play anywhere and figures to have a good chance to make the club. Phil Gosselin, another jack of all trades, is coming back on a minor-league deal and the team has shown some interest in free agent Matt Szczur. Brad Miller remains a free agent and a potentially good fit. Jay Bruce will add power off the bench. Andrew Knapp returns as backup catcher but it would not be surprising to see the Phils sign one or two more veteran catchers to push for work and add depth. Remember, Girardi has said he’d like to keep Realmuto to between 120 and 130 games so he is fresh in October. “That’s where the prize is,” Girardi said. Austin Romine would have been a nice fit, but he signed with Detroit. 

Trades

While it appears as if most of the team’s major moves are done, general manager Matt Klentak and his group will continue to stay engaged on the trade front and you never know if one could materialize. Nick Williams could be dealt. Miami has long liked him. Velasquez could be dealt for some salary relief, particularly if the Phils are able to add starting pitching depth. The Phils would surely listen on Jean Segura, but he has three years and $45 million left on his deal so that would not be easy.
 
Could the Phils make a major trade?
 
After seeing the Realmuto deal come together so quickly last February, it can’t be ruled out. Even something crazy is possible. By crazy we mean Kris Bryant. Yes, he’d be a nice fit as the Phils make a quick push at a title before he becomes a free agent. But it’s a real long shot and it would probably cost top prospect Alec Bohm, and it would definitely push the Phillies over the luxury tax threshold, though managing partner John Middleton has said he would go over it for the right championship-caliber opportunity. Maybe that’s Bryant. There will continue to be buzz about him and the Phillies will continue to be connected to him as long as there is.
 
J.A. Happ could be another guy to watch on the trade front. The Phils made him an offer last winter and he signed with the Yankees. The Yanks are now eager to move his $17 million salary and might attach a good prospect to the package to help make the deal. Happ would put the Phillies over the tax, but, given the Phils’ need for more pitching, it might it be worth rolling the dice on the left-hander having a bounce-back year if and only if the Yanks attach a good prospect or two to the deal. 

What about Herrera?

The end of the winter meetings begins to put spring training in focus and the Phillies have a big decision to make before then: Do they bring Odubel Herrera to camp? Do they release him? The Phils would eat most of his salary to trade him, but there has been no interest.
 
We dealt with the Herrera situation more deeply in this story.

Realmuto's extension

Sometime before spring training, the Phils are expected to pursue a contract extension with Realmuto.

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