Phillies

Gregarious Didi Gregorius is eager to ring the bell

Gregarious Didi Gregorius is eager to ring the bell

The first thing you notice when you sit down and speak with Didi Gregorius is the smile.

A big one leaps off his face as he starts talking about the unique way he rehabilitated his elbow after ligament reconstruction (Tommy John) surgery in October 2018.

“I bought a piano,” he said with a laugh.

He extended his right arm and pretended to tickle the ivories. Feel free to join in at home. Feel everything working in the forearm and up to the elbow? That’s what Gregorius felt when he played the piano.

“I want to say it helped, moving around and getting the blood flowing,” he said with (of course) a smile. “I wouldn’t say it’s for everyone but it helped me.” 

Gregorius’ face continued to light up as he told the story of how he picked up his nickname. In the minor leagues, he’d hear public address announcers introduce teammates by their first and last names. Then he’d come up.

Now batting … 

Long pause.

Gregorius.

“They couldn’t pronounce my first name,” Mariekson Julius Gregorius said with a laugh.

Back home in Curacao, folks called his dad and brother Didi. So on the ballfield in the States, Mariekson became Didi. The nickname has a fun ring to it, even if Didi is not sure actually what it means.

Gregorius’ good nature was tested in April 2015. That’s when he was charged with succeeding legendary Derek Jeter at shortstop for the New York Yankees, arguably the most visible sports team in the world. Gregorius hit .206 in his first month with the Yankees.

“On opening day, I was booed,” he said.

The boos continued all month, but Gregorius never took it personally.

“I took it as they wanted me to do better,” he said.

Eventually, he did do better. In five seasons with the Yankees, he averaged 19 homers, peaking at 27 in 2017, and 72 RBIs. He played in the postseason four times on his way to becoming a favorite of managers Joe Girardi and Aaron Boone — as well as the fans.

“It’s not how you start, it’s how you end,” Gregorius said. “I kept fighting and ended on a good note.”

The Yankees let Girardi go after the 2017 season. In 10 seasons, he led the team to six postseason berths and a World Series title. Girardi was hired as the Phillies’ new manager in October, just as Gregorius was hitting free agency.

As Girardi settled into his new job in Philadelphia, he learned that Phillies management was looking for an infield bat and that moving shortstop Jean Segura to second base was a consideration. Girardi immediately began pushing for the Phils to sign Gregorius, a player he believed in on the field and in the clubhouse. The Yankees had a desire to bring back Gregorius, but with depth in the infield chose to budget their free-agent dollars for pitcher Gerrit Cole, who they eventually signed for $324 million over nine seasons. That left the door open for the Phils to score Gregorius on a one-year, $14 million deal. He was introduced with fellow newcomer Zack Wheeler earlier this week at Citizens Bank Park.

According to sources, Gregorius had a more lucrative offer on the table, probably in the form of a multi-year deal. His decision to come to Philadelphia was in essence a bet on himself and his future free-agent earnings as he continues to get stronger after missing the first half of last season recovering from elbow surgery.

“I always look at it as I’m a work in progress,” he said, referring more to his baseball talents than his emerging self-taught piano-playing skills. “I know what I’m capable of when I’m 100 percent.”

Reuniting with Girardi and Rob Thomson in Philadelphia was a big attraction for Gregorius, who will turn 30 in February. The coming season with be Thomson’s third as Phillies bench coach. He’d previously worked on Girardi’s staff in New York.

“Those two guys always push you and want the best for you,” Gregorius said. “They make you feel like they’re behind you.

“Joe is an energetic manager who always fights for his players.”

If he didn’t already have the nickname Didi, Gregorius might be a candidate for a different moniker.

How about G.G.?

As in Gregarious Gregorius.

Gregorius’ effervescent personality, love for the game, team-first attitude and multilingualism made him a leader in the Yankees clubhouse and that could be valuable in Philadelphia. Veteran players don’t always take position changes well and it’s no secret that Segura can be a little moody. But a bridge-builder like Gregorius should have no trouble building a middle-infield chemistry with Segura — and all his teammates, for that matter.

“Being a good leader for me is just being yourself because there is no reason for me to be fake,” Gregorius said. “I just be myself and I try to help everyone because it's a team and you want the whole team to do good. It's not a one-man sport. As long as you help the guy next to you, the whole team gets better. I want everybody to feel comfortable. That's the way I've always been taught to play the game. It could be as simple as saying hello.

“You have to keep having fun in this game. The game is hard if you put pressure on yourself and think too much. If you’re happy playing the game, that good energy will feed to other people.”

Gregorius’ fun personality and commitment to his teammates can be seen on his Twitter account, @DidiG18. Scroll down and see how he celebrated Yankee victories and the heroics of his teammates in a language of emojis, exclamation points and ALL CAPS. He will keep the practice going in Philadelphia and is thinking about adding some animation to his tweets. He’s even ready with a new hashtag — so, goodbye, #StartSpreadingTheNews … hello, #RingTheBell.

Turns out Gregorius knows a little about Philadelphia sports.

“Cheesesteaks and ringing the bell,” he said with a laugh. “I was a big Allen Iverson fan.”

Gregorius lit up in approval when it was suggested that maybe some night he’d ring the bell before a Sixers game.

He lit up a little brighter at the prospect of ringing the bell — for home runs — at Citizens Bank Park.

“I’m here to win with these guys,” he said with, you guessed it, a smile.

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Phillies pitching prospect Zach Warren has a dirty car but a bright future

Phillies pitching prospect Zach Warren has a dirty car but a bright future

Every one of the 15 minor-league prospects that the Phillies have invited to big-league spring training camp has a story.

Zach Warren’s is unique because (in his heart) he was a Phillie before he was technically a Phillie.

Warren grew up in Vineland, New Jersey, in the “glory era,” as he correctly called it, when the Phillies were racking up National League East titles, going to two World Series and winning one of them. Young Zach rooted for Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, but his eye always drifted toward the work being done by Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, not surprising because Warren was a left-handed pitcher on the rise in those days.

After successful runs at St. Augustine Prep in South Jersey and the University of Tennessee, Warren is still a pitcher on the rise. Three strong seasons in the Phillies’ minor-league system earned him an invite to major-league spring training camp next month in Clearwater.

At the Phillies’ prospect-education seminar last week at Citizens Bank Park, Warren recalled the pinch-me moment when he got the phone call from Josh Bonifay, the Phillies director of player development, telling him he’d been invited to big-league camp, and following up that thrilling news with a phone call to his dad, Geoff.

“I had dropped off my car to be worked on in Vineland the day before,” Zach recalled with a laugh, “and my dad was a little unhappy because it was dirty and had no gas. I told him the news and that cheered him up.”

Warren, 23, is one of a handful of left-handed relievers coming to big-league camp on non-roster invites. Most, if not all, will open the season in the minor leagues, but team officials, including new manager Joe Girardi and new pitching coach Bryan Price, clearly want to get a look at what they have for future reference. The Phillies, under general manager Matt Klentak, have been aggressive running relievers in and out from the minors so it’s likely several of these relievers will get a shot in the majors this season. And if they throw strikes and get outs – well, they’ll stick around.

Warren, 6-5 and 200 pounds, was selected in the 14th round of the 2017 draft. He features a mid-90s fastball, a slider and a changeup. He has racked up double-digit strikeouts-per-nine innings in each of his three pro seasons. He spent the last two seasons working late in the game, including closer, at Lakewood and Clearwater. In 116 2/3 innings the last two seasons, he allowed just 76 hits and 34 earned runs (2.62 ERA) while striking out 180 and walking 66.

The 2020 season will be a prove-it one for Warren. He projects to make the jump to Double A Reading and be an important part of that club’s bullpen. Double A is the level where they separate the men from the boys. Have success at the level and you can rise quickly to the majors.

“I’m not thinking too far in advance, where I’m going to be and things like that,” said Warren, showing a healthy perspective. “All I can control is working on what I need to work on to get better and becoming the best player I can be. My ideal blueprint for this season is to make strides and get better and help my team win games and get to the playoffs.”

First-timers in big-league camp are like sponges. They soak up the experience and try to learn from the players who’ve walked the miles they hope to one day walk. Warren has a healthy respect for Adam Morgan, another lefty reliever and SEC product from the University of Alabama, and is eager to speak with him.

“I want to learn from Adam Morgan,” Warren said. “He was up as a starter and had to go to the minors to learn, adapt and change, and he developed and got back. I think there’s a ton I could learn from someone like that.

“I’m just looking forward to learning from everybody. I think it’s going to be a great experience and I can’t wait to get down there and get going.”

With a clean car and a full tank of gas, of course.

 

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Brian Dawkins schools Phillies prospects on how to handle boos

Brian Dawkins schools Phillies prospects on how to handle boos

A group of Phillies prospects was in town this week for the organization’s annual prospects education seminar.

One of those lessons came from a legend.

Brian Dawkins, the most motivational athlete this city has ever seen, shared with the group his thoughts on playing in Philadelphia and responding to the passionate fan base.

“Playing in Philadelphia is different,” Dawkins said. “If you get on the field, there is a 99.99 percent chance you will be booed. The thing I always knew though was that you may boo me that one time but I’m not gonna make the same mistake again.”

The group included Alec Bohm, the Phillies’ top offensive prospect, and Cristopher Sanchez, a pitching prospect with a 100 mph arm profiled here by Jim Salisbury.

Check out the video here if you’re seeking some extra juice at the gym or just want to see Weapon X drop some jewels.

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