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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100+ games? Why MLB players would want it, and how it could work

100+ games? Why MLB players would want it, and how it could work

Unsurprisingly, the MLBPA was not interested in the league's first proposal involving a sliding scale of pay, hating it so much that it didn't feel a counter-proposal based on that format was even necessary.

Nationals ace Max Scherzer, who is on the union's eight-man subcommittee, released this statement Wednesday night.

The players plan to counter with a schedule that includes more than 100 games as opposed to 82. The Athletic reported it could be as many as 110 games.

Why would the players counter with this? Because even without fans in the stands, more games means more money for players and owners via local and national television deals. The players must feel they have a better chance at reaching a compromise with owners for a greater percentage of prorated pay if there are 30 or so additional games.

The next question would be whether a 110-game schedule would even be possible if it begins July 4. And even that July 4 potential start date seems optimistic because it would have to be preceded by 2-3 weeks of spring training and we're already at May 28 with no clear end in sight to these negotiations. Each day without a resolution could push things back.

If the season does begin on July 4, and every team played every day without an off-day (unrealistic), a 110-game regular season would wrap up on Oct. 10. The 14-team playoff format would extend the postseason, which we could see end in mid-to-late November. 

That's without off-days but it's also without doubleheaders, which could cancel out the off-days every few weeks.

The danger of playing too late into the winter, besides the weather, is that it would shorten free agency and the recovery time between 2020 and 2021 for players, especially those in the playoffs. But the free agency thing might not even matter. A shorter free agency could actually be beneficial for baseball without the months of waiting around to see who blinks we've seen in recent years.

Joel Sherman of the NY Post had an interesting idea for a compromise between owners and players:

"Take 60 percent of prorated salaries now across the board in exchange for raising the minimum wage the next two years to $750,000 then $850,000, which helps the bottom end players. Then demand no luxury tax thresholds/penalties for 2021 and 2022. The expectation is that the financial downturn is going to impact those seeking larger contracts, particularly free agents. But if the Dodgers or Yankees or Cubs want to spend, let there at least not be an artificial barrier to doing that."

More about the players' proposal should be known by the end of the week.

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For Chase Utley and Cole Hamels, memories of Roy Halladay's perfecto are fresh and cherished

For Chase Utley and Cole Hamels, memories of Roy Halladay's perfecto are fresh and cherished

Chase Utley can still feel the nerves pulsating through his body like an electrical current.

Cole Hamels can still hit the play button in his mind and recite the conversations he had.

A decade later, their memories of Roy Halladay’s perfect game are still fresh.

“It was the fifth or sixth inning,” Utley recalled. “I was like, ‘Wait a second, they don’t have any hits.’ That’s when I realized it could possibly happen.”

It did happen.

Ten years ago this week, on May 29, 2010, Roy Halladay went 27-up, 27-down against the Florida Marlins on a steamy night in South Florida. The temptation is to say that the perfect game was Halladay’s grand introduction as a Phillie because, after all, it came in just his 11th start with the club. But, truth be told, the big right-hander had announced his arrival with authority even before that start. He had pitched two shutouts on his way to four complete games in his first 10 starts with the club and his brief but brilliant legend as a Phillie was already growing.

Start No. 11 stood apart from all the rest — at least until Halladay pitched a playoff no-hitter against Cincinnati later that season — because perfection so seldom happens in a sport where failing seven out of 10 times is an enviable reality. Halladay’s perfect game was just the 20th in Major League history at the time and memories of it have become more poignant, more cherished in the 2½ years since his death in a small plane crash in November 2017.

Utley played second base behind Halladay in that tight 1-0 win in Miami. And after he looked up at the scoreboard and realized what was happening — after his OMG moment — his nerves started to crackle. Because though perfect games ultimately go on a pitcher’s record, they are a team accomplishment, as well. One blemish on defense can unravel the whole thing.

“One-hundred percent,” said Utley, describing the flow of anxiety he felt playing defense late in that game. “We had only been around Roy for a few months, but we’d seen what he was all about firsthand. You want a guy like that to succeed. 

“You tried not to put any extra pressure on yourself, but you were definitely more engaged and tuned in. Having no fear is important. I remember thinking I wanted the ball hit to me. I remember anticipating it coming my way and attacking it like I normally would.”

With the exception of catcher Carlos Ruiz, Hamels might have had the best seat in the house for Halladay’s tour de force.

Hamels had pitched two nights earlier in New York. When Halladay took the mound that Saturday night in Miami, Hamels took a seat alongside Jamie Moyer, the next day’s starting pitcher, in a camera well at the home plate end of the visiting dugout.

For two hours and 13 minutes, that camera well became an observation deck as Hamels and Moyer watched and admired Doc Halladay perform surgery. As Halladay started to rack up quick outs, the veteran Moyer, a walking textbook of pitching who had been a mentor to the younger Hamels, got more and more excited about the lesson that was unfolding out on the mound.

“This is why you keep notes,” Moyer told Hamels. “This is why you study hitters. This is why you do it — because you might have the opportunity to do something like this someday. This is the reward you can have.”

Hamels can still hear the conversation.

“That game made me appreciate what Jamie had been telling me for a few years, that you really had to have a game plan, about executing that game plan and making sure you’re focused and never get off it,” Hamels said. “For years he’d been telling me to develop that notebook and keep track of all that information.”

Halladay needed just 115 pitches to finish his clinic against the Marlins. He struck out 11.

It takes a confluence of positive factors for a pitcher to throw a perfect game. Obviously, the maestro needs to be on top of his game. The defense needs to hit all the right notes. And it sure helps if the umpire has a wide strike zone.

Mike DiMuro was the home plate umpire that night in Miami. He had the kind of strike zone that perfect games dream of. Marlins leadoff man Chris Coghlan, rung up on a 3-2 pitch to open the bottom of the first inning, testified to that during his time as a player in Phillies camp in February 2017.

“Big strike zone that night,” Coghlan told us nearly seven years after Halladay’s perfecto. “Go back and look at it. I was leading off, 3-2, ball off the plate, strike three. I still get chapped about it. Go look at it. It could have been totally different.”

As our conversation with Coghlan went on, it became clear that he really wasn’t angry about the strike zone that night. It was more the competitor in him talking.

If anyone would understand that, it would have been Halladay, a competitor’s competitor.

“Oh, everybody loves [a perfect game] except for the guys it’s happening against,” Coghlan said. “I had some buddies at the game and afterward they were like, ‘Bro, that was awesome. I can’t believe I saw that. I’m saving this ticket.’ And I’m like, ‘You’re in the family room, bro, and you’re ticking me off. We just got embarrassed. You can find your own ride home. I’m not giving you a ride.’ 

“I joke about the zone that night. But I would never diminish anything that man did. To pitch a perfect game, everything has to go perfect and it did for him that night. He was a legend.”

The defense came through for Halladay late in the game that night 10 years ago. Juan Castro made two standout plays at third base, one in which he went to his left, spun and fired to first to end the game. Castro, usually a reserve, was at third that night because Greg Dobbs made a couple of errors in Halladay’s previous start, a loss against Boston. Manager Charlie Manuel opted for a glove at third in Halladay’s next start and the move proved huge.

That final out is Utley’s most vivid memory from the night.

“Juan made a great play, spun around — out recorded,” Utley said. “The excitement we as teammates had for what Roy had accomplished was incredible. He had his game face on all night. After a lot of stare downs, it was good to see that great big smile after the last out.

“We had a small part in it, but he’s the guy who got it done. I remember the way he credited Chooch after the game. Roy was such a great teammate, always deflecting attention from himself. They don’t make ‘em like that very often.”

A couple of months after his perfect game, Halladay recognized the team nature of his accomplishment by presenting all of his teammates and Phillies support staff with Swiss wristwatches — 67 of them in all — inscribed with the words “We did it together. Thanks – Roy Halladay.” The watches cost about $2,800 apiece. Utley cherishes the memento and says he will keep it forever even if he doesn’t wear it often.

“I don’t want to muck it up,” he joked.

Memories of the heart can’t be mucked up.

And that night in Miami a decade ago will always hold a special place in a lot of hearts.

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