Phil Gosselin strives for a spot with Phillies, the team that ignited his love of baseball

Jim Salisbury/NBC Sports Philadelphia

Phil Gosselin strives for a spot with Phillies, the team that ignited his love of baseball

CLEARWATER, Fla. — John Vukovich, the late, great Phillies coach who spent his entire big-league playing career battling to make teams as a utility man, once described the final days of spring training as a time he’d wake up in the middle of the night and see snakes.

Phil Gosselin knows all too well what it’s like to come to camp having to fight for the last spot on a roster.

But he doesn’t see snakes.

“I’m used to it,” he said with a laugh. “I wouldn’t know what to do if I showed up [in February] and they told me I was on the team.

“There are times [late in camp] when you’re getting changed and you look around to see if you’re being called into the manager’s office. But it’s part of the business. One of my college coaches used to say, ‘Pressure is a privilege.’ So you just show up, play well and see what happens.”

Gosselin, a local guy from West Chester who played at Malvern Prep before a stellar career at the University of Virginia, has made four straight opening day rosters with three different clubs, and “each time I didn’t find out if I made it or not until the last day,” he said.

Now, at age 30, and after stints with the Braves, Diamondbacks, Pirates, Rangers and Reds, Gosselin is in camp with the Phillies, once again trying to win the final spot on the roster. He has spent parts of the last six seasons in the majors and getting to do so again this year with the Phillies would be …

“Pretty surreal,” he said. “Whether it’s opening day, September, whenever. I went to Phillies games as a kid, watched them all on TV.”

Gosselin and his brother, Matt, were in the upper deck at Citizens Bank Park the night Alex Rodriguez belted a controversial home run off a television camera in Game 3 of the 2009 World Series. A few years later, as a rookie member of the Atlanta Braves, he had to remind himself to focus on the game and not get caught up in the fact he was standing between Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. Scott Rolen was his all-time favorite player. As a kid growing up in Chester County, he had a mini locker in his bedroom with Darren Daulton’s nameplate on it.

“In a roundabout way, the Phillies are the reason I’m here,” he said in the team’s clubhouse Tuesday morning. “They’re the reason I fell in love with baseball.”

Gosselin was thrilled when his agent, Barry Meister, called over the winter and said the Phillies were interested in signing him to a minor-league deal and giving him a look in spring training. Sure, there was the attraction of having the opportunity to wear the uniform of his boyhood dreams. But there was more than that.

“I wanted to go to the team with the best opportunity and I felt like this it,” Gosselin said. “The Phillies are trying to win now. I think I’ve been around a little bit and I can help doing some of the stuff off the bench, bouncing around and things like that. So I think they’re more likely to give somebody like me an opportunity than maybe a 20-year-old prospect just because they’re trying to win now, as opposed to a team that is in rebuild mode and is going to choose a guy they drafted and is younger.”

The Phillies typically go with an eight-man bullpen which leaves just four bench jobs. One of them will go to a backup catcher, Andrew Knapp or Drew Butera, and one will go to super-utility man Scott Kingery. Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr are the lead candidates for what looks like two extra outfield jobs, but Quinn is down with an oblique strain and might not be ready for opening day. In addition to Gosselin, the Phils have veteran infielders/outfielders Sean Rodriguez, Gregorio Petit, Andrew Romine and Gift Ngoepe in camp on minor-league deals looking for jobs.

Good thing that Gosselin, who can also play corner outfield spots, has learned to just go out and play and not stress about roster machinations.

Gosselin does not have an out in his contract at the end of camp. If he has to open the season at Lehigh Valley, he will go there and keep reaching for his dream of one day being in the big leagues with the team of his boyhood dreams.

“Obviously, we all want to be in the big leagues, but if you’re going to be in Triple A, that’s as good a spot as any, especially for me because it’s close to home,” Gosselin said.

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Timing getting better for Bryce Harper, who strokes two singles

Timing getting better for Bryce Harper, who strokes two singles

CLEARWATER, Fla. — While most of his teammates traveled to Florida's east coast for a game against the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday, Bryce Harper stayed back in Pinellas County and got some extra at-bats in a minor-league game at Carpenter Complex.

Harper, who had gone hitless in his first eight official at-bats of the spring, batted four times and stroked his first two singles of the spring in a game against a Pittsburgh Pirates farm team. Both were hard-hit balls to the right side of the diamond.

One day earlier, Harper joked about going hitless in his first five games with the Phils. After his first hit Monday, he playfully called back to the dugout to see if someone could retrieve the ball as a souvenir.

Harper also grounded out and struck out in the minor-league game. He played four innings in right field.

Catcher J.T. Realmuto and reliever David Robertson also appeared in the minor-league game.

Hitting coach John Mallee liked the way Harper swung the bat.

"His timing is getting better and he's starting to put the ball on the barrel more," Mallee said.

Harper will continue his defensive work on Tuesday. He will also track pitches in the bullpen. That can be valuable for a hitter trying to get his eyes ready for the season.

Harper is expected to start in right field when the Phillies host the Detroit Tigers in Clearwater on Wednesday.

On the road, the Phillies lost, 4-1, to the Cardinals in Jupiter, Fla. 

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Gabe Kapler says players could have been more engaged during Phillies' 2018 collapse

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Gabe Kapler says players could have been more engaged during Phillies' 2018 collapse

CLEARWATER, Fla. — As the Phillies limped to the finish line with 20 losses in the final 28 games last season, some players basically checked out.

"I think in September our players could have been more engaged," manager Gabe Kapler confirmed to reporters in Jupiter, Fla., on Monday. "With the players I thought could have been more engaged, those conversations were had. I addressed every situation that clearly needed to be addressed last year in appropriate settings."

Kapler spoke in response to an ESPN story that told of how Carlos Santana smashed a television at Citizens Bank Park after seeing a couple of teammates playing a video game during a ballgame against the Atlanta Braves on the final weekend of the season.

Phillies pitcher Jake Arrieta did not deny that some team members played video games in the clubhouse last season. He added that he did not believe video games were played during games.

Kapler said he was unaware of any of his players playing video games while the baseball game was in progress — "That's unacceptable, 100 percent," he said — but he did not deny that Santana trashed some equipment in the video room.

"In the middle of the summer, the chemistry of the clubhouse was very good," said Kapler, whose club was in first place in the NL East in early August. "As we struggled at the end, understandably, tensions ran high. When that happens, players tend to react. 

"Carlos became frustrated as happens in high-tension situations. He responded by smashing up some TVs. I don't think that's uncommon. I don't think it's uncommon to see players get frustrated in high-tension situations. That happens in every clubhouse environment. "

Kapler said he spoke personally with Santana after the incident and addressed the team in a meeting. The manager opened spring training last month by saying he planned on having more clubhouse boundaries in his second season.

"We are putting steps in place to ensure that when tensions run high again, players communicate and look out for each other," Kapler said. "I care deeply about our clubhouse culture and we are collectively doing everything we can to continue to monitor these situations, and to improve that."

On Monday, Rhys Hoskins defended his manager and said the incident involving the video games and Santana's reaction was not a poor reflection on Kapler's leadership.

What does Kapler think?

"When things aren't going the way that they should, it is always my responsibility to step up and be accountable for those things," Kapler said. "And I will do that in this situation as well."

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