Phillies

Phillies' Phil Gosselin on surreal reality of baseball shutdown

Phillies' Phil Gosselin on surreal reality of baseball shutdown

Until the last few days, Phil Gosselin wasn't having much trouble staying ready for the return of baseball, whenever that happens. He's been living in Nashville, Tennessee, where he's hooked up with a couple of other ballplayers, Adam Duvall of the Atlanta Braves and Jacob Stallings of the Pittsburgh Pirates. They'd been able to sneak into batting cages at some of the area schools until they started getting kicked out the other day. They found a new one tucked off down the right-field line at an out-of-the-way field on Tuesday and were able to take some hacks.

"We'll see how long it lasts," Gosselin said with a laugh.

A month ago, Gosselin was playing third base for the Phillies during a Grapefruit League game against the Tampa Bay Rays in Port Charlotte, Florida. Major League Baseball was about to suspend spring training as concern over the coronavirus began to grow. Gosselin got advance notice of the news as he tossed balls across the diamond in the middle of the fifth inning.

"The third base umpire told me, 'This is it, we're done after this,'" Gosselin said. "We still had a few innings to go so I knew I had to lock in and concentrate. But it was tough to do knowing it was the last game of spring training."

Gosselin recalled the surreal feel of the day, finishing the game, quickly showering then boarding the bus with teammates for the two-hour trip back to Clearwater.

"It was so weird," he said. "Some of the guys had already left and gone back on their own. The rest of us got on and talked for a while. Then it was silent the rest of the ride. It was like, 'Is this really happening? Is it as bad as they say?'

"At that point we knew it was a thing, but we didn't know it would turn into this."

• • •

Gosselin, 31, has kept up with the crisis through news reports and conversations with his mom and dad and sister and brother back in the West Chester area. Everyone is safe, thankfully.

He's also gained quite a bit of perspective through his girlfriend, Rachel Jennings, an emergency room doctor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.

Gosselin is a Malvern Prep grad. Jennings is from Macungie, Pennsylvania, and graduated from Emmaus High School. They attended the University of Virginia together. Jennings graduated from the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University last May and is a first-year resident at Vanderbilt Hospital.

"She's on the front line," Gosselin said. "It hasn't been too bad here, thank goodness, but it's still stressful. They take all the precautions, but it's still scary because you never know. You can take all the precautions available and still get it.

"She enjoys the work and loves helping people but it's definitely a little scarier in times like these."

Last week, the Tennessee state government began urging people to stay home. Gosselin said he's noticed more and more people wearing masks out in public. He is also taking precautions, doing his running outside far away from others. He and his baseball workout partners do their drills at a safe distance.

The baseball shutdown has left all players in a state of limbo, but some are in even more limbo than others. Bryce Harper, J.T Realmuto and Aaron Nola know where they'll be when baseball opens its doors again. They are established members of the Phillies' 25-man roster. Gosselin has spent his career battling for reserve roles on big-league teams. He played in 44 games with the Phillies, his sixth big-league club, last season and was in camp as a non-roster player on a minor-league deal when that umpire told him, "This is it," a month ago.

When baseball gets going again, Gosselin could ultimately end up with the Phillies' big club or the Triple A team in Lehigh Valley. His fate will be determined during the resumption of spring training. Players are definitely going to need a second spring training to ramp up and Gosselin is intent on being ready for that.

"I've had this discussion with some guys around league," Gosselin said. "You don't want to wear yourself out and do too much because you could be playing until November or December. But guys like me, we have to be ready the first day we go back, we have to be sharp and healthy and on the field or we have no shot to make it. We're really in the middle."

Veteran non-roster players are also caught in the middle financially as they don't benefit from the $170 million pot that MLB is divvying up among rostered players through May. For instance, Neil Walker, who is also with the Phillies as a non-roster player, does not benefit from that fund even though he's played 10 seasons in the majors. The Players Association last week recognized this issue and stepped in with stipends for players in these situations. A player with Walker's level of service time received $50,000. Gosselin, with three years of big-league time, received $25,000. In addition, all big-league teams are paying their minor leaguers $400 a week through May. Gosselin, Walker and other non-roster players qualify for that.

"The union is definitely taking care of us," Gosselin said. "It's really nice what they're doing. They wanted to help the whole time but legally there's only so much they can do because technically we're not part of the union right now because we're not on the 40-man roster. It's tough for a guy like Neil or Logan Forsythe (also with the Phillies.) They paid dues for a long time. It shows how strong the union is and how much they care about guys that they're willing to help us out. We're lucky because a lot of people don't have jobs. It definitely could be worse."

• • •

While Major League Baseball and empty stadiums have become the visible reality of a sport on hold, the shutdown runs much deeper. The health crisis has claimed high school and college seasons. It wasn't long ago that Gosselin was starring at Malvern Prep and Virginia. He empathizes with the kids who have lost something so precious — in whatever sport they play.

"I've played a few years in the big leagues but still some of my most vivid memories of baseball are the games I played in high school and college with my buddies," he said. "I can't imagine what it would be like missing my senior year at Malvern or my last year at Virginia. For some of these guys, it's the highest level they'll play at and the most fun they'll ever have in the game. It's really tough. I'm still close with Freddy Hilliard, the coach at Malvern, and he feels devastated for his kids."

Gosselin is two courses shy of an economics degree at Virginia. He wants to finish his degree and has given some thought to getting that going if the pause in baseball continues much longer. He one day would like to work in a baseball front office. But for now, he wants to keep playing. That's why he's running sprints on a hill near his apartment in Nashville, doing conditioning drills fetched off of YouTube and sneaking into batting cages to keep his eye.

It's all stirred a new appreciation for the game he loves and how good big leaguers have it, from the facilities to the coaching to everything else.

"My dad (Dave) must have thrown me 10,000 pitches in the batting cage at West Chester East so this brings back a lot of memories," Gosselin said. "Good memories."

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An idea that might get MLB players and owners closer to common ground

An idea that might get MLB players and owners closer to common ground

It's June 4, a month away from what would be a perfect opening day for baseball, yet on and on the financial negotiations go.

MLB unsurprisingly rejected the players' 114-game proposal and the latest reports are that the league is considering a season of 50 games.

Sounds silly, doesn't even sound like baseball, seems unlikely to happen. 

The league wants fewer games because each game will cost clubs money. Players want more games because they want a greater share of their prorated salary. The sides are at this standstill because the players thought the March agreement guaranteed them their full prorated salaries, but there was a caveat in the deal about a season without fans in stands. 

The league also wants the regular season to end by October to best avoid having to shut down amid a coronavirus surge later in the year. Postseason broadcast revenue accounts for $787 million, according to ESPN.

So, how can these sides reach a compromise? The players want their full prorated salaries. The owners could agree to that but not for 114 games, and seemingly not for 82. 

What if the league guaranteed players 75% of their prorated pay? It's not 100% like the MLBPA thought it was agreeing to in March, but is there any realistic path to 100%? A compromise is required.

Rather than pay it out over 82 games, just play 75% of that 82-game schedule. That would be 62 games of full prorated pay for players. That length, 62 games, represents about 38% of a normal 162-game season. 

For the highest-paid players, it's a big bump up from what they would have made under that designed-to-fail sliding scale proposal. Someone like Bryce Harper, with an annual average salary of $25.4 million, could earn $9.7 million. This would put Zack Wheeler in the vicinity of $9 million, Jake Arrieta $7.7 million, Andrew McCutchen $6.4 million, Aaron Nola, $4.3 million, J.T. Realmuto, $3.8 million, Rhys Hoskins $232,500.

In a 62-game schedule, the Phillies could play three series of three games against each NL East foe (36 games). They could face each of the other 10 NL teams in one series, with four of those series being two-gamers. The Phils could play two in Colorado and two in Arizona back-to-back, two in Los Angeles and two in San Diego. 

Or teams could avoid long, cross-country trips and remain on their own coast, with the Phillies playing the Yankees, Orioles, Red Sox and Rays instead of the NL West.

It also could be even more division-heavy than that. For what it's worth, teams play 47% of their games inside the division in a normal season.

If the season is going to be shorter than 82 games, it also means these negotiations could extend. If you're playing 20 or 30 fewer games, that's a few more weeks to gauge the other side's willingness to bend. 

Hopefully, that is not the case and the sides act with urgency. It would do baseball a world of good to have an agreement in place in the next week or two. Build some excitement. Stir some intrigue beyond the financial discussions nobody wants to hear, think, read or write about, especially in 2020.

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Phillies hitters were 'tight as bleep' until Jimmy Rollins calmed things in 2008 NLDS clincher

Phillies hitters were 'tight as bleep' until Jimmy Rollins calmed things in 2008 NLDS clincher

The Phillies had a powerhouse offense in 2008. They ranked first in home runs (214), second in runs (4.93 per game) and third in OPS (.770) in the National League that season.

But through the first three games of the NL Division Series that fall, they'd hit just .234 and scored only nine runs. They had won two of those first three games against the Milwaukee Brewers on the strength of their pitchers, who'd held the Brewers to a .198 batting average and seven runs, and a couple of quick-strike big hits, one being Shane Victorino's grand slam against a fatigued CC Sabathia in Game 2.

Looking back, there was some noticeable anxiety around the Phillies before Game 4 of the series, which will be re-aired Thursday night on NBC Sports Philadelphia. The Brewers had won Game 3 in their home park. Another win in Game 4 would make it a whole new series where anything could happen in a winner-take-all Game 5.

In a hallway outside the clubhouse at Miller Park that October day in 2008, a Phillies team official captured the team's anxiety.

"Our hitters are tight as (bleep)," the guy said.

He was right. Phillies hitters needed to relax.

Enter the human chill pill, Jimmy Rollins.

The man who would eventually become the Phillies' all-time hits leader, led off the game with a full-count home run against Milwaukee starter Jeff Suppan. Miller Park, previously pulsating with excitement, got so quiet you could almost hear a collective exhale in the Phillies' dugout.

"I can't tell you how big that was to put an early number on the board,'' general manager Pat Gillick said after the game.

The Phillies went on to win the game, 6-2, and the series, three games to one, to earn a spot in the NL Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

After the game, a champagne-soaked Rollins basked in the victory and charted a course forward.

"This is one step in the right direction," he said. "We don't think we should be looking at anything less than a World Series. And that's a World Series win. We're geared to win."

Power fueled the Phillies' clinching win in Game 4 of that 2008 NLDS. All six of their runs came on four homers. (They had hit just one homer in the first three games.) In addition to Rollins, the Phillies got a homer from Jayson Werth and a pair of them from Pat Burrell.

Burrell's first homer was a game-changer. It came with two outs in the third inning after the Brewers and Suppan walked Ryan Howard intentionally with a runner on second and first base open. Howard led the majors with 48 homers and 146 RBIs that season so walking him was standard play. Burrell made the Brewers pay for the move and his three-run shot gave the Phils a 4-0 lead. Werth immediately followed with a haymaker solo homer and the Phils went up 5-0. Burrell homered again in the eighth to complete his four-RBI day.

Burrell was the No. 1 pick in the 1998 draft and 2008 was his last season with the club. Though rising stars like Howard, Rollins, Chase Utley and Cole Hamels got much of the attention on the '08 club, Burrell was an important complementary player and he went out in style, riding down Broad Street as a World Series champion.

"I couldn't be more thrilled," he said in the clubhouse after his two-homer day in Milwaukee all those years ago.

Another important complementary piece, Joe Blanton, pitched six innings of one-run ball that day for the victory. His contributions, and Burrell's, would continue in the weeks to come. The Phillies punched their ticket to the NLCS with their Game 4 NLDS win in Milwaukee and it all started with Jimmy Rollins's chill-pill leadoff homer.

"That series got our postseason going in '08," Rollins said years later. "We lost the night before and the stadium was so loud with the roof closed and those boom-boom sticks. We didn't want Game 5. We didn't want to face CC Sabathia. Being down 1-0 in the first inning wasn't in their plans."

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