It’s that time of the year when the NFL season is just about wrapping up. The Super Bowl is almost upon us. We’re in the midst of the NHL and NBA seasons, and many of us Philly sports fans are keenly interested in this season’s fate for the Sixers and Flyers. Looking at the college basketball scene, March Madness will certainly be interesting indeed.
Baseball seems to get lost in the shuffle during this time of year. That’s why I love to attend the annual Phillies Caravan that makes its way through the Reading and Lehigh Valley areas this time of year. It gets our heads focused on baseball again knowing that the start of the season is right around the corner.
This was my second year attending this awesome event sponsored by the Reading Fightin’ Phils and held at the Reading Crowne Plaza Hotel. The large conference room is filled with food, auction items, raffle ticketed items (last year I won an autographed Charlie Manuel plaque), and closes out the night with Phillies personnel who put us in that Phillies and baseball frame of mind. This year, new manager Gabe Kapler, pitchers Mark Leiter Jr. and Jerad Eickhoff, along with home run hitter Rhys Hoskins attended and took a few questions from the crowd.
The event is also community focused. General Manager of the Fightins, Scott Hunsicker (no relation to Len), starts off the evening by recognizing kids in the crowd who have benefited from the Baseballtown Charities, which was established back in 2002. Their goal, per their website, is to “keep baseball alive in Reading so youngsters can benefit from the many life lessons the game teaches.”
While it’s great to hear about Baseballtown Charities’ update, many in the crowd want to hear a brief update from the Phillies personnel on hand. Scott Proefrock, Assistant General Manager for the Phillies, was asked by our favorite broadcaster, Scott Franzke, about the offseason. First and foremost, Proefrock said the Phillies front office wanted to make sure “this team had the tools to be successful” for this up coming season. Regarding the Phils acquisition of Carlos Santana, Proefrock indicated that a lot of teams were honing in on Giancarlo Stanton, and it created a bit of distraction. It allowed them to make progress and headway on the Santana deal. The Phillies front office is still working the phones to date. Proefrock said, “just today I was talking to an agent of a free agent, and they’re getting antsy.” Front offices seem to be dictating the market this offseason more than players have, which is a change from recent years.
Kapler was next on deck and said he “had butterflies watching these guys in the weight room this morning.” He went on further to say, “the work we’re going to get done [this offseason] will be valuable.” Kapler, who is not a Pennsylvania native, spent his entire offseason in the City of Philadelphia. His reasoning is what every single Phillies sports fan wants to hear (heck, every Philly sports fan). Being new to the city, Kapler said, “I want to be someone who is deeply committed to this city.” When asked about his favorite part of Philadelphia, Kapler said it was south Philly. “The working class feel, the history and the family feel is what I loved about that area of Philly,” Kapler said.
Kapler was also asked about where Carlos Santana will hit in the line up. He said, “Santana can hit at the 2, at the 4, at the 3. He hit at the 1 for Cleveland, so we’re going to put him in the lineup at various spots throughout the season,” indicating the versatility Santana will bring to the lineup.
Those at the event could tell Leiter was so appreciative to be a major league pitcher. Very humble, he talked about his work ethic, spoke of this dream as a kid of making the big leagues and being able to share the experience with his mentor, his dad.
Eickhoff discussed his injury with the audience, the trials and tribulations of being a pitcher with a broken finger, and said he’s ready to get back on the mound this season. He also indicated how important working with the Phillies catchers have been, getting to know them even better.
Finally, Hoskins came to the podium. Earlier in the evening he was introduced as the Phillies left fielder. When asked about the move to left field he said, “it’s going to be a challenge, but I’ll be able to add versatility to my game.” A member of the audience asked about his time with the Fightin’ Phils and the memorable 2016 home run race between he and Dylan Cozens. “It was simply fun,” and great to have that experience with Dylan, Hoskins said.
The Phillies Caravan is aways a great event, and I would highly recommend any Phillies fan attend next year. Most importantly, it marks the time of year we can say, baseball is coming!