As winter worsens, the baseball season begins in Clearwater

By Matthew Shinkle ‘14

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A new season offers new promise for a team that very badly needs to get back to its winning ways.

As snowflakes continue to fall in the chilly Northeast, the Philadelphia Phillies have retreated to the sandy beaches and crisp, clean air of Clearwater, Florida as spring training is officially underway.

Get your gloves ready; although it may not look like it outside, spring is almost here and the baseball season is nearing with each passing day. Not many have been optimistic about the Phillies over the past couple seasons, with what seemed like a laundry list of injuries up and down the roster and little production from players that marked at the top of the team’s payroll.

However, this season offers new promise for the players and the fans. A new attitude has taken command of the locker room—replacing—the lack of one that then new closer Jonathan Papelbon said he felt was not present.  Although this team with each passing year seems to get dramatically older, fans have repeatedly cried out that the team needs to rebuild with younger guys already–a notion that GM Ruben Amaro Jr. simply isn’t getting.

Last year, the Phillies went into the season, once more, claiming to the fan base and the world that this team held potential for a playoff run, and, of course, also a World Series Championship.  In the end, we were all fooling ourselves if we believed that even for a minute. It was a miracle after two long years that Chase Utley even walked back out onto the field. It was fun watching Cliff Lee fool the batters; it was fun watching Dom Brown grow as a player; it was fun watching players like Cody Asche and Darin Ruf come up to the majors and storm the season as the players of the future for a now struggling franchise. However, in the end, that’s all the season was–fun. The Phillies finished 4th in the NL East with a record of 73-89, their first losing season in over 10 years. They suffered the lowest attendance rating since the year 2007, when the Fightin’ Phils run started, and finally made the playoffs, and would actually physically contend for a championship for the next five years. Now, this year, could be the turning point of the franchises near future.

Last year the season was a disruptive one in the City of Brotherly Love. Beloved manager Charlie Manuel was replaced and fired, with his replacement being named As Ryne Sandberg. The search for an actual right fielder still loomed after the hole was created by Jayson Werth’s departure from the team after the 2010 season. Lastly, a growing number of health concerns pursued as the team continued to get older.

Therefore, the motto of the season should quite literally be World Series or bust. Unless this team can actually put a spark under its butt and contend the whole season and into October, which doesn’t look favorable at all by the way, the fear that had been lurking over the franchise and city’s shoulder of another rebuilding era may finally come sprinting around the corner. Rearing its ugly head, and mocking the fans that so faithfully devoted their hearts to the game and the players, fan favorites such as Cliff Lee, Chase Utley, and even Cole Hamels could disappear at year’s end. Come the All-Star Break, yet another fire sale may be in full bloom, utterly saying, but not flat out admitting, another lose season has already been witnessed.

Still, the season is amid its brightest point for all 32 teams in the MLB. As of right now, no team is ahead of another and no team is below another.

In best case scenario, the Phillies luck out on Utley’s knees staying healthy throughout the entire season once more; Ryan Howard bounces back into former MVP form and doesn’t lead the league in stikeouts; Jimmy Rollins refuses to let what was possibly the worst year of his career haunt him; the trio of Hamels, Lee and Burnett come together smoother than a baby’s bottom and are atop the league in rotation strength; and finally, Jonathan Papelbon becomes the leader he has said twice now he can be and, proves that he is worth the extremely high amount of money he is bound to receive.

Wow. That’s a lot of ifs. Most likely, not even half of that will come true, and yet another Phillies disaster season will once again appear. Here is the more likely scenario: it take Howard some time to readjust to playing since he hasn’t seen the field in two whole years; the rotation falters as it has in recent years despite the great names it contains; and Chase Utley’s knees prevent him from being on the field everyday like he will be needed, and possibly even becomes a defensive liability.

Quite frankly, that second scenario is way more likely.

I’m a Phillies fan—I  have been my whole life. But unfortunately, there comes a time when the slightly maddening becomes the unbearable. I want to see this team succeed, as do the rest of the city, and the sport of baseball. However, if the team simply can’t win with the pieces it currently has, I’m afraid rather than putting off rebuilding to save face as a ball club, Ruben Amaro Jr. might as well look for a championship five to seven years in the future, and start building a new team, because the core group of guys like Utley, Howard, Rollins and Hamels, although tremendously fun to watch, are running on fumes.

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