The Phillies Winter Banquet at the Sands Event Center in Bethlehem provided fans the opportunity to get to see and hear some of the key players who will make up the 2014 Phillies. It also showcased just how many former Lehigh Valley IronPigs players are now on the Phillies roster and contributing to the big league team. Even the Phillies manager, Ryne Sandberg, is a former IronPig who has moved up to Philadelphia for his first shot at managing in the majors.
Sandberg, who was passed over to be the Chicago Cubs manager which ultimately led him back to the Phillies organization, remembers getting the call that he was the one the Phillies wanted to take over when Charlie Manuel was fired last August.
"I remember it like it was yesterday and it was bittersweet at the time. Charlie Manuel gave me the opportunity to join his staff and coach third base for him and I owed a lot to him and I worked hand-in-hand with him for about five months, but when that call came, I instantly put on my managerial hat and the experience of going back to the minor leagues for six years kicked in," remembers Sandberg, who even though he was a Hall of Fame player, decided to work his way up through the minor leagues as a manager.
"Within about 48 hours, it felt like things started to fall into place and I created some structure and some work habits with the players in the pre-game and started to work on the chemistry of the team and trying to get guys to play the game the right way. I think those 42 games will go a long way this year not only with the players, but for me," Sandberg said.
The story of the off-season has been the increasing number of players on the roster who are now in or entering their mid-30s. Sandberg will have the task of mixing those veterans with the few younger players that the Phillies have in the mix and coming up with a winning combination. Ruben Amaro Jr., the team's general manager, understands the concerns that fans have about the age of the club, but believes there is a lot to like about the team.
"They're concerned about the age and because we've had so many injuries and issues from our more experienced players, and I can understand that," admitted Amaro. "For me, it's about trying to get these guys to play quality baseball and get them on the field and win baseball games. I feel very good about our health right now. I do have some concern about the age, maybe not as much as the fans, because I believe in our guys and I believe in their ability and all indications are that guys are going to be ready to go in spring training, so I feel a little more bullish about things than the fans do, but I understand their concerns."
While Amaro believes this team can be successful, he also admits that this is a pivotal season and that he will need to take a different approach if things don't turn out as well as he plans on them going. Should the team struggle early in the season, Amaro says he won't hesitate to make changes to the club.
"A scenario where we have to cut bait? Yeah, that's possible. Obviously, we're hopeful that doesn't happen, but we have to be cognoscente of that, that if things aren't going to work we need to make changes. I think we have the talent to still contend, but if they don't show that to us on the field or for whatever reason the circumstances don't make that happen, then we'll have to do that. We've kind of started some of that transition with the young players who will be on the field this year, but we're going to have to start some type of transition and if things don't go well, we may have to transition a little bit more," said Amaro.
Third baseman Cody Asche made his major league debut while the Phillies were struggling and then went through seeing Manuel fired, but he didn't let those things affect his approach, because he saw that the veteran players were handling those issues by simply working to get better.
"You just look at the veterans and you see how they just dismiss those exterior happenings and they focus on that day and the preparation for that game," said Asche. "You look up to those guys and see how they prepare and if it doesn't affect them, then you don't let it affect you.
"For me, the toughest part of being in the majors was controlling the emotions of playing in a major league game. It's a little bit different than playing in a minor league game, so the emotional aspect of it was kind of tough. I just kind of worry about what I can control and what I can control is my work ethic and how I play the game and how I go about getting ready for the game, so that's really all I worry about."