BETHLEHEM The Lehigh Valley IronPigs brought the annual Phillies Winter Banquet to the Sands Event Center in Bethlehem, heightening the level of baseball fever on some of the coldest days in two years.
"There are certain milestones in the off-season, like when the Winter Meetings come around and now, we're out here talking to fans about the team and that's when you know you're getting close to playing some ball," said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel about the event.
The event was somewhat of a homecoming for two current Phillies. Catcher Erik Kratz and infielder Kevin Frandsen both played on the IronPigs last season, but finished the year by getting substantial playing time in the majors.
"I'm appreciative of everything here at Lehigh Valley. The support of the fans was great, we had 10,000 most nights and even in Philly, a lot of people say 'hey, I saw you play with the IronPigs', so it's great to come back here," explained Frandsen, who is also excited that Ryne Sandberg, his manager at Lehigh Valley will now be the third base coach with the Phillies.
"It means a lot to have him there," said Frandsen. "He and I have a great relationship. He respects the way I play and I appreciate everything he stands for, so I'm excited to have him there. He is probably the most humble Hall of Famer you'll ever find. Baseball needs more guys like him."
Injuries were a major issue for the 2012 Phillies, but Manuel thinks everybody is going to be healthy coming into camp, which wasn't the case last spring or at the end of the season.
"I saw Halladay and Howard down in Clearwater when I was down there a week or two ago and Howard looked good swinging. He said his Achilles doesn't bother him anymore and his ankles are good, so I was happy to hear that," reported Manuel. "Halladay looked real good. You could tell he's done a lot of work on his upper body to strengthen his back and get in better shape and he threw the other day and the reports were good."
With new faces like Delmon Young and Michael Young joining the club, Manuel thinks it will take him a little time to shake out how he wants to put his lineup together. He also thinks there is a lot of roles in the bullpen that will have to be straightened out in spring training, but he's looking forward to the competition.
"I think it's good to have some new faces and to work in some kids here and there and let them learn from the veterans. We got a lot of guys from here at Lehigh Valley last year and they all did pretty good for us, so we'll have some decisions to make, but they'll work themselves out," explained Manuel.
Coincidentally, the event came on the same day that the Phillies division rival, Atlanta Braves made a blockbuster deal to bring outfielder Justin Upton to their lineup. Phillies General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. was at the event and said he sees good and bad things for the Phillies coming from that deal.
"At first I thought, 'wow, that makes the Braves stronger', but then I realized they dealt Martin Prado and was sort of relieved, because he was always somewhat of a Phillie killer and hit us hard, so I'm glad he's out of the division," laughed Amaro.
The event raised over $85,000 for IronPigs Charities, which provides educational and recreational opportunities for kids throughout the Lehigh Valley. That money will be awarded to 20 different organizations across the area. This year's crowd was the largest ever, selling out all 1,100 tickets that were available.