Tag Archives: Christmas

My Philadelphia Phillies Christmas wish 2019

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I think the Phanatic and most Phillies fans would agree with my one Christmas wish

 

With a number of happenings and gatherings over the next few days, barring some major breaking news this will be my final piece before Christmas.

There is really only one serious wish that I have for this year where there Philadelphia Phillies are concerned. If I were to actually whisper in Santa’s ear or write a letter to the North Pole, it would be the lone gift that I would ask for relating to baseball.

My one 2019 Christmas wish is for a winning Philadelphia Phillies ball club in the 2020 season.

By “winning”, I don’t mean 82-80. I mean a team that wins 90+ games and finally reaches October postseason baseball for the first time since 2011.

I really don’t care how they get there. I don’t need any more specific free agents signed or trades made. I am not looking for some final piece to any roster puzzle.

The Phillies have enough talented players right now to make it happen. They have legitimate stars at or near the top of the game at their positions in Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto. There are veterans with contender pedigrees such as Andrew McCutchen and Didi Gregorius. And there are at least two top-notch starting pitchers in Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler.

So many others either underperformed or were injured last year. I recently wrote about five such players who are being counted on and whose improvement would be keys in 2020: Rhys Hoskins, Jean Segura, Scott Kingery, Adam Haseley, and Jake Arrieta.

New skipper Joe Girardi has already won a World Series, three division crowns, and been named the National League Manager of the Year for guiding an NL East ball club in 11 seasons as a manager in the big-leagues. Girardi justifiably elicits far more confidence than Gabe Kapler ever did without having run even a single Phillies game.

There are many reasons to believe that my Christmas wish will come true. And, of course, so much could go wrong over the next 10 months. There are certainly no guarantees in professional sports.

Sure, I would like another proven, veteran, left-handed starting pitcher for the Phillies rotation. Yes, I would like another impact-caliber bat for the bench mix. Absolutely, another big arm, perhaps one with some closer credentials, would be nice for the bullpen.

But whatever the specifics are that help the club to arrive there, my one wish at Christmas 2019 for the Philadelphia Phillies is that truly exciting, winning, playoff season.

While this is my final scheduled writing piece, keep following @philliesbell on social media at Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram where I will continue to post as regularly as time allows this week.

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to all Phillies fans!

 

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Advent: A time for anticipation, and patience

Today is the first day of the period known as “Advent”, a season observed by most Christians as a time of expectant waiting and preparation as we approach the celebration of Jesus’ birth at Christmas, as well as his return at the Second Coming.

Two popular songs from my lifetime often pop into my head when I think of Advent themes. “Anticipation” by Carly Simon and “Patience” by Guns N’ Roses.

No, they are not traditional Christmas songs. It is the themes which those two songs are built around that highlight this period in the church.

Anticipation…is keepin’ me waitin’“, as Simon sings in her 1971 song from the album of that same name.

The song opens with the lines: “We can never know about the days to come. But we think about them anyway.

This is entirely true when we consider that Advent is not only a lead-up to Christmas, but is also a time to reflect on and prepare for that return of Jesus at the end of time.

We don’t know when that time will come. A thousand years from now? A century? A decade? Next year? Maybe today.

What we do know is that He will come again. It is our job to be prepared for that time coming at any time.

As the Gunners 1989 song from their “G N’ R Lies” LP rolls towards it’s end, my favorite part of the tune plays out:

I’ve been walking the streets at night
Just trying to get it right
It’s hard to see with so many around
You know I don’t like being stuck in the crowd
And the streets don’t change but maybe the names
I ain’t got time for the game ’cause I need you
Yeah, yeah, but I need you…

Today’s world is more hectic than ever. The demand for immediacy and perfection is a major challenge to the happiness of many.

But consider the world before the last few decades. A time when there was no Internet. No cellphones. No cable television. Why, just a century ago there was no radio or television at all.

Those 100 years are nothing. A fraction of time when you consider that the United States has been a nation for 243 years now, and that mankind has been building civilizations for thousands of years.

The Jewish people have been known to history since at least 1,000 years before the birth of Christ. From the very beginnings, it was known that one day a savior or messiah would come to redeem and liberate the Jewish people.

These early Jews were the forerunners of today’s Christianity. As Christians, we believe that the Messiah came to the world as Jesus Christ.

But imagine being a Jew who was waiting for that messianic appearance. A thousand years. Generation up on generation lived and died knowing the time would come, hoping it might come in their time, yet never experiencing that appearance.

That is some patience.

During this time leading up to Christmas, many of you are going to feel rushed. You are going to feel pressured. You are going to feel overwhelmed. Shopping, decorating, parties, and more.

Stop. Breathe. Do not allow it to happen. Anticipate the coming of Christmas with joy in your heart, and do not ever allow commercialism to overtake that joy.

Have patience with crowds, with family, and most importantly with yourself. Keep things simple. You don’t need to be all things to all people. And you certainly don’t need to go into debt to make others happy.

The anticipation of the coming Christmas holiday comes natural to most of us. It is just as important that you prepare to exercise that quality of patience as well over these coming weeks.

 

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Phillies Christmas Tree: Aaron Nola

It was just five months ago that Aaron Nola made his big league debut on July 21st. 
On that day at Citizens Bank Park, Nola shut down the Tampa Bay Rays, allowing just five hits and one run while striking out a half-dozen Rays’ batters over six innings.
That was the first of thirteen starts Nola would make in his rookie season. He was shut down a week early, following a shutout of Washington at Nationals Park over five innings.
All in all, Nola finished the season with a 6-2 record, 3.59 ERA, and a 1.197 WHIP. He allowed 74 hits in 77.2 innings, with a 68/19 K:BB ratio. 
The player who had been the Phillies 1st round MLB Amateur Draft choice just a year earlier had shown that he belonged and could be counted on in a big league rotation.
With every prognosticator of such things already predicting that Nola would ultimately settle into the middle of a contending big league rotation, it might appear that all the 22-year old needs to do in the coming 2016 season is stay healthy, and keep on keepin’ on. 

Do what he did in 2015, only over a full season, and continue that over a long career.
However, even with an obviously talented player such as Nola, one who has produced at every level to this point in his young career, there is plenty to hope for under a baseball Christmas tree. 
There are three things in particular that we hope were found under his tree in this case.
The first is the same as with any pitcher – health. He has never faced a significant injury. If the Phillies end up getting a decade of 180-200 mostly quality innings seasons from their right-hander that would be invaluable for the franchise.
As the 2015 season wound to a close, and the organization was debating whether to shut him down early, Nola was quoted by Philly.com’s Matt Breen on the topic. “I definitely feel better than I thought I would at this time of year,” Nola said. “I still feel like I can pitch a good bit.
In the 2014 season, Nola had pitched 116.1 innings over 16 starts in winding down his outstanding collegiate career at LSU
After being drafted and signed by the Phillies in early June, Nola proceeded to pitch another 55.1 innings over a dozen appearances, 11 of them starts, split between Clearwater and Reading.
That total of 171.2 innings in 2014 was ultimately increased to 187 innings this past season. 
He tossed 109.1 of those in the minors, split between Reading and Lehigh Valley, and then those 77.2 with the Phillies. That bump of 15.1 innings in usage should not be considered excessive.
While the Phillies have been somewhat aggressive in their promotion and usage of Nola, that was really part of the point in drafting him in the first place. 
He was considered an advanced prospect who would not require much developmental time in the minors, and that has proven to be the case.
A second gift that it would be nice for Nola to receive is one of increased performance. His anticipated role as a mid-rotation starter on a contender, more of a solid #3 or 4 type, could be elevated to more of a strong #2 starter.
The key there will be maintaining and possibly even improving upon the pinpoint control that allows his pure stuff, which is a tick above average, to play up even further. 
If Nola finds another level in performance, and can develop into a Greg Maddux clone, even an approximation of that level of control, what a gift that would be for the player and the Phillies.
Finally, Nola could receive the gift of a better team in front of him. He performed well and won consistently with the worst team in Major League Baseball. 
A leap forward by the talent around him would be a boon to the stats on the back of his baseball cards, and to the fans who will be paying to enjoy them all.

Phillies Christmas Tree: Maikel Franco

During September of 2014, Maikel Franco made his debut in Major League Baseball. 
It was an inauspicious beginning with the Phillies, as Franco hit for just a .179/.190/..214 slash line in 58 plate appearances across 16 games.
Still, the Phils top prospect had gotten his feet wet, and would surely benefit the next time he got the call. That call came a little more than seven months ago, on May 15th.
Just two days later, Franco launched his first big league home run off Randall Delgado in a 6-0 Phillies victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Citizens Bank Park.

Franco took over the starting 3rd base position, and was handling his defensive responsibilities well, while providing a much-needed young spark to the middle of the batting order.
From his promotion through August 10th, a period that encompassed 76 games, or roughly a half-season, Franco hit for a .277/.388/.490 slash line with 13 homers, 22 doubles, 48 RBI, and 43 runs scored. 
But just when he was shoving himself into the NL Rookie of the Year conversation, disaster struck. On August 11th, Franco stepped in against the DBacks at Chase Field
On the mound, ironically, was righty Jeremy Hellickson, who will now be a Franco teammate with the Phillies in 2016.
Hellickson drilled Franco with a fastball on the left wrist in the top of the 1st inning. The pitch would cause a small fracture, one that appeared to end his promising rookie season.
But Franco was able to recover in time to make appearances in the final three games of the season. He even banged a home run at Citizens Bank Park in the 2nd game of an October 3rd doubleheader against the Miami Marlins.
Franco hopefully woke this morning to find a pair of important gifts from Santa, from a baseball perspective, under his Christmas tree.
The first is simply good health. If Franco can stay healthy all year in 2016, have even small performance increases from the players around him, and continue a normal expected developmental growth progression of his own, then we could be looking at a 30+ home run, 100+ RBI season. 
No Phillies batter has reached either of those marks since Ryan Howard in the 2011 season.
Another important gift that Franco hopefully found is increased defensive effectiveness. 
While he may have appeared to make most of the plays to the casual fan, the fact is that Franco’s defense by any measurable standard was below average at the hot corner last season.
If it turns out that Franco has to move across the diamond to 1st base eventually, that isn’t the biggest disaster. 
But it would close off that position for any other all-bat player who comes along, perhaps a prospect such as Jorge Alfaro or Cornelius Randolph, and would create a hole in the future lineup at 3rd base.
If Franco indeed awoke to find full health and better defense under the tree, those will be gifts for not only himself, but also for the entire Phillies organization and the fan base. 
Those would be gifts that keep on giving all through the 2016 season, and well into the future.

Phillies Christmas 2015: Naughty or Nice?

While the 2015 Philadelphia Phillies team saw a bunch of players make Santa’s “Naughty” list, some actually made his “Nice” list for Christmas.

When a team finishes with the worst overall record in Major League Baseball, it’s easy to see why so many will be receiving a lump of coal in their Christmas stockings from the right jolly old elf this year.
But for a handful of the team’s players, enough positives were provided, enough thrills given to the loyal fans who stayed with the team through a third successive dismal campaign, that they earned their Christmas gifts.
Not every player made it to either list. In fact, most of the players had performances or roles that were so inconsequential that they will be receiving neither coal nor great presents. Maybe the man in the red suit will leave them a little something as a future incentive.
So who specifically found themselves relegated to this year’s “Naughty” list, and who made that “Nice” list? 
Well, I just happen to have contacts at the North Pole who provided this year’s list, faxing it down to me this afternoon.
I promised that I would not reveal the entire list. But I was given permission to reveal the status of a half-dozen key members of the 2015 Philadelphia Phillies ball club. 
So here are those six members of the team, and on which list their name appears.