Former Mets catcher and first baseman Jason Phillips’ passion for the game has not changed through the years.
“I don’t go skydiving or anything like that for [an] adrenaline rush,” he said. “I get it through the game of baseball.”
Of course, Mets fans might have to do a double-take to recognize Phillips as he shares his wisdom and expertise with the next generation of ballplayers through cities such as Hartford, Harrisburg and Akron.
Gone are the rec specs that were part of the allure that made Phillips such a fan-favorite during the early 2000s. And as the bullpen coach for the Trenton Thunder, Double-A affiliate of the New York Yankees, so is the facial hair.
“It’s the Yankee way,” said Phillips with a smile and laughter, as he recounted his response to former Yankee pitcher Andy Pettitte during Spring Training, when the ex-ace noted he didn’t recognize Phillips’ look compared to their playing days.
In his first season with the Yankees organization, the affable, former 24th round draft pick of the Mets, admits he’s still adjusting to the sound of hearing his name associated with the Bronx Bombers because “coming up with the Mets, we were not big fans of the Yankees whatsoever.”
A Coaching Future
One thing Phillips is not adjusting to is coaching. It is a role he knew he would be interested in should an opportunity arise when his playing days were over.
“Most coaches are ex-catchers,” said Phillips. “[And that’s] because you see the game, you have to think on your feet, and make adjustments. You’re basically running the team for the manager on the field.”
While his post-New York tenure included stops in Los Angeles, Toronto and Richmond, it was in Seattle where he got his start as part of a staff, serving as a bullpen catcher for seven seasons, before moving on in the same capacity with the Blue Jays.
Phillips breakout year for the Mets was the ’03 season, where he hit over .300 for most of the year, while playing a new position due to team injuries. Phillips credits former Mets coach Matt Galante for taking him under his wing and essentially teaching him how to play first base on the fly while in the big leagues.
“I hadn’t taken a grounder in five years, but give me a glove,” said Phillips, reminiscing on a conversation in AAA, when asked if he could play first base. “I literally played three games in Syracuse and Mike Piazza [gets injured] and the next day I am on a flight at 6 a.m. to San Francisco for a one o’clock day game and starting at first base.”
“Rey Ordonez was standing next to me in the dugout and he goes ‘JP, he’s going to go deep right here,’ and I am like no chance,” said Phillips, who was a September call-up that season. “And I remember he took a first pitch fastball and I am like oh that was his pitch and Rey goes ‘no, he’s going deep right here. I am telling you…’ [and] the next pitch [Piazza] hits it out to center field…and Rey and I just grabbed each other and were shaking each other.”
New York State of Mind
Phillips has fond memories of his time in New York because of the diehard fans and the high standards that are set for their teams.
His advice to athletes who wear an NY uniform is simple. “Go out and play hard for the fans because they’ll adore you if they know you’re giving it an effort.”
As for his time with the Mets, he summarizes it simply as well.
“I love the Mets, always will,” said Phillips. “They gave me my opportunity in this game. I will always have a soft spot in my heart for them.”
The same can be said about Phillips by diehard Met fans, such as me, who recall JP’s max effort and passion for the game. Now, if only the team had hosted a Jason Phillips Spec Giveaway Day during the ’03 or ’04 season.