Proud to be on team, Phillips wants US to excel
PEORIA, Ariz. -- When Team USA manager Joe Torre talked to Brandon Phillips on the phone and asked him whether he'd like to be the starting second baseman for the U.S. in the upcoming World Baseball Classic, the Reds All-Star was completely thrilled.
Phillips had been hoping to again wear the Team USA uniform since he was a 15-year-old batboy in the baseball portion of the 1996 Summer Olympics staged in his hometown of Atlanta. Cuba won the gold medal that year.
"I had called [Phillips], left him a message and he called me back," said Torre, who is coming out of retirement to manage in the third running of the Classic that begins for the U.S. against Mexico at Chase Field on March 8. "I'm not sure he knew it was an invitation. He thought I was sort of on a fact-finding mission. Then when I did assure him that I wanted him to play second base, he got excited, and said, 'Can I tweet about this?'"
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Torre said he'd first have to check with his teenage daughter because he didn't know what Twitter was and then quickly told Phillips, "Sure go ahead, tweet away, tweet away."
Torre, 72, is not a likely member of the Twitter generation, but Major League Baseball's executive vice president of baseball operations and a four-time World Series winner as manager of the Yankees evidently is aware of it now.
"It was funny, because first of all, I was just happy to hear Joe Torre's voice," Phillips said on Tuesday before his Reds lost, 7-5, to the Padres in a Cactus League game at Peoria Stadium. "I respect that man dearly. He was a championship manager and a great player also. For him to ask me to be the second baseman, that was a blessing in disguise. It was nice."
Phillips, who is a prolific tweeter, told the world succinctly via his @DatDudeBP account: "I can't wait to wear the red, white and blue on my chest."
That moment is quickly approaching. The 28 players who make up Team USA's roster will gather as a unit for the first time this coming Sunday at the Salt River Fields at Talking Stick complex in nearby Scottsdale, Ariz., with a full workout on one of the back fields the next day.
The U.S. is scheduled to play exhibition games on March 5 against the White Sox at Camelback Ranch and on the evening of March 6 against the Rockies at Salt River Fields. In a pool with Mexico, Italy and Canada, the U.S. will play those three countries in succession from March 8-10 at Chase Field.
If the Americans are one of the two teams to survive the bracket, they'll move on to Miami to play the second round at Marlins Park from March 12-16 against the winners among Venezuela, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Spain. The semifinals and final are slated for March 17-19 at San Francisco's AT&T Park.
Phillips is quickly trying to get up to speed. He had two at-bats on Tuesday and came out in the fifth inning. That gives him nine plate appearances in four games. But by the time he takes the field for Team USA, Phillips says he will be ready.
"I'm very excited to represent the country and wear the red, white and blue," Phillips said. "It's something I've always wanted to do since 1996, and I was a batboy in the Olympics. I looked up to Jacque Jones, Troy Glaus, all those guys who represented their country. It's just an honor to go out there and do that."
The U.S. won the bronze in 1996, when Phillips was the batboy and the games were played at long-gone Atlanta Fulton-County Stadium. The Americans hit their zenith four years later by defeating Cuba for the gold medal in Sydney, Australia, when professional players outside the 40-man rosters of each big league team played for the first time.
In the Classic, the U.S. hasn't excelled. The Americans were knocked out in the second round in 2006 and were beaten by Japan in the semis four years ago at Dodger Stadium. The Japanese won the first two tournaments, and right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka was the MVP of both events.
Looking at the lineup of All-Stars and award winners being fielded by Torre this time around, Phillips finds it hard to believe the U.S. will not do better.
"I mean, it looks good. On paper, it looks good. It's just all about us going out there and performing," Phillips said. "Hopefully, we can go out there and make the USA proud. Get that first place, get that medal, trophy, whatever it is, bring it home. Hopefully, we can do that. I don't want to just do something and lose.
"When Mr. Torre called and asked me, it didn't take long for me to say, 'Yes!' When somebody like that asks you to do something, how can you not do it? He's one of the best managers ever. He's one of the best players ever. Plus, you only might have only one opportunity to get a chance to do this."
And don't forget to follow his tweets!
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow@boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.