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Phillies: they are a team
by Scott Butler 1/26/13

It finally set in yesterday, the sobering realization that the Phillies are the third best team in the NL East. This feeling cauterized yesterday upon learning that the Braves acquired Justin Upton. One year ago, the Phillies were defending their fifth straight National League East title and coming off the best record in baseball for the second straight season. Now, they are coming off a .500 mark and hoping to sneak into the playoffs. It was a tough morning to be a Phillies fan.

But my mood changed quickly. I had the good fortune to attend the Phillies Winter Breakfast yesterday at the Diamond Club at Citizens Bank Park and was reminded why it is great to be a Phillies fan. The event itself was enough to brighten even the coldest January day. Charlie Manuel, Ruben Amaro, Erik Kratz, Kevin Frandsen, and Tom McCarthy enlightened season ticket holders in an entertaining Q&A session.

Looking back on a fantastic day with great baseball guys, I came away with a better understanding of what it really means to be a Phillies fan. All it took was three words from Kevin Frandsen: "they were teams."

I got a chance to chat with Frandsen, who seemed so anxious to throw on a uniform and play in 20 degree weather that it would not have surprised me if he had pine tar and eye black in his pocket. Kevin mentioned how much it irked him that he spent the first six years of his career in the Giants organization, only to leave just in time for the Giants to win two World Series titles without him.

"And they were crappy, too," I said.

"No," he quickly corrected me, "they were teams."

"They didn't have the sexy names, but they were teams," he elaborated.

Those were teams. Hmmm.

His words lingered with me throughout the day, but the true power of those three words never really hit me until today.

They were teams.

It got me thinking. What exactly is a team? The Phillies showed that the concept of team extends beyond the players on the field and can stretch throughout an entire city.

The Phillies demonstrated their definition of the word by choosing Erik Kratz and Kevin Frandsen as their player representatives. They weren't even starters a year ago. Why them? I like to think that it was because they represent us and embody what we value in our players.

Kratz and Frandsen endured years in the minors and had to scratch and claw their way onto a Major League roster, but they persevered. Given the opportunity, they gave a blue collar effort in a blue collar town. As former minor league roommates, Kratz referenced how Frandsen wakes up with dirt on his shoulders. Frandsen reminded folks of Erik's collision with Chipper Jones. It wasn't homers and RBI's that impressed one another; it was heart and determination. That's a team.

And what about the fans? Philadelphia fans are constantly reminded of snowballs, batteries, taser incidents, and eagerness to boo their own players. Yet what I witnessed was the most knowledgeable fan base in baseball. Given the chance to grill the manager and general manager, this group was not interested in second guessing and finger pointing. They wanted to talk Phillies baseball.

They asked questions about on base percentage, the lineup, the outfield situation, and the pitching rotation. One fan even asked Ruben Amaro about insurance on players. Do you think a Nationals fans would ponder such an intelligent question? Philadelphia fans may be tough on their players and coaches, but one thing they are not is stupid. They truly feel that their words can influence and improve the teams they passionately root for. That's a team.

Finally, there is the organization as a whole. I spoke to John Brazer, Director of Publicity, who told me this is his 20th year with the Phillies. Twenty years might be a long time in most places, but with the Phillies he ranks 65th on the longevity chart. People like Harry and Whitey who remained with the Phils until the end of their lives. That's a team.

I came into the Phillies Breakfast disappointed about my team's chances. I left feeling proud to call myself a Phillies fan.

Sure, the Phillies might be the third best team in the NL East on paper, but with grinders like Kratz and Frandsen, a dedicated organization, and a hungry fan base, "they are a team."

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