There’s always a risk involved when taking a flyer on a proven major league ballplayer who’s armed with the belief that he can still contribute in the face of Father Time’s looming presence.
In veteran second baseman Brandon Phillips, it didn’t take long for the alleged “risk” to fall by wayside. The 37-year-old has been as good as advertised since joining the Pawtucket Red Sox on July 14. On the field, he’s emerged as one of the more important cogs in the PawSox lineup while providing sound defense. Away from the diamond, it’s been seamless when it comes to Phillips fitting into a clubhouse dynamic that features several players who were in elementary school when he broke into the majors in 2002 at age 21.“I feel that I’m not better than anyone. I put my pants on the same way as everybody else. I just want to be like one of the guys. I’m not going to isolate myself,” Phillips said. “The only thing that’s different is my time in the big leagues. Other than that, I want to be treated just like everyone else.
“The success I’ve had in this game … I want these guys to see that I’m busting my butt to get back there. I want them to get there, too. Playing Major League Baseball is a dream come true. I’m still dreaming. I haven’t woken up yet.”
With the minor-league season nearing its conclusion – the PawSox will play their final regular season game this coming Monday – the story of Phillips and whether the Boston Red Sox will add his bat and glove when roster expansion takes place on Sept. 1 makes for compelling theater. Phillips would first have to be added to Boston’s 40-man roster. There is a spot available – the question becomes whether the Red Sox elect to pull the trigger and bring aboard someone who’s put himself in the driver’s seat in his quest to return to the big leagues.
Entering Pawtucket’s penultimate homestand of the season that began this past Tuesday night, Phillips was hitting .406 in his previous 17 games with 11 extra-base hits and 10 RBI. In his first 34 games with the PawSox, Phillips is batting .308 with three homers and 18 RBI.
That certainly sounds like a player who can help the Red Sox in September.
“He’s been terrific,” PawSox manager Kevin Boles said. “He’s having a ball. He came in and was like, ‘Wow.’ Here’s a guy who just wants to play and loves being in the clubhouse. That’s a fun guy to have around.”
“He looks like settling in and playing the game the way he’s used to playing,” said Pawtucket hitting coach Rich Gedman, referencing the fact that Phillips had to quickly get back up to speed after not having had the benefit of a full spring training. “Now he’s in a position where he can help somebody.”
At this stage of his career, Phillips doesn’t need the money; he’s made a tad under $100 million during a 16-year MLB stint that includes games with the Indians, Reds, Braves, and Angels. He’s been selected to three All-Star Games, won four Gold Glove awards, and ended last season with 2,026 career hits.
As impressive as Phillips’ résumé reads, it’s missing a lengthy playoff run and subsequent World Series title. The chance to end both pursuits were the underlying reasons why he signed a minor-league deal with the Red Sox in June.
“That what we play for … to get that ring,” Phillips said. “I want my trophy case to be filled with something that’s blinging. Hopefully I can make that happen by helping Boston achieve that goal.”
Receiving interest from Boston after years of playing for sub-.500 teams, “is a dream come true. It’s a big market. They’re ballin’ and that’s great. How can you say no to that?” Phillips said. “I was surprised that they called me, but whatever they want me to do, I’m down with that.”
Spend some time with Phillips and it’s clear he’s one cool cat with two feet firmly planted on the ground. Ask him about the backstory behind the creation of his unique Twitter/Instagram name (@DatDudeBP) and Phillips will explain how he went from social media butterfly to frequent poster. There was a time when he was leery to get involved, but eventually he caved.
“I’m a very private person, but my sister and (former Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver) Chad Johnson made me do it,” Phillips said. “They wanted baseball and the world to know what type of person I am. I didn’t like it in the beginning, but once I saw that I could talk to my fans and things that I like, I kept going further and further into it.”
When the day arrives and Phillips packs up his gear and departs the PawSox clubhouse for good, he hopes to have a personal keepsake in tow – one that reflects his tenure with the Triple-A ballclub. Think along the lines of a game-worn jersey that’s autographed by PawSox players and coaches. It’s an approach that Phillips was successful in achieving in July following a six-game stint with Single-A Lowell. Before moving from one Red Sox minor-league affiliate to the next, Phillips had the Spinners apply black ink to a jersey.
When Phillips posted a photo of the signed Lowell Spinners jersey on his personal Instagram account on July 14, it was accompanied with “Another jersey for the Dat Dude Museum!” The part about a museum … let’s just say Phillips has a very extensive memorabilia collection that’s located in his Atlanta house.
From his own playing jerseys, to collecting jerseys of players who have the same last name as him, to obtaining signatures and apparel of movie stars and high-profile athletes he’s come in contact with, Phillips developed a spot in his house where his playing days could live on forever.
“It shows hard work and dedication. That’s how I look at it,” Phillips said. “You can forget all the things you’ve done, but when you walk into your own house and go to your own museum or office, that stuff doesn’t get erased.”
Expansion plans for Dat Dude Museum are always on the table – so long as Phillips keeps on playing.
“It really shows what kind of career I’ve been blessed to enjoy, but I’m still dreaming. Hopefully I can add to the collection,” he said, a nod towards what could potentially be on the horizon should he get to take a ride on the Pawtucket-to-Boston shuttle.