Connor Barwin's benefit concert featuring Kurt Vile is this Friday night

Connor Barwin's benefit concert featuring Kurt Vile is this Friday night

Sometimes, on Fridays, I like to go to happy hour and enjoy a few beers.

I did this a couple weeks ago with some friends at Morgan's Pier. It was a lovely early summer evening in Philadelphia drinking outdoors. Pretty typical.

A few hours later, I found myself sitting at a table at Johnny Brenda's in Fishtown listening to Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin make fun of my girlfriend's mother.

Not exactly typical.

Barwin and I had been playing text tag, trying to catch up to talk about the benefit show he's putting on this coming Friday night, June 20th, at Union Transfer featuring local artists Kurt Vile, the Districts, and a band hailing from his former residence in Houston, the Tontons.

It just so happened that 10:30 pm on a Friday night after I'd been drinking for a few hours worked best for the busy Eagles linebacker.

But he made time, because Barwin really wants to get the word out and do absolutely everything he can to make this show -- and the playground it's helping renovate -- a big success. He even rode around town on his bike putting up flyers for the event.

Barwin with the kids who will benefit from his efforts (photo via his Instagram)

For the record, I had all of these great questions and ideas for Barwin prepared earlier in the day in my head. Not your typical Q&A, you see. This was going to be different! But then I got drunk and I talked to the Eagles linebacker about music for a few hours. Mostly I blabbered about my favorite band, Phish, the entire time. Maybe it wasn't as bad as I remember it, but the great interview I had planned certainly went out the window.

I do recall my girlfriend attempting to get Barwin to explain his linebacker position in terms of chess pieces. Turns out she doesn't know football all that well and he isn't a chess expert either. So that convo didn't really go anywhere. But it was entertaining.

What was the major takeaway? What info about his benefit show did he really want to get out there that hadn't already been said?

He wants people to know all of the bands participating in Friday's big event are playing for free. Kurt Vile & the Violators, the Districts, and the Tontons are all donating their time, effort, and skills to help Barwin's cause of rebuilding a playground in the Point Breeze section of Philadelphia. Pretty nice gestures from some impressive bands.

But the bands aren't the only people going the extra mile to help a community in South Philly. Once all of the proceeds from the show and bar tabs from the night are added up, Barwin is going to match that total out of his own pocket. In just a short time in Philly, he's become wildly popular from the field to the music clubs (and on social media for both reasons). But he doesn't keep that popularity behind a velvet rope, and although being charitable isn't in itself unique for a high-profile athlete, it does seem like his brand of accessibility is. Rather than a ploy for ever-more attention, Barwin genuinely appears to enjoy his surroundings, and he clearly wants to give back and help improve what he can.

So if you like hearing good music and supporting good causes, shell out a few bucks for a ticket, head over to Union Transfer on Friday night, and maybe you can enjoy a beer while talking to Connor Barwin about your favorite band while somehow simultaneously helping to rebuild a playground.

And if he's busy playing host, you can at least find me and I'll talk your ear off about Phish.

[buy tickets to Connor Barwin's benefit show featuring Kurt Vile here]

No splashes, but Phillies significantly upgraded lineup this offseason

No splashes, but Phillies significantly upgraded lineup this offseason

The addition of outfielder Michael Saunders doesn't suddenly make the Phillies an NL contender, but coupled with the trade for Howie Kendrick, the Phils' projected lineup is much deeper and more well-rounded than it was at this time last year.

By adding two capable corner outfield bats, the lineup has been lengthened, and it's unlikely you'll see someone like Freddy Galvis in the five-hole much in 2017.

The Saunders signing is not yet official, but assuming it goes through, the Phils' lineup could look like this on opening day:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B (S)
2. Howie Kendrick, LF 
3. Odubel Herrera, CF (L)
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Michael Saunders, RF (L)
6. Tommy Joseph, 1B
7. Cameron Rupp, C
8. Freddy Galvis, SS (S)

Considering the Phillies started Cedric Hunter and Peter Bourjos in the outfield corners last opening day, this is a huge upgrade even if Kendrick and Saunders are not huge names. 

Phillies leftfielders hit .212/.284/.332 last season. Unless Kendrick forgets how to hit overnight, he won't come close to those numbers. Phillies rightfielders had eight home runs in 637 plate appearances last season. Give Saunders that many PAs and you're likely looking at 27 to 30 homers.

Before last season, Kendrick hit between .279 and .322 every year from 2006 to 2015. Having a guy who can hit .290 with a .330-plus on-base percentage in the two-hole is a big deal, especially if he's hitting between Hernandez (.371 OBP last season) and Herrera (.361 OBP). You can foresee plenty of scenarios where, if that's the 1-2-3, Herrera comes up with runners on the corners in the first inning.

Saunders is another 20-plus home run bat. When you look through the Phillies' lineup, there are potentially five of those. Plus, don't sleep on the improvement Herrera made in that department last season, almost doubling his HR total from eight to 15.

The balance of left-handed and right-handed bats will make the Phillies more difficult to pitch to. It was important that the outfield bat they added was left-handed, because if not you'd be looking at an extremely right-handed heavy middle of the order.

Also, don't underestimate the impact of adding two veteran hitters who have had success in the majors. Franco could use all the additional advice he can get. Herrera, too, is at an impressionable age. Might Franco be less likely to give away an at-bat, as he did so many times in 2016, with someone like Kendrick there to greet him at the top step of the dugout? That question may sound silly, but the entire environment changes when you add a respected veteran leader to a clubhouse filled with kids.

This is not to say the Phillies will have a top-five offense in 2017. They'll still likely be toward the bottom-half or bottom-third of the National League, but as of right now this isn't the NL's worst lineup like it was for the majority of last season. The Reds and Padres have worse lineups, and you could add the Brewers and Pirates to that list if Ryan Braun and Andrew McCutchen are traded.

Pete Mackanin has called for more offense and more lineup flexibility and he's gotten it, even though it doesn't involve real star power. Kendrick's ability to also play first base and second base could allow Aaron Altherr to get some playing time in an outfield corner when Hernandez or Joseph sits. 

The only real casualty of the Saunders signing is Roman Quinn, who Mackanin confirmed Tuesday night would likely spend the year at Triple A. Quinn showed some flashes late last season and is an exciting player, but it would have been risky to rely on him as a starting outfielder in 2017 given he's never even reached 400 plate appearances in a season. 

Sixers' game vs. Rockets Jan. 27 moved to national TV

Sixers' game vs. Rockets Jan. 27 moved to national TV

With the Sixers winning and Joel Embiid turning heads nationally, interest in Brett Brown's team continues to grow. So much so, apparently, that the Sixers' home game against the Rockets on Jan. 27 has been moved to ESPN.

The announcement that Sixers-Rockets would replace Bulls-Heat was made by the NBA Tuesday night. It will be the second Sixers game on national TV this season and they'll look for a better result than the 24-point loss in Minnesota on TNT Nov. 17.

The Sixers host the Rockets a night after the NBA announces the All-Star Game reserves. (Starters are named Jan. 19.) It seems likely at this point Embiid will have a spot on the Eastern Conference roster.

The Sixers have five games before then and all will be challenging: vs. Toronto, vs. Portland, at Atlanta, vs. Clippers, at Milwaukee. Add in Houston and those teams are a combined 151-101 (.599).

They will catch a break in one of those games by missing Clippers PG Chris Paul, who will miss six to eight weeks after having left thumb surgery.

The Rockets, at 32-12, are third in the Western Conference, 1½ games behind the Spurs and 4½ behind the Warriors. Houston is on pace to shatter some NBA three-point records under first-year head coach Mike D'Antoni, an assistant on Brown's Sixers staff last season.

The Rockets set the NBA record on Dec. 17 for threes made (24) and attempted (61) in a game. And this past Sunday, the Rockets and Nets tied the NBA record by attempting 88 threes.