Now a Phillie, Chris Coghlan has come full circle in his inspirational baseball journey

Now a Phillie, Chris Coghlan has come full circle in his inspirational baseball journey

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Almost seven years later, Chris Coghlan still gets his Irish up when he thinks about the game.
 
It was May 29, 2010.
 
The night Roy Halladay pitched his perfect game against the Florida Marlins in Miami.
 
Phillies fans remember it well. In the 11th start of his first season with the club, Halladay sliced through the Marlins' lineup on 115 pitches in two hours and 13 minutes. He struck out 11. It was thrilling.
 
But not for Coghlan.
 
He had a slightly different perspective. He was the Marlins' leadoff batter that night and in six pitches became Halladay's first strikeout victim.
 
The moment still burns.
 
"Big strike zone that night," Coghlan said, his eyes widening. "Go back and look at it. I was leading off, 3-2, ball off the plate, strike three. I still get chapped about it. Go look at it. It could have been totally different."
 
Coghlan was 24 and in his second season in the majors the night Halladay threw his perfect game. He had been the National League Rookie of the Year the previous season.
 
All these years later, Coghlan's baseball journey -- and it would be completely appropriate to call it an inspiring baseball journey -- has taken him to the Phillies. The 31-year-old infielder/outfielder signed a minor-league contract with the club in January and has a good chance to win a spot on the roster as one of Pete Mackanin's go-to utility guys.
 
There's something just a little bit fitting about Coghlan becoming a Phillie. The team has lurked in the margins of his life for years, first as a kid pouring himself into the game and then as a frequent opponent in the NL East.
 
As a teen polishing his skills at second base, he took countless ground balls on the same field that Larry Bowa, Scott Rolen and Jimmy Rollins did. And he hit in the same batting cages that Mike Schmidt, Jim Thome and Chase Utley took their hacks in.
 
The full-circle feel of it all hit Coghlan as he and his wife, Corrie, arrived in Clearwater and drove past the Phillies' Carpenter Complex training facility at the start of spring training.
 
"Dang," he said to Corrie, looking over at the emerald green ball fields. "I remember playing high school games there."

. . .

Coghlan is a graduate of East Lake High School, just up the road from Clearwater. For years he trained tirelessly at The Winning Inning, a baseball academy that moved into Jack Russell Stadium, the Phillies' longtime spring training home, after the club moved to its new spring stadium, now called Spectrum Field, in 2004.
 
"I started going to Jack Russell Stadium when I was 14," Coghlan said.
 
As a young teen, Coghlan loved to hit.
 
The batting cages at Jack Russell Stadium were his refuge, his grief counselor.
 
Coghlan was 15 when he lost his dad, Tim, in a car accident in June 2001. It was a devastating time for his mother, Heather, who still lives near Clearwater, and his brother and two sisters.
 
"When my dad died, I would hit," he said. "That's really how I got better. I wasn't really that good of a player. I got cut my freshman year in high school. I wasn't a good hitter.
 
"I didn't want to go home because I was so depressed and everyone was crying. So I spent hours at Winning Inning. I was there till 10 o'clock at night. I was there all the time.
 
"I tell people all the time, yes, there's talent, but what's unique about our game is it's a skill-oriented game. You don't have to be a physical specimen to play it. If you hone your skills you can get really good."
 
Coghlan is proof of that.
 
The hitting skills that eventually helped make him a star in high school and at the University of Mississippi, a Cape Cod League batting champion, a first-round draft pick of the Marlins, an NL Rookie of the Year and ultimately a World Champion with the Chicago Cubs last year were born out of a broken heart.
 
"It was life-changing," he said of the loss of his father. "I was 15. You're already confused in life anyway and then add that on, your best friend.
 
"But I look at it as a blessing. I've learned and grown so much from all the experiences I've had. They've helped shape and mold me to the point where now I'm content to where I am as a person -- I know how much I suffered and was crying out -- and if I can just help a little, if I can help one person, it's all worth it."
 
Coghlan is always willing to speak with and try to help the grieving.
 
Especially those who've endured a loss like he did.
 
"I have a heart for the fatherless," he said. "It's very dear to me."

. . .

If Chris Coghlan the person has been shaped by experience, so has Chris Coghlan the player.
 
"I've played nine seasons, had nine managers, been to the NLCS, the World Series and won a World Series in the hardest place to win," he said. "I've sucked, I've been good, I've been in-between. I've been a regular, a platoon guy and I've come off the bench.
 
"And I'm grateful for all the knowledge I've picked up in those experiences."
 
He is eager to pass on some of that knowledge to his new mostly young Phillies teammates.
 
"The bottom line why I signed here was that I saw an opportunity to play and I saw the opportunity to build something bigger than myself," said Coghlan, who was pursued by several teams this winter. "I was in Chicago when we lost 89 games in 2014 and I was there when we won 97 and 103 and became the first team to win a World Series in 108 years. We went from not being good to being really good. We grew together and built relationships.
 
"This team is in a transition period of trying to groom guys, but they also need older guys to bridge the gap and I thought it would be a great opportunity. Lord willing, if things go well, what happened in Chicago can someday happen here. I got to grow with those young guys and we won the World Series. I just want to come in here, establish myself, be a great teammate, lead by example and maybe I can stick around long term and see this thing through."

. . .

Oh, by the way, that stuff Coghlan said about still being chapped about the generous strike zone that Halladay got on the night he pitched his perfect game seven years ago -- that was just the competitor in him coming out.
 
It never goes away.
 
Or at least when it does, it's time to find a new line of work.
 
Truth be told, Coghlan has great respect for the Phillies' past, especially the clubs that racked up five straight NL East titles from 2007 to 2011. He played with the Marlins from 2009 to 2013 and -- hat tip to those old batting cages at Jack Russell Stadium -- posted good numbers in his career against the Phillies, hitting .303 with a .849 OPS.
 
"Those teams were awesome, and I loved hitting against them because it was the best of the best," he said. "You had Halladay, (Cliff) Lee, (Cole) Hamels. You had (Brad) Lidge closing it out.
 
"Chooch (Ruiz), (Jayson) Werth, (Jimmy) Rollins, (Ryan) Howard. Those guys were great and then Utley was my favorite player coming up. Second baseman. Left-handed hitter. Great swing. I loved his intensity.
 
"I loved playing against those guys. And we played them tough. That happens with a young team -- you get up for the big boys but don't always carry that focus through to the other teams."
 
Coghlan and his Marlins teammates were totally up for Halladay on that memorable night of May 29, 2010. They were focused, ready for the big boys. But there was no beating the Phillies ace that night.
 
No runs. No hits. No errors.
 
It still burns Coghlan.
 
"Oh, everybody loves it except for the guys it's happening against," Coghlan said. "I had some buddies at the game and afterward they were like, 'Bro, that was awesome. I can't believe I saw that. I'm saving this ticket.' And I'm like, 'You're in the family room, bro, and you're ticking me off. We just got embarrassed. You can find your own ride home. I'm not giving you a ride.'"
 
Standing in the Phillies' spring clubhouse, just a few hundred yards from where he played some high school games, Coghlan began to laugh as he talked about his buddies' reaction to witnessing Halladay's perfect game.
 
And then he completely softened and tipped his cap to Halladay.
 
"I joke about the zone that night," Coghlan said. "But I would never diminish anything that man did. To pitch a perfect game, everything has to go perfect and it did for him that night.
 
"I saw him throw his last pitch in Miami before he hung it up in 2013. He had that one inning. He came out throwing 80 miles an hour and it was sad. He was a legend.
 
"So I have a lot of respect for this organization and its history."
 
It seems only fitting that Chris Coghlan is now part of it. In a way, he's come full circle.

Phillies 7, Blue Jays 1: Vince Velasquez and Tommy Joseph show off their power

Phillies 7, Blue Jays 1: Vince Velasquez and Tommy Joseph show off their power

BOX SCORE

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Phillies showed a little power in their 7-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on Monday night.

Tommy Joseph provided some of it.

Vince Velasquez provided a lot of it.

Joseph crushed a two-run home run to left field and also lined a double off the center-field wall on his way to a four-hit game. The double came off his bat at 109 miles per hour. The homer was his third of the spring.

Meanwhile, Velasquez showed off his big fastball in striking out seven Blue Jays over five innings of work. Vinny Velo's final pitch of the night was a 97-mph dart past a swinging Jose Bautista.

"That pitch felt really good coming out of my hand," Velasquez said. "Sometimes my fastball slips a little bit and I yank it, but this one I got right behind and threw it right through the catcher."

Velasquez actually struck out the side in that fifth inning against three pretty good hitters in Russell Martin, Josh Donaldson and Bautista.

"That last inning, he really let it go," manager Pete Mackanin said.

Pitch economy remains an area that Velasquez needs to improve on. He threw 87 pitches. But he was pleased with the way he attacked hitters in that final inning of work.

"I didn't attack in one inning," he said. "But in that last inning, I stopped fiddling around and trusted my stuff. I need to do that the whole time."

Velasquez gave up just one run, a homer to Martin. He allowed five hits and walked two.

Velasquez had a busy night. He drove home a run with a ground out against Aaron Sanchez. He also walked against Sanchez and scored a run on a dash home from third base after Freddy Galvis got hung up between first and second. Galvis waved Velasquez home. After crossing home plate, Velasquez, rather humorously, almost ran into the netted backstop.

"I just had momentum. I got excited," he said. "As soon as I saw Tulo (shortstop Troy Tulowitzki) make eye contact with Freddy, I booked it. He's going to think, 'Pitchers can't run,' so I showed off my athleticism."

After the outing, Velasquez pronounced himself ready for the regular season.

"I'm good to go," he said.

He made five Grapefruit League starts and gave up eight runs in 19 2/3 innings. He walked nine and struck out 25.

"It's been a strong, healthy, successful spring training," he said.

Velasquez will likely start the home opener on April 7. He will need to get some work in this weekend. The Phillies leave Florida on Friday. He could stay behind for a day and pitch at the minor-league complex if needed.

Offense clicks
The Phillies had 12 hits. They had 15 in Sunday's 6-3 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Up next
The Phillies play the Blue Jays again on Tuesday night. That game will be in Clearwater. Aaron Nola will start against Marco Estrada.

Andrew Knapp to make Phillies' roster -- remaining roster decisions are close

Andrew Knapp to make Phillies' roster -- remaining roster decisions are close

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The pathway for Andrew Knapp to make the Phillies' opening day roster as the backup catcher was cleared way back in November when he was added to the 40-man roster.

The job all but became Knapp's on Monday when the team released two veteran catchers who were not on the 40-man roster. When Ryan Hanigan and Bryan Holaday were let go, Knapp became one of just two catchers in camp, the other being starter Cameron Rupp (see story).

So it's pretty obvious that the 25-year-old Knapp will open the season with the big club -- even though nothing will become official until rosters are filed with the commissioner's office this weekend.

"Obviously there are four or five days left," Knapp said. "I'm just going to keep trying to make good impressions and try to win a job. I'm keeping my head down, trying not to think about it too much."

Knapp was the Phillies' second-round draft pick of Cal-Berkeley in 2013. He has never played in the majors.

"It would be a dream come true," he said. "Everyone hopes to get called up at some point but to make a team on opening day would be pretty special and it would be the best moment in my career so far."

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin acknowledged that Knapp would probably make the club.

Mackanin would like to have the rest of his roster in order over the next day or two.

"As soon as possible," he said. "Because the last four or five games I'd like to play almost as if it were a season -- using the bullpen that way, using the bench in a certain way, seeing what it looks like, our bench guys, all our hitters. We just don't want to make a bad decision so we're just going to string it out as long as we can."

Roster questions must still be answered on the bench and in the bullpen.

How does the bench shape up? Andres Blanco, Aaron Altherr and Knapp are set. The Phils are expected to go with a five-man bench so that leaves two openings. There are four players vying for those spots: Chris Coghlan, Daniel Nava, Brock Stassi and Jesmuel Valentin. Valentin has impressed, but at 22 years old, he would benefit from playing every day at Triple A.

Mackanin praised Stassi's work on Monday. If Stassi makes the club, the final spot would come down to Coghlan and Nava.

"Stassi has obviously made a great impression, mainly because, not necessarily because of his results, but the fact that he had a lot of quality at-bats," Mackanin said. "It looks like he can handle making adjustments to the different pitchers and different situations. He seemed to handle left-handers well. He made a good impression, as has Coughlan. Nava has also been consistent throughout the spring."

Stassi, Coghlan and Nava are all non-roster players so the Phils would have to clear 40-man roster space to add any of them.

Two spots remain open in the bullpen. Adam Morgan, Joely Rodriguez, Luis Garcia, Alec Asher and Cesar Ramos are the candidates. All but Ramos is on the 40-man roster.

How will this all shake out?

More answers are probably coming Tuesday.