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-Nationals observations: Not enough offense to support Aaron Nola in loss

Phillies-Nationals observations: Not enough offense to support Aaron Nola in loss

BOX SCORE

Aaron Nola’s likely final appearance of 2017 was another good one, but also his 11th loss. 

The right-hander allowed two runs and five hits and struck out nine in six innings in the Phillies’ 3-1 loss to the NL East champion Washington Nationals on Monday night at Citizens Bank Park. 

With the Phillies using a six-man rotation and an off day Thursday, manager Pete Mackanin said Nola was “most likely” making his last start. He gave up a two-run home run on a 3-1 fastball to Michael A. Taylor in the second inning before getting into a groove with his curveball. 

Nola (12-11) retired eight of the final 10 batters he faced and left with a 3.54 ERA as the Phillies kicked off a season-ending six-game homestand with their fourth loss in five games. 

Odubel Herrera hit an 0-2 mistake fastball for a solo shot to right in the fourth for the Phillies’ lone run. They struggled against A.J. Cole (3-5), who allowed six hits over 5 2/3 innings and collected his first major-league hit.

• It marked the 18th time in 27 starts that Nola allowed two earned runs or fewer. He gave up only eight earned runs in four starts against Washington. 

• The Phillies have scored seven runs in the past four games. 

• Rhys Hoskins hit a nubber toward first in the fourth inning that Ryan Zimmerman fielded facing the mound and blindly flipped backward to Cole covering first for the out. Hoskins flied deep to center to end the fifth and finished 0 for 4. He’s 2 for 21 in the past four games and hasn’t homered since Sept. 14. 

• Nick Williams went 1 for 4 with a single and three strikeouts. 

• Maikel Franco popped out on the 11th pitch of his at-bat to lead off the ninth against Sean Doolittle (24th save). 

• Hoskins made two fine plays at first base. He made a nice scoop of Freddy Galvis’ low throw in the first and made a leaping grab of Cesar Hernandez’s high and wide throw and tagged Matt Weiters going by for the out in the fourth. 

• Nationals slugger Bryce Harper’s return from a left knee injury was delayed by illness. Manager Dusty Baker said Harper, out since Aug. 12, woke up feeling sick. He was at the park early to get treatment and could play Tuesday. “He probably doesn’t like to hit here,” Mackanin joked. Harper’s 12 home runs at Citizens Bank Park are the most he’s hit in any road stadium. 

• Nola twice came up with runners at first and second and two outs. He grounded to first in the second and fanned in the fourth. 

• Mackanin planned to give his team a pep talk. “If they think they’re tired and ready to go home — it’s been a long season — I’m going to remind them, ‘If you want to go to the World Series, you’re going to play another entire month,’” he said. 

• With Nola likely finished for the season, it’s lining up for Henderson Alvarez to start Saturday and Nick Pivetta to go in the season finale Sunday. 

• All players from both teams on the field before the game stood for the national anthem. Baker, who is black, said he opposes kneeling, but understands the frustrations of those athletes who do it. “We’ve been talking about the same problems I had when I was 18 or 19 years old, so have we made progress or have we regressed?” Baker said. “It’s up to us to try to figure out how to come up with a solution.” 

• The Phillies dropped to 33 1/2 games behind the Nationals. They must win one of their final five games to avoid 100 losses. The Nationals must finish 5-1 to win 100 games. 

• Right-hander Jake Thompson (2-2, 4.14 ERA) will make his fourth start against the Nationals this season when he faces lefty Gio Gonzalez (15-7, 2.68) on Tuesday night. 

Pete Mackanin: 'I still don't know if I'll be here next year'

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Pete Mackanin: 'I still don't know if I'll be here next year'

Pete Mackanin may have received a contract extension in May, but the Phillies' manager has yet to receive assurances from general manager Matt Klentak that he’ll return in 2018. 

“I still don’t know if I’ll be here next year,” Mackanin said before Monday’s game against the Washington Nationals.

Mackanin took over midway through the 2015 season and has presided over the Phillies’ rebuilding project. He went 37-51 to finish 2015, 71-91 last year and was 62-94 heading into the final week of the season. 

Does Mackanin hope Klentak tells him his fate soon? 

“Of course,” Mackanin said. “I’m signed through next year and I assume I’ll be here. But you never know what they’re going to do.”

Mackanin said he’s set to meet with Klentak on Saturday to evaluate players. The season ends the next day, with the Phillies needing one victory over their final six games to avoid their first 100-loss season since 1961. 

“Do you need better coaches? Do you need a better manager? The answer to all these questions is you need better players,” Mackanin said as he quizzed about his future. 

Despite the dismal record, the Phillies have made progress in many areas. They may have found their future star power hitter in Rhys Hoskins. Fellow rookie Nick Williams has shown flashes. Cesar Hernandez is hitting .296. Freddy Galvis is a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop. Adam Morgan has pitched like a permanent setup man (see story). Mackanin believes Aaron Nola has established himself as a “solid No. 3 starter.” 

But the rest of the rotation is uncertain. They still need more offense. And while the Phillies have played well down the stretch, it’s come with no pressure in a sea of meaningless games.

Mackanin was asked if the team made a step forward this season. 

“I think individual players have made a step forward. As a team, of course not. We’re down at the bottom,” Mackanin said. “On the other hand, there are teams with similar records with much higher payrolls that were expected to do much better and haven’t. And when you look at the makeup of the team with all the pitchers that we’ve used and injuries, we’ve had a lot of unproven players.”

Mackanin revealed the angriest he’s been was back in May, when the Phillies went 6-22. He said while he's trying to keep an “even keel,” he gave his team a tongue-lashing after a home loss during that stretch. 

“I just went down the list of players,” Mackanin said. “Every one of them, I pointed out all the good things they’ve done to get here. And I asked after I got done naming every player how good they’ve been and what they’ve accomplished to get here, I asked, ‘How come we’re so bad?’”

Despite injuries and having to rush players to the majors, the Phillies were 33-36 since the All-Star break before Monday’s game. 

Mackanin acknowledged 2018 will be different, when the record will matter much more. He believes it’s time for the franchise to start winning in order to lure the potential free agents needed to become a contender again. 

“We’ve got a ways to go,” Mackanin said. “We’ve got players who have to prove they’re for real. Next year will tell us an awful lot.”

The 66-year-old Mackanin hopes he’s around to see what happens. 

“Blame the managers and coaches. How about if the players perform better?” Mackanin said. “Now, could we get the players to perform better? Everybody tries hard to do that.”