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.

Instant Replay: Phillies 4, Reds 3

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USA Today Images

Instant Replay: Phillies 4, Reds 3

BOX SCORE

The Phillies rallied for a 4-3 walk-off win over the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday.

Tommy Joseph won it with a single up the middle with no outs in the bottom of the ninth. The hit scored Aaron Altherr, who had singled and moved to second on a wild pitch.

The Phils have won just six of their last 27 games. Joseph has had a walk-off, game-winning hit in the last two wins.

In addition to Joseph, who also homered, the star of the game was the Phillies' bullpen. Four Phils' relievers combined on 3 2/3 scoreless innings after starter Jerad Eickhoff exited. The Phillies' bullpen is riding a 19 2/3-innings scoreless streak.

Starting pitching report
Eickhoff allowed eight hits and three runs over 5 1/3 innings. He gave up a bunt hit and a two-run homer to the first two batters of the game but took a 3-2 lead into the sixth inning. He allowed a leadoff single and a one-out RBI double in that inning as the Reds tied the game at 3-3.

Veteran Bronson Arroyo, back in action at age 40 after recovering from surgery the last two seasons, gave up three runs — all on solo homers — over five innings.

Bullpen report
Good work by Edubray Ramos to get two outs in the sixth to strand a runner in scoring position and preserve a 3-3 tie. Pat Neshek, Joaquin Benoit and Hector Neris each followed with a scoreless inning. Neris struck out dangerous Joey Votto on a splitter with a man on base to end the top of the ninth. He got the win.

Austin Brice pitched two scoreless innings for the Reds. Michael Lorenzen took the loss. He gave up two hits in the ninth. Joseph's game-winning hit came on a 97 mph heater.

At the plate
Cesar Hernandez, Michael Saunders and Joseph all clouted solo homers for the Phillies. Joseph has six homers in his last 21 games.

Zack Cozart smacked a two-run homer against Eickhoff in the first inning. The Reds tied the game on a one-out double by Scooter Gennett in the sixth.

Remembering Bunning
Jim Bunning died Friday night. Larry Bowa recalled the impact that the Hall of Famer had on his career (see story).

Up next
The series concludes Sunday afternoon. Zach Eflin (0-2, 5.36) and Scott Feldman (3-4, 3.99) are the pitchers.

Larry Bowa on Jim Bunning: His words 'resonated throughout my career'

Larry Bowa on Jim Bunning: His words 'resonated throughout my career'

Beyond the center field wall at Citizens Bank Park, retired Phillies uniform No. 14 was draped in black cloth on Saturday afternoon.
 
Jim Bunning, who wore that number during six seasons with the club, died late Friday night at his home in Kentucky. The Hall of Fame pitcher, who went on to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, was 85.
 
Bunning was a workhorse right-hander who pitched with smarts and competitiveness during his 17 seasons in the majors. He also pitched with the Detroit Tigers, Pittsburgh Pirates and Los Angeles Dodgers. He averaged 35 starts and won 89 games during his six seasons with the Phillies. He also authored one of the most iconic moments in club history when he pitched the franchise's first perfect game on a searing hot Father's Day in 1964 against the New York Mets at Shea Stadium.
 
Talking about a perfect game as it is unfolding is considered baseball taboo. To mention it is to risk jinxing it. But Bunning broke tradition and in the late innings of that game talked openly with teammates in the dugout about the possibility of finishing off the feat.
 
"Jim Bunning was way too practical of a man to worry about a jinx," former teammate Rick Wise once said. Wise pitched the second game of that Father's Day doubleheader. It started 20 minutes after Bunning completed his perfecto and Wise had trouble finding a ball and a catcher to warm him up because everyone was busy celebrating the perfect game.
 
Bunning went 224-184 with a 3.27 ERA in 591 career games. He led the American League with 20 wins in 1957. He led the league in innings twice and strikeouts three times. He was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1996 and went into Cooperstown as a Phillie.
 
Bunning had two tours with the Phillies, 1964-67 and 1970-71, and was a straight-laced competitor who expected effort and excellence from his teammates. During his second time through Philadelphia, as he was nearing the end of his career, he was a teammate of a young shortstop named Larry Bowa.
 
"I remember him coming up to me and saying, ‘Don’t ever, ever lose your energy. I don’t want to turn around and see your head dropping because you’re 0 for 3,’" Bowa recalled Saturday. "He said, ‘I don’t ever want to see that.’ He said, ‘You’ve got to be accountable. You’ve got to play with energy. You’ve got to play every inning of every game.
 
"I made an error one day and he turned around — I didn’t even want to make eye contact with him — he turned around and he was rubbing the ball and looked at me and I went, 'Yeah, I know I should have caught it.' He was just that intense."
 
Bunning had a mean streak on the mound. He led the league in hit batsman four times.
 
Bowa recalled the time Ron Hunt — a notorious plunkee — did not get out of the way of a Bunning breaking ball. As Hunt ran to first base, Bunning admonished him.
 
"He went over and said, 'Ron, if you want to get hit, I’ll hit you next time and it won’t be a breaking ball.' That’s what kind of competitor he was."
 
Bunning suffered a stroke last year.
 
"I knew he had been sick," Bowa said. "Tremendous, tremendous person who taught me a lot about the game in a short time.
 
"He always gave me good advice. He talked about self-evaluation with me all the time. He said you’ve got to be accountable in this game, no one gives you anything in this game. I never had a pitcher mentor me like he did. In spring training, he told me, ‘Keep your mouth shut and your eyes and ears open.’ It was that simple. I said, ‘Yes, sir.’
 
"When a guy like that takes the time with someone who is just starting, it’s, I mean, it resonated throughout my career."