Time for Some Phillies Baseball

Time for Some Phillies Baseball

It's been a pretty crazy day around these parts with that exciting news and all. Thank you all for the support, by the way. It's much appreciated. Matt's actually down in Florida already and I'm literally running out the door right now to catch a flight to Tampa en route to Clearwater for a few days of Phillies baseball. So you'll have that to look forward to. Before I hop on 95 to the airport, our boy Rev wanted to wax poetic on what it's like to be a Phillies fan these days. You know, before Placido hurt his knee. These are the Rev's words.

As
our fearless leaders Enrico and Matt P. head down to Clearwater for
spring training I thought it’d be appropriate to write a Phillies-related
post. It’s nearly impossible to not have a good time down there. I
couldn’t possibly give them any Clearwater-related tips or advice
other than to say appreciate it. Which, going forward, is the same advice
I’d give to all Phillies fans.  What do I mean by that? Without
going all Peter King on you I’ll try to explain.

I don’t think too many people would disagree that we’re in the midst
of a golden era in Phillies baseball. They enter this season having
been to consecutive World Series. They’re also three time defending
National League East champions. Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy
Rollins are the best players in franchise history at their respective
positions. As a result of their success fans have flocked to Citizen’s
Bank Park in staggering numbers (3.6 million last season – including
73 sellouts).

Needless
to say, these are not the same Phillies that players used to put at
the top of their no trade list. Nothing illustrates this better than
the fact that Roy Halladay wanted to come here, and in so doing
was willing to give up the chance to explore free agency. He wanted
to be here so much that he signed a contract extension…for below market
value…with the Phillies.  Considering where they came
from the fact that the Phillies have morphed into a winning organization,
with a beautiful ballpark, and are an organization that players want
to play for is nothing short of stunning.

Since
it is relevant I suppose I should mention that I am 34 years old. As
a kid and then teenager I was accustomed to the Phillies trotting out
overpaid and underperforming free agents (Parrish, Lance; Jefferies,
Gregg), overhyped farmhands (Chamberlain, Wes; Combs, Pat), and in over
their head managers (Leyva, Nick; Francona, Terry). I never could have
envisioned a day where the Phillies would be mentioned as one of the
top organizations in baseball. They were a mom and pop operation run
by a nice man with white hair (Bill Giles) who was the designated sacrificial
lamb for a Keyser Söze-like secretive ownership group. They played
in a 66,000 seat 2/3rds-plus empty multi-purpose stadium (between 1989
and 1999 they averaged approximately 26,200 fans per home game). It
was bleak. As Henry Hill in Goodfellas said after the helicopters follow
him everywhere - as he realizes he’s going to lose everything - “these
were the bad times”. That’s what it was like to follow the Phillies
then. And now? Now life is good.

In
light of all of this history, and looking back at the offseason, with
the trade of Cliff Lee and the acquisition of Roy Halladay, it was stunning
to me that we spent the winter analyzing how the Phils would match up
with the Yankees in a presumptive World Series rematch. We didn’t
even give the regular season a thought. Another National League pennant
was assumed. I was just as guilty as everyone else. However, now that
we’re in the lull between the start of spring training and the start
of the regular season I’ve had a chance to reexamine things and regain
perspective on how incredible a run it has been, and will hopefully
continue to be over the next few years.

I
know I’ve been spoiled by all this success.  However, I don’t
want to look back ten years from now and regret not having truly appreciated
each and every time this core group of players takes the field together.
I lived through a 6-4-3 of Thon-to-Herr-to-Jordan. As a result, I don’t
want to look past however many more Rollins-to-Utley-to-Howard’s we
may have. We’ve gone from Person and Wolf at the top of the rotation
to Halladay and Hamels. How about from Milt Thompson and Phil Bradley
to Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth? It borders on unfathomable just
how far they have come. Do you realize there are kids out there who
have no idea about what it’s like to suffer through a 90+ loss season?
The Phillies have finished above .500 eight times between 2000 and 2009
(they were 65-97 in 2000 and 80-81 in 2002).

Now,
by no means do I wish the lean years would come back. It’s an absolute
joy to follow a winning team. What I am saying is that it’s not always
going to be like this. And, as a result, we need to appreciate just
how successful and rare an era of Phillies baseball we’re all witnessing.
While it’s absolutely justifiable to wonder why they couldn’t have
hung on to Cliff Lee and acquired Roy Halladay, realize how rare it
is in the history of this franchise to even be faced with such a dilemma.

So,
as they prepare to head north for the season opener in Washington on
April 5th take a moment and look at the lineup Charlie posts
that day. Halladay on the mound, Jimmy aggressively swinging at the
first pitch, Polanco putting his bat on the ball, Chase gathering himself
before making the throw to first, the Big Man pointing his bat towards
the pitcher, Werth going yard a pitch after he went down to a knee after
swinging through a fastball, Raul feasting on Nationals pitching, Shane
legging out an infield dribbler, and Chooch kicking his leg out Tony
Pena-style. My advice?  Appreciate it.

Phillies shut out, but Jake Thompson's best start yet and kudos to that one fan

Phillies shut out, but Jake Thompson's best start yet and kudos to that one fan

You knew it probably wasn't going to be a very good night for the Phillies after Jayson Werth led off the game with a home run for the Washington Nationals. After the smarting blow from our former WFC RF, the Nats picked up another run to go up 2-0 in the first, and that was plenty for the NL East leaders on a windy Monday night in Philly. The Fightins managed just four hits, one walk, and zero runs worth of offense, and Tanner Roark and the Nats shut 'em out, 4-0, for the series opener. (That's Werth's 18th homer against the Phils, btw — one off his single-opponent high of 19 against the Braves, and in about 60 fewer games.)

Luckily, the night wasn't a complete wash for the Phils: We got our best start yet — indeed, the first one that would likely qualify as "good" — from young righty starter Jake Thompson, who buckled down after the two first-inning runs, and went six scoreless from there. (Thompson had yet to pitch more than three consecutive innings without an earned run in his four starts to date.) The starter's finest inning was his last, where he notched all three of his strikeouts on the evening, including a particular beauty dropped in for a third strike on an incredulous Trea Turner to close the frame. For a 22-year-old pitcher whose early-career issues are often said to be more mental than mechanical, it could be a huge confidence boost to come through like that against one of the best offenses in the NL.

Meanwhile, the other hero for the Phils tonight came in the guise of a fan sitting on the first-base line, who responded to a Frank Herrmann pickoff overthrow by reflexively cleanly fielding the ball as it bounced near the seats. The fan-interference got Nats third-baseman Anthony Rendon, who was well on his way to third base, called back to second, incensing Washington manager Dusty Baker and earning the fan a good deal of high-fives from the fans in his section. He got booted from the stadium — and Rendon was rewarded third base anyway after Baker's challenge was supported by replay — but y'know. No one can say dude didn't do what he could, and that's all anyone can ask of a real fan.

Jerad Eickhoff vs. Max Scherzer at 7:00 tonight. Still just 9.5 games out of the second wild-card spot.

Penn State tries to move forward without abandoning Joe Paterno

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AP

Penn State tries to move forward without abandoning Joe Paterno

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Legends tend to linger in college football even after they are gone. At Penn State, getting out from under Joe Paterno's shadow is more complicated than the typical transition from a coaching giant.

After being the most stable — in many ways stagnant — football program in the country for nearly five decades, Penn State has been awash in change in the five years since Jerry Sandusky became infamous and dragged down Paterno with him.

Moving forward has required Penn State's new leaders to perform a most difficult maneuver: Distancing the school from a child sexual-abuse scandal that drew worldwide attention and shook Happy Valley, while not appearing to abandon the memory of the coach who many Penn Staters believe gave the university an identity for which they can still be proud.

"I think that is the ultimate challenge here," Penn State coach James Franklin told The Associated Press. "How do you balance the history, the traditions, all the wonderful things that are deep rooted here and have been here forever, (while) also making moves that you need to be progressive and to be moving towards a healthy present and a healthy future."

Franklin is entering his third season at Penn State. For the first time this season, Franklin will have the full allotment of 85 scholarships available when the Nittany Lions open at home against Kent State on Saturday. Penn State has gone 7-6 each of Franklin's first two years.

Moving forward at Penn State, though, is not just about getting past NCAA scholarship sanctions and bowl bans.

For Franklin, the 44-year-old first African-American football coach in Penn State history, one challenge is trying to get former players to actively support a program that no longer feels like home.

"The ones that have come back and been around us and spent time with us and come to practice have been really good," the former Vanderbilt coach said. "But there's been a group of guys that haven't been back because once again there's a fracture. There's still hurt feelings. It's not as just simple as the new coach."

Paterno coached at Penn State for 46 seasons. He was fired by the school's board of trustees days after Sandusky, his longtime defensive coordinator, was arrested in November 2011 for molesting and raping boys. Paterno died two and a half months later of lung cancer.

The statue of Paterno was removed from outside Beaver Stadium on July 22, 2012. Paterno's name is still on the campus library built in part by his donations, but highly visible and university sponsored signs of him are hard to find.

"I think Penn State needs to embrace Joe Paterno for who he was, for what he did at Penn State, unequivocally and without hesitation," said Anthony Lubrano, a Penn State alum and elected member of the board of trustees.

Lubrano said the university at minimum needs to apologize to Paterno's wife, Sue, display the statue again and rename the stadium Paterno Field at Beaver Stadium.

While juggling wishes of ardent supporters like Lubrano, university leadership is also trying to convey to those for whom Paterno will never be completely redeemed that Penn State's values were not tied directly to one man.

Splits in the relationship between Penn State and its supporters can take a practical toll on the university and athletic department's ability to compete with Michigan and Ohio State in the Big Ten. According to a university report, private support and donations to Penn State have seesawed widely since the scandal, from a high of $274.8 million in 2011 to $226 million in 2015.

Penn State's average attendance the last four seasons is 98,685, among the best in the country. But Beaver Stadium seats 107,000-plus and 9,000 empty seats per game costs the athletic department millions.

Athletic director Sandy Barbour and her team are considering a massive facilities upgrade, including either a renovation or a rebuild of the 56-year-old stadium. Donors will be needed, but the mere suggestion of taking down the stadium was not well received by some fans, Barbour said.

Barbour and Franklin try to stress that they will protect the things Paterno left behind that Penn Staters value most: Continuing Paterno's so-called Grand Experiment of prioritizing academics and character and winning the right way.

"Depending on their position people may look at him differently, but it doesn't change that he created that here. Or helped to create that here," said Barbour, the former California AD.

As outsiders trying to lead an athletic department that had the same face for nearly 50 years, Barbour and Franklin understand full support and acceptance will take time. Winning more football games would help, but there's a chicken-and-egg relationship between support and winning.

"I think we are still going through a healing process. I think what made Penn State successful for so long, and I think if you look at the programs across the country that were having success at the highest levels, everybody's aligned," Franklin said. "The head football coach, the athletic director, the president, the board and the alumni. That's what Penn State was for a long time. We need to get back to that to be the program that everybody wants us to be."

Many in the Penn State community are not yet ready to let go of how the school and Paterno were blamed and punished for the crimes of Sandusky, who is serving a 60-year prison sentence.

"And what many Penn Staters believe that the entirety of the Penn State community was accused of is really difficult for them to process," Barbour said. "That as a Penn State alum, as a Penn State employee, they're being painted with that brush."

The Paterno family and their staunchest supporters, including some of Penn State's most famous football alumni such as Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris, have dug in on redeeming the coach.

"Since Joe Paterno died, a lot of people suddenly got brave and said a lot of things about him that weren't true because he couldn't defend himself," Jay Paterno, Joe's son and a former Penn State assistant coach, said in a recent speech to the Lake Erie Alumni Association.

The latest round of allegations came in May from unsealed court documents, with an alleged Sandusky victim saying he complained to Paterno about Sandusky in 1976 and was rebuffed. University President Eric Barron responded with a carefully worded defense of the school and Paterno.

"None of these allegations about the supposed knowledge of university employees has been substantiated in a court of law or in any other process to test their veracity," Barron said.

But Barron, Barbour and Franklin can only go so far in their recognition of Paterno.

The 50th anniversary of Paterno's first game as Penn State coach is Sept. 17, when the Nittany Lions host Temple. There is a celebration in the works and a dinner being planned for family members, friends and former players in the State College area the night before the game. No event is scheduled yet to acknowledge the anniversary at Beaver Stadium.

"No matter what position as leadership you take on the continuum, there are others that are going to criticize," Barbour said. "Those that think that Penn State's not been stood up for enough. There are those that think Coach Paterno has not been stood up for enough. There are those that think Coach Paterno has been stood up for too much. It's all along the continuum. For leadership, really for anybody, that's a challenge."

Penn State football will never be the same, but there is hope for those who believe some things should never change.

"Have these times been difficult?" senior offensive lineman Andrew Nelson said. "Yeah, sure. But Penn State is defined by the tradition, you know? It's defined by the academics. It's defined by the type of guys that come play here. It doesn't matter exactly who's sitting in that head coaching position, we have special things here. After a while, Coach Franklin really helped us buy into that. And he bought into that, too. What makes Penn State special will always be here."

After 2 years of ugly offense, Penn State takes new approach

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USA Today Images

After 2 years of ugly offense, Penn State takes new approach

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Two seasons of ugly offense at Penn State had head coach James Franklin and the Nittany Lions in need of more than just a change of scheme.

The first job facing new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead was bringing some positive vibes to Happy Valley.

"He brings a ton of energy to this offense. That was something I think that kind of revitalized our offense," quarterback Trace McSorley said.

Penn State unveils its new spread offense Saturday against Kent State. After the Nittany Lions finished 7-6 and ranked 13th in the Big Ten in total offense in each of Franklin's first two seasons, Penn State fans are not likely to have much patience for growing pains.

Moorhead's ability to deliver an offense that can help the Nittany Lions close the gap on Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State in the Big Ten East will likely play a huge part in determining Franklin's future at Penn State.

Moorhead, the former FCS head coach at Fordham and offensive coordinator at UConn, seems keenly aware of the enormity of his task and not at all overwhelmed by it.

"I've called plays in double overtime to beat Notre Dame," he said. "(But) you really understand the situation you're getting into when you become a Big Ten offensive coordinator, particularly taking over an offense that has struggled a little bit.

"I do understand the ramifications and the immediacy to produce results not just at this level but at this time in history for this program."

The last four seasons at Fordham, Moorhead went 38-13 with three playoff appearances and the most prolific offenses in his alma mater's history. Before that, he worked under Randy Edsall at Connecticut, where his offenses were more traditional and pro-style. The way his former boss preferred.

The 42-year-old Moorhead first landed on Franklin's radar a couple years ago at a coaching clinic in his native Pittsburgh.

"He gets up there and not only do I enjoy his presentation and do we align when it comes to concepts, when it comes to spacing, when it comes to West Coast philosophies in the passing game, but also a lot of the things that he's saying and how he's articulating the message and the passion that he has for it and the energy that he has for it and the confidence that he has in it," Franklin said. "Right away, I kind of wrote him down."

Franklin dismisses the idea this up-tempo offense that will feature mobile quarterbacks is what he wanted but could not have when Christian Hackenberg, a second-round draft choice by the Jets, was the quarterback at Penn State the last two seasons. Franklin points to his background as an assistant coach with the Green Bay Packers and his stints at Kansas State and Maryland as proof he can work well with drop-back passers.

Still, the roster Franklin has built while being handcuffed by NCAA scholarship sanctions dropped on Penn State after the Jerry Sandusky scandal suggests a more new-school approach.

"I think what it really came down to was embracing the direction of where football is going right now. The speed of the game. The style of the game. The excitement of the game. The entertainment aspect of the game," Franklin said. "And then I think more so than anything else it is based on our personnel right now."

With scholarship limits gone, an offensive line that struggled mightily to protect Hackenberg at least now has major-college football depth. There is skill position talent. Especially Saquon Barkley, who ran for 1,076 yards as a freshman last season.

The new offense is simplified without being simple. Long play calls are out, replaced by hand signals and a word or two at the line of scrimmage. The offensive line is asked to do less problem solving. Moorhead has not only gotten rid of huddles, he has banned the word.

"He'll always yell sideline congregation," McSorley said.

Penn State will play up-tempo, but don't expect Oregon-level blur.

"We are not a tempo team that runs plays for the sake of running them," Moorhead said. "We utilize four different tempos. It's not about running the wrong play quickly. It's about running the right play against the look that we are presented as quickly as we can."

Getting it right as quickly as possible is also the best way to describe what's expected of Moorhead this season.