Hope Springs Eternal!
Does this February weather have you down?
Upset that the Eagles couldn't make it to Glendale, Arizona with a head-case, one-legged QB and a head coach with more issues than the Spears' family?
Worry no more, Philadelphia sports fans!!
Hamels, teammates know they have more to prove in '08
By Ken Mandel / MLB.com
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef easily won the distinction as the highlight of Cole Hamels' winter vacation, a 25-day excursion to Australia.
"I wanted to swim with the sharks, but my wife wouldn't let me," Hamels said, laughing. "She knew I'd probably get hurt."
An injury due to a shark attack would be frowned on by the Phillies, who need Hamels to instead devour National League hitters in 2008. He also held koala bears at an Australian zoo, a task that carried significantly less risk.
Either way, the lefty is refreshed after his excursion on the other side of the world and ready to play baseball again. Hamels was just one of 38 pitchers and catchers -- as well as a handful of position players that included Ryan Howard, Geoff Jenkins, Pedro Feliz and Greg Dobbs -- gathered in Clearwater for the start of another Spring Training.
This spring was slightly different, as each player's uniform contained a target on the back, a result that comes with winning the NL East in 2007. The Phillies, as shortstop and reigning NL MVP Jimmy Rollins proclaimed more than a year ago, are the team to beat.
"When I talked to them, they definitely were relaxed," said manager Charlie Manuel, who gave his team a welcome to Spring Training speech. "I like that as long we're having fun in the right way. The message I wanted to send is basically about competing and staying focused on what you're doing, and also getting better."
The Phillies have few unresolved roster issues. There is no competition for starting jobs among position players and the bench appears set. Hamels, Brett Myers, Kyle Kendrick and Jamie Moyer are assured spots in the rotation, and Adam Eaton has the inside track on a fifth-starter competition that includes Kris Benson, Travis Blackley, Chad Durbin and J.D. Durbin.
Brad Lidge is the closer and Tom Gordon, J.C. Romero and Ryan Madson will set up. Chad Durbin is assured a roster spot, so he'll relieve if he's not the fifth starter, leaving two jobs available from among Clay Condrey, aFabio Castro, Lincoln Holdzcom and Joe Bisenius.
Staying healthy, as always, is paramount. No one needs to be reminded of the slew of injuries that required the use of a franchise-record 28 pitchers last season and nearly sabotaged the playoff push.
Though the Phillies still speak of 2007's accomplishments, they strive to avoid the sweep against the Rockies in the NL Division Series that left them watching the remainder of the postseason.
"Having that in the back of our heads says that we still have so much more to prove," Hamels said. "We do need to defend something, but we want something more."
That first step arrived Thursday, as pitchers and catchers stretched, threw and performed drills in comfortable conditions. Some players, including Kendrick and Hamels, catcher Chris Coste, Pat Burrell and Chase Utley, had already been in Florida for a few days, but being around a larger group meant more.
"When the season ended, I was very disappointed for a while," Gordon said. "I felt that we had the best ballclub, the best team. I couldn't believe we [were no longer in the playoffs]. That was hard. I think we definitely have a team that can go further."
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
The TrekMedic, for one, isn't soiling his shorts because the NY Mutts signed Johan Santana! True Phillies fans go through this BS every year with our rowdy neighbors to the north!
Just remember, not only did we win the NL East Championship, we have the last two National League MVPs!
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Take that, New York!
Oh, yeah,..and we won the division steroid-free!