Tuesday, October 2, 2012

An Interview with OF Brett Phillips

When I told Lance McCullers that I was going to interview Brett Phillips, Lance assured me that the interview would be "epic." And he should know. Lance and Brett, along with Carlos Correa and Rio Ruiz, have become the greatest of friends, a tightly knit core group of players that I have come to think of as The Four Musketeers. The four (four of the seven top 2012 draft picks for the Astros) started their first professional season together with the GCL Astros.

And Brett did not disappoint. He is open, talkative, funny and a little bit quirky. The conversation was peppered with "fer sures", "definitelys" and a breathless (and infectious) excitement about the future. And he has the greatest of all abilities, that of being able to laugh at himself. Oh, and about that laugh ... more on that later. I talked to him last Friday by phone and here's just a little of what he had to say (edited for clarity and brevity).

Photo Courtesy of Bryan Green

On the draft process and his questionable (at the time) signability: "Prior to draft day, everyone was telling me I was going to be second or third round ... Baseball America, ESPN Top 100, the scouts, everyone I talked to. [The way] everything was slotted out this year, I knew how much there was and my signability was the top four rounds. When draft day started, I got a couple of phone calls here and there [gauging] my signability. Then come the end of the third round, a lot of teams started calling [with offers for the fourth round]. They were going lower and lower and [then the] Astros called [with the] second highest offer I had received. The Cincinnati Reds had called and offered me [more] but with everything going on in the Astros organization, and Lance and Carlos and everything with the future, I chose to go with the Astros in the sixth. The signing bonus was perfect, but college we had to negotiate. That was the only thing keeping me back from signing [until] a little later. We had to get the college plan all settled and from there everything was perfect. [How did he know Lance and Carlos?] I knew Carlos from the World Showcase, but Lance I've known since I was nine. We used to play each other all the time."

What was the biggest surprise from his first season of pro ball?: "I would have to say the pitching. I didn't play in all the USA tournaments. I didn't take advantage of the big travel ball tournaments because I played football. I didn't see that pitching in high school obviously. The first couple weeks, it was tough, it was overpowering, but I adjusted and it just got easier and easier, but that was for sure the most overwhelming part of my first pro season."

What did he accomplish and what is he working on?: "Definitely stealing bases. That's what I need to focus on a lot. Getting on base. Getting better reads on the ball. I guess my biggest accomplishment on paper is [being one of the league leaders in] walks and triples, I guess."

Which of his teammates would he least like to face on the mound?: "Lance for sure. Lance is just out of this world. I consider him a god. Not just physically amazing, but also mentally when it comes to the brains part of the game and how to pitch to someone and just everything. I wouldn't want to be facing him."

Which teammate does he like to sit back and watch?: "Definitely Carlos and how he fields. Carlos is probably the best infielder I've ever seen. I mean professional, MLB, whatever, high school, travel ball. How he fields is just amazing. It's just smooth like butter."

Which of his teammates make him laugh?: "I would have to say all three of them, our pack, Lance, Carlos and Rio. I'm really the punching bag in the group so everything I say or do, they kind of make fun of me for. It's all fun though. We're all good friends and they all make me laugh and we have a good time in and out of baseball."

About that laugh (which has been described as the sound a dying donkey would make): "This is the funniest thing ever. The Dominicans actually caught on to my laugh and they think it's just the most outrageous thing they've ever heard. I mean we're talking about kids who don't speak English, they just die. And then they try to mock me and it's just the funniest thing ever. Everyone loves it in the clubhouse. The coaches are always making fun of me for it, trying to make me laugh. It's all fun and games. It's pretty out there. It's pretty crazy."

Was he disappointed when promotions to Greeneville broke up The Four Musketeers?: "What I told them was go tear it up. We'll be together sooner or later. I didn't let it get to me at all. It's just all part of how the process and everything goes. What I told them was just go tear it up, do your thing and we'll be back together before you know it. [Does he realize what a special group they are?] It's amazing. I couldn't ask for a better group. Not only are they really good baseball players, but they're all really good people. I like to surround myself [with] good people who [have] good judgement and [make] good decisions off the field as well because that makes you a better player as well."

Something most people don't know about him: "I played football my freshman year, just J.V. football, and we had a baseball coach over in my high school who said, after my freshman season, you have a big path ahead of you with baseball and you don't want to jeopardize it playing football. So I listened to him. Sophomore year rolled around and I didn't play football and regretted it. Junior year rolled around, didn't play football and regretted it. And I was just sitting in the stands thinking [about how] I love football as well. It was really just getting to me. We had a new coach and I was going to be a senior. Come the first game of the season, I didn't play and I [thought] I can't sit in the stands my senior year and watch this. So the football coach let me come out and it was my first year of really playing football and I tore it up. I made All County. I made the All-Star team. And there were some colleges looking at me to play Division 1 football and it was my first year playing so I was pretty excited about that. [What did he play?] I played outside linebacker on defense and running back on offense."

Any regrets about picking baseball over football?: "Oh no, never, never. There's a lot of good that comes from playing college football and there's a ton of bad coming from it. I've seen those huge kids on TV. I for sure made the right decision to stay with baseball. Baseball's a sport I love. I've played it since I was two years old, three years old I was picking up a bat and swinging it so baseball's definitely where my heart is and football  was really for fun, but I love to watch it still."

On why he's not at the fall instructional league: "During the season, about halfway through, I tweaked something in my knee and I played with it until the end of the season. Finally I said something. I was at the doctor and the doctor was moving it around and he hit a certain spot and it felt like someone just stabbed me in the knee. The doctor actually wrote down that he thought it was a torn meniscus. So the next day I got an MRI. It turned out clean. Everything was clean, just my ligaments were all bruised up so the Astros decided to sit me out for instructs. I've been rehabbing my knee and working out a lot. I'm going to start running here soon to see how my knee is, but it was nothing big. Nothing to be scared about Astros nation!"

On his middle name: "My dad, his nickname was Maverick when he was younger, but it wasn't his real name. He told my mom when he had a son, he wanted [the] middle name to be Maverick. It's going to be a generation name for sure. My son's going to have it. His son's going to have it."

Lance wanted me to ask Brett who his best friend was from the 2012 draft class: "Hopefully Carlos and Rio don't read this (laughs). Me and Lance actually hang out. We've hung out already like three or four times because he lives [nearby] in Tampa. We're like really close. We're almost identical twins when it comes to everything. He's just a really good friend and I've known him since I was nine. But then you have Carlos and Rio who are also really good friends to me and I would do everything for all those guys."

What would he tell Astros fans?: "Don't give up on what we have coming. Just have faith and keep following the Astros. If you're a Houston native or Texas native, don't ever bandwagon over to the Yankees or the Red Sox because in the future you're going to be coming back to the Astros."

Talking to Brett completed my mental picture of this group of extremely talented young men. I refer to them as The Four Musketeers not just out of convenience, but also because the motto, "All for one and one for all" is most fitting to describe their friendship, camaraderie and support of each other. Carlos is intense and driven; Rio is a leader by example; Brett lives and plays with a joyful abandon; and Lance is the glue that holds it all together. It will be difficult for me to ever think of one without the others again. Athos, Porthos, Aramis and D'Artagnan - Unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno!

1 comment:

  1. I love...no...let me rephrase that, I LOVE! your interviews! Its so awesome to get to know some of the players personalities years before they potentially turn into stars. I hope to see a lot more (especially in the off season when there's nothing else to read)