CHICAGO – A day after collecting his 2,000th career hit and getting sprayed and congratulated by his Braves teammates after a doubleheader sweep at Philadelphia, Brandon Phillips was not expecting to be asked if he’d approve a trade to the Los Angeles Angels.
But baseball being a business and deadlines being deadlines, a Braves official approached Phillips shortly before Thursday’s night series opener and said he was scratched from the lineup against the Cubs because the Angels had made a trade offer for him and that it was up to him to decide if he’d approve the deal.
Oh yeah, and he only had a few hours to make up his mind because deals had to be done before midnight Eastern Time in order for traded players to be eligible for postseason rosters.
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And so he spent the game on the phone, in his Braves uniform in the visitor’s clubhouse, talking to his mom back home at Stone Mountain and other family members in Atlanta and elsewhere, asking them what they thought he should do.
“The whole damn game,” he said, able to smile about it later, after he had approved the trade and the dye was cast. “The whole game, I talked to my family. I just talked to everybody. Because this is the last thing I would’ve thought; I never thought this was going to happen. I know it’s the last day (before the postseason-roster deadline), but the last thing on my mind was getting traded. I was going out there just thinking about getting 2,001, getting my next hit, and getting a W for Atlanta.
“I was just talking to everybody -- my older brother, everybody -- and asking their opinion. My family made the decision for me and I’m going to Cali, I guess.”
He’s a 36-year-old man with four Gold Gloves, three All-Star selections, a Silver Slugger Award and a reputation for saying and pretty much doing whatever the hell he wants, even if it occasionally makes some folks cringe. He was outspoken, occasionally loud, quite funny and arguably the most entertaining player on the team.
But Phillips is also a sensitive guy – he really is -- who likes being embraced and appreciated by teammates, which had been the case since he was traded from his longtime former team, the Reds, to his hometown Braves the week before spring training. (He had to approve that deal, too, because at the time he had full trade-veto rights as a player with at least 10 years of major league service and at least five years with his current team.)
Even though he’d been displaced at second base at the beginning of August when the Braves decided it was time to bring up prospect Ozzie Albies and let the kid play every day, and even though Phillips agreed to a move to third base and then immediately excelled at a position he’d never played in his major league career, and even though the Braves were now coming to him barely four weeks later and asking if he’d give his approval so they could trade him, it still wasn’t an easy decision. Not at all.
“I’m playing at the house,” Phillips said, meaning he was playing in his hometown, where it was common for a handful or more of his family and friends, guys and girls, to be outside the Braves clubhouse after home games, at least one or two wearing his jersey as the group waited for him to shower and dress before they visited with him afterward.
“I had to talk to my family first. I left my family make the decision for me. I didn’t want to leave my family,” Phillips said. “It’s fun playing for the Braves. Hopefully I can come back next year or whatever’s in the future for me. It’s really tough to leave the team that I grew up watching. This decision is much harder than leaving the Reds, honestly. Just being around the family and stuff like that. So my family made this decision for me. I’m going to go out there and do what I’ve been doing. My dream is to get a ring and that’s what I have a chance to really do now, and hopefully I can go out there and help the team out.”
Spending a month or two with a team on the West Coast pursuing a World Series ring has its appeal, for sure. But so does playing at home for a Redan High School graduate who usually wears something bearing his Atlanta pride – be it an ATLIEN shirt beneath his uniform, or an Atlanta cap, or the T-shirt he designed with Brand 47 that has illustrations of Atlanta and Stone Mountain landmarks or the 1996 Olympics, where he was a batboy.
He grew up dreaming of playing for the Braves, now he was being asked to approve a trade after spending less than one full season with them.
“My mom made the decision for me,” he said. “Just everybody in my family. I just talked to everybody and asked for their opinions, the ups and downs about me leaving home. I just let them make the decision. Still, it’s tough. I’m happy that I’m going somewhere where they’re winning, I’ll be in a playoff run and get a chance to win a ring.”
But he probably won’t have a chance to bond with them like he did with his Braves teammates. Being thrown into a playoff race as the newcomer with a bunch of players who’ve gotten this far without you is different than spending six or seven weeks together at spring training and going through the grind of a six-month regular season with each other.
And don’t think he didn’t notice and appreciate all the nice things that teammates and manager Brian Snitker said about him to reporters, starting that first week of spring training.
“I’m going to miss these guys,” he said of his Braves teammates. “I grew to love these guys in here from Day 1. They all took me in, I was the new guy. For everybody to love the guy I am and all the little compliments they were saying about me, it’s an honor. I’m sorry that we really didn’t put on for the city of Atlanta like we had the team to do. That’s the one I can really say that sucked about this season. But other than that, my family told me to go to Anaheim and try to make my dreams come true.”
After Phillips approved the trade late Thursday, Snitker met with him and let him know how he felt about Phillips.
“I just talked to him about how much I respected and appreciated everything that he did,” Snitker said. “The guy can still play. I think he did himself a huge (service) by going to third, I think it’s going to be good for his career that people saw him and how well he played. He’s a guy that comes to play. The guy likes to play baseball, as evidenced by the 2,000th hit he got yesterday.
“I just have nothing but the utmost respect for the guy because he wants to play every day, enjoys it, he has fun playing. It was fun watching him.”
Oh, about third base. Many of us had assumed Phillips was upset about the move to third base because he declined to speak to the media about that particular subject, and only that subject. But on Thursday after agreeing to the trade, he said that playing third base had actually been quite enjoyable for him. And he insisted he’d be glad to do it again for the Braves if they asked. Seriously.
“I think the big experience for me was just moving to third base,” he said. “It was fun. It was fun going over there. I learned a lot about myself, I learned a lot about baseball. Just knowing how hard it is playing different positions. I mean, I really thought playing second base and shortstop was hard, but playing third base you’ve got to get used to the hook (of the ball) and all this other stuff. I feel like I’m athletic enough to play anywhere on the field, other than being a catcher – that’s one thing I’m not doing.
“But other than that, just playing third base was a lot of fun and I would love to come back, and if they want me to do that or whatever, that’d be awesome too. But you know, right now my No. 1 goal is to get a ring. I’m playing for the Angels.
“Like I said, I didn’t want to leave here. But a team called me, they want me to go out there and help the team win, and hopefully I can do that.”
It remains to be seen whether the Braves will actually pursue him as a free agent, but general manager John Coppolella said Thursday night that they would seriously consider it.
But for now, Dat Dude has left the building. And things just got a little less colorful for this Braves September.