For Somerset Patriots starting pitcher Paul Phillips, tonight’s game will have added meaning. Tonight’s game versus the Bridgeport Bluefish will be Phillips’ last start for Somerset, as he has signed a deal with the Lamigo Monkeys, a team in Taiwan’s Chinese Professional Baseball League.
Phillips, originally from Blissfield, MI with a great parental unit and an older brother, taught Phillips what he needed to do from an early age. “I love my family but my parents were strict,” said Phillips. “They taught me you have to have to work hard — my dad was an extremely hard worker at everything he has done.
“My mom taught special education and troubled youths, a job that takes a lot of patience.” he added. “My brother is my best friend and the most fun I have is in the off-season when I go back up to our cottage. I talk to someone in my family at least once a day.”
Phillips came to Somerset after seven years in both the Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays organizations as a reliever. This season, he wanted to try something new – become a starter. “I always wanted to start but I didn’t have the option, chance or the number of pitches,” Phillips said.
“I only had a fastball and a slider. Normally, you need to have a third pitch. Now, I got better at throwing a two-seam fastball and I started throwing a split-finger again last year.”
Having additional pitches and looking for a new opportunity gave Phillips a chance he has always looked for. “(The additional pitches) changes my repertoire, changes my ability of what I can do seeing lineups multiple times.
When I spoke to (pitching coach) Brett (Jodie) this off-season, I wanted to come in and have an opportunity to start because it’s something I have never done in pro ball and I always wanted to.”
Playing affiliated ball versus unaffiliated has differences and Phillips has had full experience with the pressure. “In affiliated ball, there’s always that pressure that somebody is coming for you,” Phillips said.
“You have to keep your job and move up while trying to take somebody else’s job. In unaffiliated, the goal is to get back to affiliated ball or to get somewhere to play.”
Playing for the Patriots organization and in the Atlantic League is something that Phillips has benefited from greatly. “(The Atlantic League) is such a great league…it is a lot of fun here,” said Phillips. “I (have) enjoyed my time here at Somerset…we have great fans and a great facility. There’s not as much looking over your shoulder here and you can just go out and play.”
The goals may be different but the ultimate focus is playing according to Phillips. “Everyone here just wants to play…this is a really good league,” Phillips said. If you have to have a job that is not in affiliated ball, the Atlantic League is the place to be.
“Maybe the goals are different – some want to get a good contract in Japan or Taiwan, somewhere to make money. (In addition), many guys want to get one last chance in affiliated ball or some want to play here. If you have a great year in this league, if you put up good numbers here, you are putting up good numbers against good players.
Having the opportunity to play here was about proving something and joining others with a similar mindset according to Phillips. “Brett (Jodie) called me and said, ‘We win here and we want guys that want to win,’” Phillips said.
“There are a lot of guys here that are hungry and I know that I was…Brett’s been there and when he talks, you listen. Brett knows my mechanics and what I need to do to be successful.”
Playing for Somerset is a representation of the past for Phillips. “You look out at all those (championship) banners, this is the team that other organizations in this league want to be like,” said Phillips.
“Everyone that comes to Somerset sees those banners and what has been done and while I was not there for them, you want to continue that…you want to put another banner up there. We have a great coaching staff and a great owner that cares. That is why we are all here, to win.”
Playing for a legend in manager Sparky Lyle has been a great experience and something that Phillips is grateful. “Playing for someone with a resume such as his, you feel lucky,” Phillips said. “Having him here and chiming in with little things about pitching because you don’t see a lot of managers that were pitchers. You use the word ‘legend’ rarely, but here, you can.
“I have had nine starts and he has said something to me about every start – in-between an inning that can change the tide of the game…little things about pitching that can make all the difference. When he chimes in, it is probably something you should listen to.”
One thing his soon to be former teammates will miss is Phillips extensive movie collection. Phillips has collected movies for a long time and he has reasons for this. “I don’t know, maybe because I am lazy and I want to sit and watch movies!” Phillips said.
“It started when I was in college and mom and dad may not want to know this…go get $50 worth of groceries but I quickly found out that if you get $35 worth of groceries, you can still get a movie. I love movies…I am the guy that will sit in the movie theatre by himself. It got really bad once I started making my own money…Best Buy became my friend!”
The downtime and travel is a part of baseball and travel for Phillips. “I have always had movies with me and I had movies on the bus. We spend so much time on the bus; people go to sleep so getting a portable DVD player and bring movies…its part of baseball, it makes trips easier.
Before you know it, you have some stupid collection that every interview you do, someone talks about…probably by the end of this year, (the collection) will hit 2,000. People make fun of me about it but everyone watches them.”
In terms of favorites, Phillips has an array of movies that he likes. “Every guy says ‘Gladiator,’” Phillips said. “I have always loved, ‘The Shawshank Redemption,’ and ‘Saving Private Ryan.” Since I was four years old when the stuff came out, I loved the “Transformers” movies because I am a huge geek…any movies that were toys when I was a kid and love comic book movies.
I like movies that you have to sit down and think. The worst thing to do is watch a detective movie with my dad…he was a detective/cop for 25 years and he figures them out in six seconds, so he ruins them! If (the movie) is good, I will watch anything.”
As a future career, Phillips would love to talk about movies or act. “I would love that (opportunity),” Phillips said. “I would love to act…I love acting but in school, the only thing that kept me from doing plays and being a drama geek is the fact that I was playing sports and I could not do both. Talking about movies, if I could get paid to watch movies, it would save me a lot of money!”
The loss of Paul Phillips for the Patriots organization will be felt because of how solid he has been this season. Phillips character and personality will also be missed because you do not find athletes that are as humble and easy-going after spending many years chasing the dream.