All Things Bubba

Because how can you not love a baseball player named "Bubba"?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Andy at Alabama

Andy Phillips' hometown paper has this story:

'This is what I'm supposed to be doing,' new Tide hitting coach Andy Phillips says

TUSCALOOSA - Not so long ago, the new guy on the Alabama baseball team's coaching staff played with major league legends such as Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mariano Rivera. Naturally, inquiring minds want to know what that was like and what they are like.

Just the other day, junior center fielder Taylor Dugas quizzed Andy Phillips about one of his former New York Yankee teammates.

"I said, 'What was Roger Clemens like as a teammate?'" Dugas said.

He was awesome, Phillips said. Real competitive.

"He said, 'You have no idea how competitive,'" Dugas said.

Phillips recalled a moment when he fielded a ground ball and made a putout at first base rather than attempt a force out at second base to start a potential double play.

"Clemens yelled at him, 'You've got to turn that!'" Dugas said.

Oh, the stories Phillips can and does tell about his playing days that probably would be continuing this season, if not for the job offer he couldn't refuse.

That offer came one day in late December, after Phillips had worked out for the Boston Red Sox.

Mitch Gaspard had an unexpected opening on his staff, and he was sure he wanted to hire Phillips, but Alabama's head coach wasn't sure about the timing.

"He said he started not to say anything about it, because he felt like I still wanted to play," Phillips said. "But he said, 'I would regret it if I didn't at least ask.'"

Phillips talked to his wife and his agent, then quickly accepted the opportunity to become the Crimson Tide's hitting coach.

"I felt like this was where we needed to be," Phillips said. "This is what I'm supposed to be doing."

Phillips, 34, had spent the past two seasons in Japan.

"You look at your career as a player and you think, really, can it get any better than what I had already done?" he said. "Playing in the big leagues in New York. Getting to go overseas and play there. It was time for something different."

Time to come home? Phillips already was home. The former Alabama star from Demopolis has lived in Tuscaloosa each offseason. Returning to his alma mater meant not packing suitcases for spring training.

And it has meant so much more.

"Baseball doesn't define me," Phillips said. "Certainly it's a blessing to do it, to play and coach, but baseball is not the substance of who I am."

His faith and his family are more important, he said. Phillips understands it's his job now to develop baseball players, but he's more interested in molding young men.

"This was the most enjoyable time of my baseball career," he said, reflecting on an Alabama career highlighted by three trips to the College World Series. "It's also a short period of your life. To be able to invest in them, help them grow as players, grow as men ... that excites me as much as trying to help them hit that slider."

"The thing for me is pouring into these guys in ways that's going to make them better men 20 years from now. I hope more than anything that's what they get from me.

Sophomore third baseman Brett Booth says Phillips not only is providing valuable hitting instruction but is leading weekly Bible study sessions.

"The first day he was here, the first thing he said was that the main reason he was here was to impact us not only on the field but off the field as well," Booth said.

Gaspard said he hired Phillips because of his character.

"He's the guy that you want all of your players to emulate," said Gaspard, who was a groomsman in Phillips' 2004 wedding. "He's been that way ever since we signed him here in 1996. He hasn't changed a lick through the big leagues. He's probably the most respected player I've ever been around. That's why we offered him the job to come back."

Gaspard was the assistant coach who recruited Phillips. Alabama was Phillips' only offer. In four seasons with the Tide, Phillips posted a career batting average of .356 with 61 home runs, 224 RBI and 322 hits. He still holds the school career records for home runs, hits and total bases (590).

But he wasn't an instant star.

"My whole first year was really, really bad, to the point where I questioned if I was good enough," Phillips recalled. "Mitch really believed in me as a player then, really poured confidence into me when I didn't see any as a player. I was no good."

Gaspard smiled when asked what he recalls.

"I remember a lot of talks," he said. "When I signed Andy, I felt responsible to get him going. It was very obvious even in his struggles that he was a very talented player. We knew it would happen. Coming from a small school, it was an adjustment for him, particularly that first year.

"Once he got comfortable in the environment, he just turned into a superstar. Not only a great player, but he became a great leader. That 1999 season, his senior year, basically Andy just put that team on his back and carried a group of freshmen to Omaha."

Phillips then was drafted in the seventh round by the Yankees, but he didn't reach the major leagues until 2004. He hit .250 in 259 career games over parts of five seasons that included time with the Cincinnati Reds and New York Mets.

Coaching was something that Phillips said he thought about dating back to his college days.

"I enjoyed the technical part of the game, the teaching part of the game, the mechanics of the game," he said. "I tried to watch and learn from the best in the game. There's no greater thrill than when you work with a guy, and then it clicks for them. It's very rewarding to see them have success."

He understands why Alabama players embrace his suggestions.

"The biggest thing is not being far removed from the game," Phillips said. "You know what it's like to kick the ground ball. You know what it's like to swing at that pitch in the dirt. Being about to recall all that and realize, this is a very difficult game."

But Phillips wasn't interested in just coaching anywhere.

"Growing up an hour down the road and growing up an Alabama fan, it's poured into your blood," he said. "Then when you get to be a part of something special. ... Those years, there wasn't a better time to be a part of the program. All those trips to Omaha. They gave me an opportunity to play. Had the university not given me that opportunity, I mean, this was the only place that recruited me.

"I owe a lot to this place."

Hmmm. Clemens sounds like kind of a jerk. Not exactly a startling revelation, I suppose.


posted by BubbaFan, 12:02 AM


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