How hot is Phillies spring training right now? I chatted briefly with Washington Township resident Debbie Rice, who flew in yesterday on Southwest to watch her son, minor league centerfielder Bill Rice, play a few exhibitions. Debbie reported the flight was so jammed they were offering free flights to anybody willing to give up their seats to take a later flight.
"I'd say more than half the flight was Phillies fans dressed in their green jerseys," Debbie said. "They were really having a good time on the flight."
And they were having so much fun at the ballpark, the gal who sang the Canadian and national anthems received an ovation.
* This is the week when major league starters stretching toward their regular-season debuts hit the dead-arm wall. Cliff Lee worked three efficient, scoreless innings against the Blue Jays. In the top of the fourth, he hit the wall. And the wall hit back. The Phillies' version of in-again-out-again-in-again-Finnegan, allowed five fourth-inning runs that featured two doubles and homers by Juan Rivera and Edwin Encarnacion. Only three of the runs were earned, but Lee's ERA is now 5.52. Just getting in his work, eh? But the most bizarre line was produced by hit-an-inning-plus right-hander Kyle Kendrick. The projected early setup reliever and emergency starter gave up a staggering seven hits in his three innings, but only one earned run. Lefthander Mike Zagurski struck out the side in the ninth. Pesky mini-jack of six positions, Rule-5er Michael Martinez, raised his average to .325 with two hits and remains in the 25-man conversation.
* One of the quality human beings in TV sports and a journalist without peer, graced the Bright House yesterday. Mary Carillo and an HBO Real Sports crew was there to do a segment featuring Jimmy Rollins. I have known Mary since my time covering five Wimbledons. The former high-ranked touring pro is bright, honest and outspoken. She lends integrity to a cluttered industry where ratings trump an honesty that got her fired by ESPN, pressured after Carillo harshly criticized superstar Serena Williams for physical threats and verbal abuse of an official at the 2009 U.S. Open. Tennis author John Feinstein, a frequent guest on Daily News Live, said this about Carillo: "Mary should be the commissioner of tennis. She's smarter than every person with authority in tennis. She's smarter than all of them combined." Mary said J-Roll was an excellent interview, witty and sharp.
* Cable TV superstar Keith Olbermann has been a frequent visitor to Phillies exhibitions dating to his years as one of the shapers of the ESPN SportsCenter format he helped hone with his intellectual asides and rapier wit. The man who startled the industry by leaving his lucrative MSNBC Countdown gig without rumor or fanfare is enjoying the year's salary he negotiated after saying Sayonara. Fired? Some say NBC's new Comcast ownership thought Olbermann was a little too loose a cannon for their starched collar tastes (I can relate to that). Whatever, baseball is his first love. He fed me an intriguing assessment of Nationals wunderkind Bryce Harper. "I was down there for a few games," Keith said. "When he hit the baseball in batting practice, it made a sound unlike any I have ever heard produced by any hitter. It is an explosion. I think the kid is going to be special."
* I spent about 20 minutes the other day at the batting cage - church to Charlie Manuel - trying to get the skipper to admit he is scared shirtless by the potential loss for a long time of Chase Utley. "I'm not worried," he said. "I'm gonna fill out a lineup card every day and I'll have nine pretty good ballplayers on it who will give the Phillies a good chance to win the game. That's what I do. I think that every lineup I send out there is gonna be good enough to win." While he spoke, skinny utility ace Wilson Valdez - if he had hair on his chest he would look like a pipe cleaner - was lashing line drives. "Really picked us up last year, didn't he?" Charlie grinned. And winked. He is loving all of this . . .
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