Connect The Dots... Painting A Picture

It is one of the unique qualities of youth, that their creative juices overflow with vivid imagery, imagination and make believe.... all of which often become their vision of reality. It is wonderful to see, and as a kindergarten teacher, I witness it daily. You see, they often don't have the words to express the vision they are seeing, so I gently tell them to go paint a picture.... and the picture becomes their words on canvas.

That's all well and good, you probably are saying, but what does this have to do with our Philadelphia Phillies, after all you probably came to read this column not for me to impart stories about my children...but stories about the team from The City of Brotherly Love. Yet, I propose to you that this simple exercise in a kindergarten class, when transferred to the world of grown up adults, and specifically the grown up adults whose decisions may well affect the Phillies future, has much in common.

As I have mentioned before, there is much to like about this organization as it now stands. Outstanding drafting, careful nurturing of a solid crop of young hurlers, a solid base of home grown stars, and a windfall on the free agent market last winter, have given the Phillies the look of a winner.... the look of a team on the rise. And this, my friends, is where the painting of a picture comes into focus.

Whereas little children often can't express in words the vision they see, they paint the picture - and the vision comes into focus - often in beautiful colorful details. Adults, on the other hand, must paint those pictures with words, and it's the words that become the visual images that stay with the fans, the players, the agents, the draft picks, and all the people connected with the organization. This – then - has become the challenge of our 2003 Philadelphia Phillies...can they paint a picture and create a vision that will make Philadelphia more than a stop over on the way to New York, Atlanta or Chicago? Can they, once again, make Philadelphia the place where players want to stay and play because it's the baseball place to be? It has been done before.

In the early 70's, buoyed by a new stadium and young developing stars like Mike Schmidt, Greg Luzinski and Larry Bowa, the Phillies were a vibrant team.. and the vision was clear. This was a young power-packed, exciting team headed for the top and the fans flocked to Veterans Stadium. Phillies caps and shirts were everywhere and it was great to be young, talented...and a Philadelphia Phillie.

Want proof? Pete Rose saw the picture in his mind, the vision of excellence, painted red and white. Although he could have gone anywhere - he came to Philadelphia. Undoubtedly this painted picture, drawn up in no small detail by erstwhile President Bill Giles and GM Paul Owens, included another World Series ring for Rose's finger. The images of Rose, Tug Mcgraw, Mike Schmidt and Co. riding through the streets of Philadelphia after their 1980 WS triumph to the tune of one million adoring fans, was undoubtedly the self-fulfilling prophesy of a beautifully painted picture.....in the images of Rose's mind.

Need more proof? Think of the painted picture that was created in the minds of victory-starved Phillies fans by the large group of castoffs that was our beloved 1993 team. This painted picture was created in the Spring of ‘93 when this group realized how special they were, and how far they could go. It was no coincidence that after a late spring exhibition game against the powerful Pittsburgh Pirates, Pirate manager Jim Leyland confessed to one and all that this Phillies team, the team that had finished dead last only the year before, was going to win the NL East.

He had seen the painted picture, he had caught the vision...a vision of Dykstra's toughness, and Kruk's playfulness, and Daulton's leadership. He had seen the painted picture, the image in the mind of a rotation brimming with youth and talent, of Tery Mulolland, of Tommy Greene, of Danny Jackson and Ben Rivera. And of one Curt Schilling. It is an amazing rite of passage in baseball that a player longs to go back to his roots as his career comes to a close. To finish what was started, where it was begun. And for Schilling, it began in that ‘93 season.... he witnessed the magic that is Philadelphia fandom, the vision of a team on the rise and on the move.

One of the ironies about this discussion of painting pictures is that no one paints a more descriptive picture of Phillies baseball in Philadelphia than Schilling does. He, more than any other person I have witnessed, truly understands what being a winner in Philadelphia means. It is the very reason he longs to return. And it is this picture, so carefully captured and nurtured by Schilling, which will have to be painted by Owner Dave Montgomery, GM Ed Wade, Manager Larry Bowa and all the other organization people, if this team is to take the next step.

They have progressed far since the journey began, when in the winter of 1997 Ed Wade decided he was going to build from within and create an organization that everyone could be proud of. In so many respects, this has been done. The farm system is solid, the new stadium is scheduled to open in 2004, and players like Pat Burrell and Randy Wolf saw enough of the painting to re-sign with the Phillies. And to top it all, the Phillies painted a beautiful enough portrait of their vision to convince slugger Jim Thome and solid third baseman David Bell to sign as free agents.

The addition of these players made the picture that much easier to paint.... just imagine….. booming home runs by Thome and Burrell, line drive doubles up the alley by Bobby Abreu, the solid workmanship of catcher Mike Lieberthal, the whirling double play antics of Jimmy Rollins and Placido Polanco or Chase Utley. Imagine. a rotation of Wolf, Vicente Padilla, Brett Myers and Brandon Duckworth, with Taylor Buchholtz, Gavin Floyd, Ryan Madson and Cole Hamels not far behind. Think of a nightly group of 40,000 fans dressed in Phillie red, ready to cheer on another victory. Imagine. a visiting team looking on their schedule and dreading the visit to Philadelphia, for certain defeat loomed ahead.

Sounds realistic, sounds feasible. Sounds plausible. It had better because it is this painting - this vision - this caption of how it can be during this decade, that will ultimately decide the fate of players like Kevin Millwood, and the myriad of future draft picks and free agents who must decide whether to cast their lots with the Phillies. I say it will be this panting - and not the money - that will ultimately decide which way the Phillies go in the next several years..for if money be the determining object...we cannot compete with the mega bucks teams in the likes of the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers.

What we can do is paint that picture, the picture that Pete Rose saw, that Darren Daulton saw, that Curt Schilling still sees today. And as a ballplayer yearns to return to his roots, perhaps the Phillies organizational hierarchy - through those painted images in the mind - can return to days of their youth...when a painted picture on the wall of a classroom created the vision that words were too difficult to express.

Columnist's Note: Mail, I get mail, and it is always appreciated. If you have a comment, question or suggestion for a topic, kindly e-mail me at connectthedots@earthlink.net and I will respond!


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