The Reading Fightin Phils inducted players Pat Burrell, Jason Michaels, Eric Valent, Nick Punto and Gary Burnham along with former longtime voice of the R-Phils Steve Degler.
Before he led the 2008 World Series Championship parade down Broad Street, Burrell paid his dues as a member of the 1999 Reading Phillies. The University of Miami product drove in 90 runs with 28 home runs and 28 doubles while hitting .333 in his standout season and it wasn’t long before he found his way to the majors with the Phillies.
Burrell would earn the nickname “Pat the Bat” over his nine seasons with the Phillies by hitting at least 20 home runs for eight straight seasons from 2001 to 2008. His 33 homers in 2008 helped carry the Phillies to their first World Series title in 28 years.
Burrell was joined by teammate and all-time Reading home run leader Gary Burnham. Playing for Reading from 1999-2001 and then again in 2006, he set the home run record in August of 2006, besting 2015 Hall of Famer Dan Held’s record. Over his career, Burnham played 11 years in the minors as well as playing in Mexico and Japan before retiring after the 2010 season. In addition to his skills on the diamond, Burnham is also a talented artist, painting a popular image of friend and teammate Burrell that still hangs in FirstEnergy Stadium to this day.
A critical component of the 2000 Southern Division champion team, Jason Michaels tied for the team lead with a .295 batting average and led the club with 30 doubles. The outfielder was also a University of Miami product along with Burrell, where they both were drafted by the Phillies in 1998. After making his major league debut with the Phillies in 2001, “J-Mike” went on to play 11 seasons in the majors with Philadelphia, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Houston and retired after the 2011 season.
On that same 2000 squad was Eric Valent, who led the R-Phils with 24 home runs, 90 RBI, 70 walks, 81 runs scored, and a .467 slugging percentage. A standout at UCLA and Pac-10 Player of the Year, he was a first round pick of the Phillies in the supplemental draft. The Sinking Spring resident played five seasons in the majors, including his 2004 season with the New York Mets where he hit .267 with 13 homers and 34 RBI. He’s now the Southeast Regional Supervisor of Amateur Scouting for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Nick Punto was drafted by the Phillies in the 21st round of the 1998 Draft out of Saddleback High School in Santa Ana, California. He played in Reading in 2000 as another member of the Southern Division champion team and went on to play for the Phillies, Minnesota Twins, St. Louis Cardinals, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland A's over 14 major league seasons. In his one season with Reading, Valent hit .254 in 121 games.
Those players careers wouldn’t have been the same without the calls of Steve Degler, the longtime voice of Reading from 1992 to 2008. At the time of his departure, Degler was the longest tenured broadcaster in the Eastern League. He currently serves at the color commentator for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs TV Network and the play-by-play voice of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms hockey team on Service Electric 2-Sports. The Kutztown University alum also calls select Fightin Phils home games on 2-Sports.null