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March 15, 2017

The Q&A ... with Phillies vet (and Cubs Series champ) Chris Coghlan

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031517.Phils.Cog Miles Kennedy/Phillies

Chris Coghlan is a former National League Rookie of the Year in camp with the Phillies, hoping to win a job on the bench a year after playing in a reserve role for the World Champion Chicago Cubs.

TAMPA – Before boarding a 3 p.m. bus bound for George M. Steinbrenner Field, the Spring Training home of the Yankees, Chris Coghlan was the only player on the short field outside Spectrum Field in Clearwater, Fla.

Coghlan, a 31-year-old veteran of eight major league seasons, was taking ground balls at second base. It's the position he played during his major league debut eight years ago, but also one he's played sparingly since (although he did make 16 starts at second with the Oakland A's early last season).

Coghlan is leading off and starting at second on Wednesday night in Tampa. Fresh off winning a World Series with the Cubs, the versatile Coghlan is trying to prove his value and worth as a non-roster player in camp hoping to win a spot on the Opening Day roster. 

Because of his ability to play multiple positions, veteran know-how, and contract (he makes $3 million if he's added to the big league roster), Coghlan is considered a favorite for one of two bench jobs that the likes of himself, fellow veteran Daniel Nava, first baseman Brock Stassi and second base prospect Jesmuel Valentin, among others, are competing for this month.

But before we get to the regular routine of handicapping the roster, it's time to invite Coghlan to The Q&A.

What drew your interest to the Phillies?

     Chris Coghlan: I think No.1 was just opportunity, playing opportunity. And then No.2 the idea of just what was building here. I was with Chicago when we lost 89 games in ’14 and then won 97 games in 2015 when nobody said it could be done. And then eventually made history last year. So to be able to be apart of something like that makes it extra special. Obviously, with all of the history, it’s cool, but just to be able to build something, build relationships through the tough times and see it come out the other side is magical. It makes everything more fun and more joyous because you’re building to something bigger than yourself and your own performance.

You went to high school nearby, right?

     Yeah, not far (East Lake HS, Tarpon Springs, Fla.).

Did you go to Spring Training games as a kid?

     I would go to Blue Jays ones – Dunedin is a little closer. I remember getting a bat from Carlos Delgado.

Were you a Blue Jays fan then?

     Nah, I followed them, just like the Phillies, because of Spring Training. I was a diehard Orioles fan. I grew up in Maryland; Cal Ripken was my favorite player. That’s why I always wore No.8. So he was my idol as a kid. I’d watch games every night. The Phillies were definitely my National League team but I was more of an A.L. guy when I was a kid.

You were traded around this time last year (Feb. 26, 2016, to the Oakland A's), after Spring Training had started?

     Yeah, so late.

How crushing was that, being traded from the Cubs after what you just mentioned, being with them in an 89-loss season in 2014 to turning it around in 2015?

     It was, it was crushing. When you go from the best chance on paper to win a World Series – there aren’t many people that play this game that have an opportunity where they can say, on paper we have the best chance to start the year. Everybody is hopeful, but not everybody gets to be in that position. So to go from that to go to an on-paper team that wasn’t as formidable, you know, it was tough. The relationships, everything we built in ’15. In Spring Training we said it was like the band that got back together, that’s what we used to joke. And then, when I got traded – I understand it’s the nature of the business.

Was it after a workout?

     It was during. They took me off the field. I’m like, ‘This ain’t good.’

And then for them to get you back in June in a second trade – did (Cubs president) Theo (Epstein) say anything to you, like, we’ll try to get you back, or was it unexpected?

     No, no, no, no. You don’t think you’re coming back. Because they had everybody. You got (Kyle) Schwarber, Dexter (Fowler). There are people on that roster that could be starting for other teams, guys that weren’t even on the playoff roster. That’s how stacked we were. So I didn’t think (that’d happen). But I knew with the way that the Oakland A’s do business, that if it doesn’t work out we’re trading everybody. That’s how they view it. Which is smart in some ways. But in other ways you need longevity to win, you need guys around. But I knew it was a possibility. And then when Schwarber went down I didn’t even think of it. 

 But that’s why you should never burn a bridge. That’s why you should always – and it’s what I tell young kids – even if you don’t like the situation you’re in this game owes you nothing and nothing in life is fair. So just suck it up, be a professional on your team and do whatever you can that day to help your team win. And they wouldn’t have brought me back if I was anything other than what they thought. Theo is every intuitive about how who he lets in that clubhouse. It’s not about talent (alone). So I was grateful for that opportunity, I got to win a World Series and I don’t know if I’ll ever get that chance again.

Other than the celebration and just euphoria of winning a World Series as a Cub, any highlight that stood out for you during that run? Walking out there for starting lineup introductions in Game 1?

     Yeah, I mean it’s tough, walking out to start Game 1 of the World Series – that’s what you dream about as a kid. You know? You have to pinch yourself. This is what I dreamt about as a kid. You don’t ever think it's going to happen, you just think it’s a dream. And then to be in that moment, and (think), man this is so special, I’m going to cherish it regardless of what happens. We lost that game but it was a once in a lifetime thing. Hopefully, it becomes twice [laughs].

Did you go to the White House?


Oh, you did get to go, pretty cool if that was the last thing you did with the Cubs.

     Yeah, it was a great opportunity to be with the boys. Nowadays everybody makes it a political thing … to me, it doesn’t matter (who is in office). It’s still a reverence for the president of the United States whether you voted for him or not. It was great to do it with the boys, to be with them one more time. You’ll always have reunions, there’s always going to be someone who can’t make it. So it was a great opportunity and I was glad to do it.

You mentioned Schwarber, obviously, Kris Bryant won the MVP, you hit in between Addison Russell and Javier Baez in Game 1. Just so much young talent. Is there anyone in this (Phillies) clubhouse that jumps out like that, that reminds you of any of those guys?

     You know, there are so many and it’s tough to single out. And you don’t want to feel like you’re leaving out other kids. But the one guy who I said something, I’ll give you this, one guy I said something to was J.P. (Crawford). I said, man, you know what, I just want to encourage you. … There are certain things he just does really well and I wanted to encourage him. ‘I think you've got a chance to be a real special player.’ He reminds me of Addison Russell. Just his aura, his personality. They’re both laid back, both can pick it (at shortstop). I remember Addie’s first camp in ’14, quiet, didn’t say a whole lot. J.P.’s got a little more outgoing personality. Addie is now himself and has loosened up. But he could pick it. And you could see the offensive tools there. But you could see the defense was ahead of everything else. He doesn’t have a pulse. And that’s a huge thing when you’re playing defense, to not let anything change your heart rate. 

So when you watch it, it’s just smooth, there’s no ‘I gotta do something’ or ‘I gotta make something happen.’ Just make the routine plays. He has good footwork. (Crawford) reminded me of Addie in that way. He can just pick it. You just knew right away. His footwork was excellent for a young kid. Addie doesn’t have the best arm but has some of the best footwork you’re going to find for a shortstop. And when I watched J.P., he just kind of reminded me of that. And he has a better arm than Addie. And so I was just like, man, keep your down, realize it’s about the journey, it’s not about the result right now. You’re trying to prepare for something bigger and longer. So realize that, visualize that, and then everyday know you’re either depositing into that bank or taking out. Every decision you make, from how much water you drink, how you sleep, how you work and prepare. Decisions you make on and off the field, all of that stuff is either depositing or taking out. So I just wanted him to know, I know we can get close minded and just think about the here and now, but you’ve got a big future ahead of you.

Where do you keep your Rookie of the Year trophy?

     I don’t even know. My mom has it.

Where does your mom live?

     Like 20 minutes north of here. I have no idea (where it is).

You played with the Marlins for a while obviously, many games against the Phillies. Was there any pitcher you didn’t like to face?

     They’re all good. Charlie Manuel always tells me, ‘Man you used to kill us.’ And I’d tell him I loved playing against you because you guys were the best. It’s easy to get up for the best. I just loved the opportunity to just compete with the Roy Halladays, (Cole) Hamels, the (Cliff) Lees. Then you had (Ryan) Madson, (Brad) Lidge, so many guys I can’t even think of all of them. (Joe) Blanton was there for a while, (Kyle) Kendrick. Good pitchers, some of them superstars. It was just fun, because you could say, ‘This is the best of the best,’ and if you didn’t bring it, they were going stuff it down your throat. You were going be embarrassed. So it was fun to get up to compete against those guys.

Any position player on the other side that you…

     Chase (Utley). Chase was my favorite player. Yeah. (He’s a) second baseman, I came up as a second baseman, left-handed hitter. Smooth one drives. Loved the way he competed, blue collar, everything that I was brought up as. Non-flashy.

You ever tell him that, as a guy on the other side?

     No, I didn’t. He’s just so engaged in what he’s trying to do and how to prepare, there just wasn’t an opportunity other than the, ‘Hey, how you doing?” type of thing.

Favorite big league ballpark?

     Ahhh, that’s hard. Wrigley is so special to me. L.A. (Dodger Stadium) is the only place I feel like I don’t even have to stretch, that I can walk out there and I’m ready to go. Camden Yards.

Did you ever go to Memorial Stadium?

     Camden Yards was the only (Orioles) ballpark I went to. [Editor's note: Coghlan was 6-years-old when Oriole Park at Camden Yards opened in 1992).

Favorite city to travel to?

     I mean, Chicago. It’s the best of the best. You can never eat at enough restaurants, beautiful weather in the summertime down on Lake Shore, and you have all the history when you’re playing there.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21