June 06, 2017
On Monday night in Atlanta, Aaron Altherr hit his ninth home run of the season in the Phillies' 11-4 win over the Braves.
The home run was Altherr’s seventh in his last 30 games. His nine home runs in 48 games this season equals the career total he brought into the 2017 season – he had gone deep nine times in 340 plate appearances over 98 big league games since making his big league debut in 2014.
But it’s not just the home runs that have made Altherr the breakout player the Phillies needed to find from somewhere on their 40-man roster in the first half of 2017.
It’s the stellar defense he plays no matter where you put him in the outfield. It’s the instincts on the base paths. It’s the .927 OPS he brought into play Tuesday, a number that ranked 17th in the National League and better than four guys who finished in the top five for the MVP trophy last fall, Kris Bryant, Nolan Arenado, Anthony Rizzo, and Corey Seager, among others.
The team’s last three games notwithstanding, the Phillies have not played a particularly exciting brand of baseball over the last month or so. But Aaron Altherr has, providing a rebuilding team with a watchable player for fans to start getting excited about.
If someone would have told you two months after Opening Day that the leading candidates to represent the Phillies at the All-Star Game would be Aaron Altherr and Pat Neshek, you would have looked at them like Bert the cop and Ernie the cab driver looked at George Bailey while he was running wild through Pottersville.
But I digress. It’s been a wonderful two months for Aaron Altherr, so we decided to check in with him for the latest edition of The Q&A.
What’s this last 6-7 weeks been like, really going from not being in the lineup the first week of the season to being someone they’re talking about as a possible All-Star? How do you put that into words?
Aaron Altherr: I don’t know. I definitely wasn’t expecting that to start the season. Obviously, unfortunately, Howie (Kendrick) got the injury and I was able to get that opportunity. But, yeah, I definitely wasn’t expecting that to happen but I’m just glad I was able to take advantage of it and help the team win.
Was it as simple as altering the mechanics of your swing, or also just getting more comfortable and confident as a hitter?
A combination of everything, really. Obviously mechanics as well, but I’m just feeling more comfortable in the box, just relaxing more. That’s big part of it as well.
Does this go back to spring training? Because you were productive then as well. Is that when things seemed to click?
Yeah, because that’s when I started working with Stairsy (first-year hitting coach Matt Stairs), lowering my hands, and I started getting comfortable doing that. I was a lot more relaxed at the plate, able to see the ball better. It definitely started there, and i just kept getting more and more comfortable.
How tough has it been that the best stretch of your career has coincided with the team overall not playing well? Not as easy to, for lack of a better way to put it, to enjoy it. You’d obviously prefer to be playing well and team winning games, too.
Yeah, it’s definitely a rough stretch. But we just have to keep battling and eventually the tables are going to turn for us. Yeah, it’s definitely tough. But we have enough talent on this team to turn it around. There are still over 100 games left.
Yep, we have plenty of time.
Who was your favorite player growing up?
I was a Diamondbacks fan growing up so I always liked watching Steve Finley play, a center fielder.
So that means the Diamondbacks are your favorite team?
Well, not anymore [laughs].
Well, yeah. [laughs]
Yeah, back then, growing up, yeah.
When was did the Diamondbacks start, like ’98, right? And when were you born?
OK, so that worked out well, you had a team and didn’t have to latch onto some random one.
Yup, that was my team growing up.
You were obviously born in Germany. Did I read you also spend time in Baltimore at some point?
No, my mom is from Baltimore. I was born in Germany, lived there not even a year, a few months, and when I was a baby we moved to Kansas City and then there for a couple years and then, since I was, I don’t know, 3 or 4, I was in Arizona.
Relatives in Baltimore then?
Yeah, all my mom’s family lives in Baltimore.
Ah, I gotcha. So this next question will sort of be relative since your mom is from there: who is the best player to ever come out of the Baltimore area?
Born and raised there?
Yeah. I’m trying to stump you.
I have no idea. I doubt Cal Ripken was born there, was he? [Editor’s note: Ripken was born in suburban Baltimore.]
[*Whispers*] Babe Ruth.
Babe Ruth? Wow. I didn’t know what.
OK, who is the best player current playing in the Baltimore/DC area. This isn’t a trick question. But there are a couple of good options.
Does Harper count?
He does. Basically a Bryce Harper vs. Manny Machado question.
Yeah, right now I’d have to say Harper, He’s done pretty well.
Altherr means “old man,” huh?
Yep, in German.
When did you learn that?
Probably when I was a kid.
You said you didn’t spend much time there, but have you gone back recently?
In 2012 I played in the WBC qualifier for Germany. We ended up losing to Canada in the finals to qualify. So we almost made it.
Where was it at?
In Regensburg, Germany.
Was there anyone you knew or played on in Phillies organization on that Canadian team? I feel like the Phillies always have plenty of Canadians around.
Adam Loewen. Tyson Gillies was on that team, too.
Yeah, he was on that team, too. I never played with him (in Phillies’ system) but in spring training I was there with him. And maybe Jay Johnson. I think that was it.
What’s your favorite thing to do away from the ballpark? Reading, watching movies, any other hobby?
TV and video games. [laughs]
Favorites right now?
My wife and I really just watch old sitcoms. The classics like Seinfield, King of Queens, the Fresh Prince (of Bel Air).
We’re not really into the newer shows, we always watch the old classics.
Yeah, and it’s good sometimes to have something a half hour long, not too serious, at the end of a long day.
And they always have the marathons on, so you can just keep watching them all day.
Favorite video game right now?
Destiny. Call of Duty. Games like that.
Favorite all-time baseball movie?
The first 'Major League.'
That’s a classic.
Favorite sport other than baseball?
I used to say basketball, but…
… not into it as much?
Not really. Every since I got drafted I haven’t paid much attention to it. So probably football.
Was it because you stopped playing that you lost interest in basketball?
Kind of, yeah. I just lost interest in it.
How good of a basketball player were you in high school?
I was pretty decent. I had a couple of D-I offers. But once I started getting those questionnaires from major league teams I was like ‘Nah, I think I’ll stick with baseball.’
Aren’t even tempted to play in pick-up basketball games?
If I play, I’ll just shoot. I’m not trying to get hurt or anything.
That’s a smart move.
I’ll just stay outside and shoot 3s.
OK. I asked this question to Tommy Joseph this winter and I must admit I forgot about you at the time. So I’ll ask the same, and we’ll include you: who is the best player in the Phillies organization from the Phoenix area?
So we have Tommy, Dylan Cozens (who led all minor league players in home runs last season) and Scott Kingery (who leads all minor league players in home runs this season), and yourself.
Who’s the best one? Are we talking about ranking them?
Let’s say we’re starting a team.
Well, obviously I have to pick me No.1.
And then I’ll go Tommy. Then it’s a tossup between Kingery and Cozens.
That’s fair. And politically correct. You always have to name the guys who are in the room.
I have to put myself first.
(Joseph) did the same, so that’s cool.
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