Well, it’s kind of here, it’s kind of back!  We got our first look at live baseball action at Citizens Bank Park for the return of the 2020 season this past week.

Major League Baseball didn’t really advertise it much, it was just sprung on us by individual teams like the Phillies. Many fans just kind of stumbled upon it on social media when we learned that Phillies intra-squad games would be aired.  So, how did it look?  How did we look?

A lot like a test run, to be honest.  With a skeleton crew of cameras and other production crew folks operating the broadcast, I’m sure the league and the team wanted to see how things would look for broadcasts going forward, getting all the kinks worked out.

The team itself played like a regular spring training game.  Everyone looked to be going at about 80%, and that tapered off as the game trailed on.  Coaches took over on defense around the 7th inning, and starting lineup players began disappearing. Players who needed more reps and those continuing to be evaluated played through to the end. These included Nick Williams, Kyle Garlick, Alec Bohm, Deivy Grullon, and a myriad of pitchers.

Longtime public address announcer Dan Baker was there to announce the players.  You could hear walk-up music much more clearly than usual. Either the players didn’t say much or there weren’t any mics on the field to pick up what exchanges occurred between them.

We did get some hype music, which was fun.  We did not see the Phillie Phanatic anywhere, though he is expected for regular season games.  I didn’t realize the crowd noise had been piped in until T-Mac said it late in the game.  I couldn’t hear it myself.  We had bat boys but no ball girls.

Also, apparently nobody knows intra-squad rules, as things often looked quite unorganized. Producers and announcers had a hard time calling what would happen next, such as the end of an inning, the end of the game, etc.

The Phillies as a team were split between all red uniforms and pinstripe uniforms for their intra-squad opener.  Vince Velasquez started the first game for the red squad and Zack Wheeler in pinstripes.

Wheeler looked good! He stayed right in the zone, and there weren’t any real bad misses with his pitches. He allowed just three hits, with Adam Haseley the only runner advancing to third base.

Velasquez actually looked even better. This was the first time we got to see his cutter live in action, and it looked legit!  His curve looks like it’s improved, and if he keeps this up, we can see him comfortably sit in the number five spot of the Phillies rotation.

Both pitchers had overall impressive outings, producing the following lines: Velasquez – 4 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 K…Wheeler – 4 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 3 K.

I was talking with Bryan Price about (Velasquez),” catcher J.T. Realmuto said per Michael McGarry of The Press of Atlantic City. “We’re not going to be so one-dimensional with him. We’re going to move the ball around the plate, pitch up and down, mix the changeup in, mix that cutter in. I expect big things from him.

Andrew Knapp produced the first RBI of the game when he brought home Rhys Hoskins. Jay Bruce tried following up but couldn’t beat the tag. Top position prospect Bohm got in some at-bats as the DH for the red shirts. It was great to see Andrew McCutchen back in action. He popped out in his first at bat, but seeing Cutch back in the box was refreshing.

I was also excited to see Williams.  I always had a soft spot for that kid, and I think he still has potential.  Nick went through a lot of personal stuff last year, and knowing what I do about leadership and development, I’d like to be able to say he is above average, and was held back by the former coaching staff.  Maybe Joe Girardi has bigger plans for Williams, and can unlock more of his potential.  Obviously someone sees something in that kid besides me, because he’s still here.  I support it.

The down side was that there wasn’t much to say about the bats. Perhaps it’s simply that pitching is ahead of hitting, which is normal at spring training.  Is it a good thing we had an intra-squad pitchers duel?  I don’t know, honestly, what to tell you.

We saw a Scott Kingery dinger, which was the offensive highlight of the night.  It was great to hear a Kingery Dingery ring the bell at Citizens Bank Park!

There was some dancing, there was fun, lots of smiles, and a good show overall. Over the rest of the week a few more intra-squad games took place. Over the weekend there will finally be a return of preseason action. What has been labeled ‘Summer Camp’ will pickup where ‘Spring Training’ left off four long months ago.

The Phillies are scheduled to open tonight at Nationals Park in a game that won’t be televised, and there is some talk that if the contest is cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions in the Washington, D.C. area the club will hold another intra-squad game here in Philadelphia.

The Phillies games both on Sunday at Citizens Bank Park against the Baltimore Orioles and at Yankees Stadium in New York on Monday are due to be televised. Then there will be three days of practice before the Phillies regular season begins officially with a series next weekend at home against the Miami Marlins.

It was hard to watch the shots of the Center City skyline with an empty ball park, as it looked like some beautiful nights this past week to be down there enjoying the games in South Philly. But baseball appears to be back, and it sure looks to me like this is going to work!

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