Phils emboldened by Kapler's spring message

New manager presiding over unique camp with mantras of 'Be Bold,' 'Value at the Margins'

February 19th, 2018

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Be bold, Gabe Kapler.

Kapler's first camp with the Phillies has been anything but ordinary. Sure, the bullpen sessions, batting practices and baserunning and bunting drills are there. But Camp Kapler has a decidedly different vibe than springs past.

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Kapler pushed back the start times of workouts to allow players to rest more and recuperate better. Players are tracking their practice reps, so the athletic training staff can monitor their health more effectively. Umpires are behind the plate at bullpen sessions, creating in-game conditions. Music not only is playing over the loudspeakers at Carpenter Complex, like in the past, but small Bluetooth speakers are found throughout the hallways at Spectrum Field. Kapler points to scientific evidence that music enhances mood and performance.

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"I think it's great. I think it's different," Phillies left-hander said Monday morning before the team's first full-squad workout. "I think the place where we're at, different can be good."

Kapler kicked things up a notch in the past 24 hours. He held a team dinner at a Clearwater restaurant on Sunday night. It is one of a few team-building events scheduled this spring. Kapler recently held a chicken wing-eating contest between the Major League and Minor League staffs. He has scheduled an upcoming talent show with players.

Kapler spoke to his players Sunday night. He showed video highlights of the Phillies and Eagles championship parades, highlights from the 2008 World Series and highlights of his current players. At one point, Kapler said, some other people had something to say to them. Eagles players Carson Wentz, Zach Ertz and Vinny Curry, 76ers players Ben Simmons and J.J. Reddick, and Flyers center Claude Giroux appeared on the video screen to wish them well on the upcoming season.

Oh, Justin Timberlake wished them luck, too. His uncle, John Timberlake, is general manager of the Clearwater Threshers and a member or two from his group have Philly roots.

"The J.T. one struck me the most," Phillies right-hander said. "Just his status in the world. He's a good person. He's pulling for us. I think he really meant it. You could see the passion in what he was saying. It was really cool."

The Phillies showed up at Spectrum Field on Monday morning to find red "Be Bold" T-shirts on the chairs in front of their lockers. "VAM" was written on one of the sleeves, meaning Value at the Margins.

"Be Bold" has been Kapler's core message at camp.

"One of the questions I've been asking a lot of our players is, What does it mean to play boldly?" Kapler said recently. "What does it mean to deliver a pitch boldly? What does it mean to take a swing in the batter's box boldly? What does it mean to communicate boldly? The thought process is: Create the environment where people feel like they can be bold and comfortable."

Then on Monday morning, Kapler introduced Eagles center Jason Kelce, who gave an unforgettable speech to millions of Eagles fans on the Philadelphia art museum steps following the Super Bowl a couple of weeks ago. Kelce touched on Kapler's "Be Bold" message, while keying on the underdog theme of his own speech.

It resonated.

"I'm a big fan of being an underdog," Phillies prospect said. "It was having that mentality of just proving people wrong."

"Don't listen to what people on the outside say," outfielder said. "They believed in themselves. They knew what they could do. I believe when he says he sees similarities between the Eagles and Phillies. A lot of people are counting us out, but I think we definitely believe we can compete for that division title."

Players seem to be responding enthusiastically to Kapler's style and message, although some naturally are curious to see how it unfolds over time. Everything is new. Everything is different. It takes time to adjust to new and different.

"He instills a confidence in guys," Morgan said. "Be bold. That's good. Value at the margins. That's huge. One person doesn't need to carry the whole burden. Rhys [Hoskins] doesn't need to hit 80 home runs to make this team better. If he hits 10 more than he did last year, that would be great. If everybody takes just one little step forward, we're going to be a better team than we were last year. That's what we're kind of looking for.

"It's fun. I was telling some of the guys, I'm having fun this spring. You better get your work in. We're here for baseball, not just to say we're here for baseball. But the more relaxed we are, I think that's going to make us better."