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Hulkamania runs wild through Phillies camp

Wrestling legend joins team, relives past baseball playing days
Special to MLB.com

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Growing up in the baseball crazy Tampa Bay, Fla., area in the early 1960s, Terry Bollea always dreamed of becoming a big league pitcher. But he seriously injured his throwing elbow during his senior year of high school, which forced him to take up his other love, professional wrestling, and kicked off the legendary career of Hulk Hogan.

"It was the best thing that ever happened to me, because I segued into wrestling," Hogan said of the injury. "Once my arm wasn't what it was, I started chasing the wrestling dream around, and it finally happened. But baseball was the first love."

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CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Growing up in the baseball crazy Tampa Bay, Fla., area in the early 1960s, Terry Bollea always dreamed of becoming a big league pitcher. But he seriously injured his throwing elbow during his senior year of high school, which forced him to take up his other love, professional wrestling, and kicked off the legendary career of Hulk Hogan.

"It was the best thing that ever happened to me, because I segued into wrestling," Hogan said of the injury. "Once my arm wasn't what it was, I started chasing the wrestling dream around, and it finally happened. But baseball was the first love."

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Hulkamania swept through Phillies camp on Friday, after the iconic wrestler and Clearwater resident dropped in on the team before their game against the Pirates at Spectrum Field. Hogan spoke to Phillies players and coaches, and posed for pictures while watching pregame batting practice. Hogan joked that he was ready to take some swings himself, before his body -- which has taken nearly five decades of abuse in the wrestling ring -- convinced him otherwise.

"Standing here, I'm catching myself timing the ball as it's coming, and I'm like, 'I'm next,'" Hogan said. "Even with the knee replacements, the hip replacements, and the nine back surgeries, you still keep that swing.

"I caught myself from going back in that mode, because just standing around these guys is kind of infectious."

Being around the players during batting practice made the 64-year-old Hogan reminisce about his own glory days on the diamond as a youth. Hogan, who used to sneak into Spring Training games at Al Lopez Field in Tampa as a kid, recalled being a part of the Interbay Little League team that made it all the way to the national regional finals in 1966. The future Hulkster ended up giving up the game-winning home run that game, and ended up costing his team a chance to go to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.

"We've always loved baseball here. From Day 1 I was hooked," Hogan said. "It's always been a huge part of our life living in the area with Spring Training and the teams."

Hogan -- who was still known as Bollea at the time -- even attracted the attention of big league scouts because of his 6-foot-6 frame while in high school. Bollea fractured his elbow while playing third base, effectively ending his pitching career. Hogan wasn't the only ballplayer from the Tampa Bay area around that time to later find stardom in a wrestling ring. Randy Poffo played in the Cardinals' organization before going on to find wrestling stardom as Randy Savage.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

And while many of the Phillies players were starstruck to meet the legendary wrestler, Hogan said he was "kind of nervous" to meet the guys that were able to accomplish something he never could.

"A lot of these younger kids, if they even weren't alive when I won my first world title in 1983, they followed me over the last few years," Hogan said. "All these kids are 18, 19, 20-year-old kids, so if they didn't see me wrestle … they probably saw me on YouTube or something."

Position battles
• The addition of first baseman Carlos Santana this offseason means the team must get creative to find a spot for Tommy Joseph's big right-handed bat. The Phillies have been experimenting with giving the 26-year-old some work at third base. Joseph is batting .450 (9-for-20) so far this spring, despite popping out after being hit by a pitch on Friday in the Phillies' 5-4 loss to the Pirates.

"Tommy's had an extraordinary spring both on and off the field," manager Gabe Kapler said. "He's had a pretty big impact on his teammates, and I think on our coaching staff as well. He's got strong leadership characteristics, and his swings have been very, very good from the beginning of camp."

Over two seasons with the Phillies, Joseph has hit 43 home runs, including a career-high 22 in 142 games last season.

• Righty Jake Thompson, one of a handful of guys still in the mix for the fifth rotation spot, threw three scoreless innings in relief. He allowed just two hits and a walk, while striking out two.

Cameron Rupp, who is vying for the backup catcher role, got the start as the designated hitter. He doubled off the top of the wall in center field in the bottom of the sixth to finish the day 1-for-3.

Up next
The Phillies will host the Rays at Spectrum Field in Clearwater on Saturday at 1:05 p.m. ET. Righty Vince Velasquez will make his third start of the spring opposite Tampa Bay hurler Nathan Eovaldi. The game will be broadcast live on NBC Sports Philadelphia and MLB.TV.

J. Scott Butherus is a contributor to MLB.com.

Philadelphia Phillies