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Phillips on Hoyt's mind for Players Weekend

Former big leaguer made a lasting impression on reliever
MLB.com

ANAHEIM -- Tribute patches worn on the customized Players Weekend jerseys feature a left-to-right progression of a child evolving into a Major Leaguer.

When Astros right-hander James Hoyt met former Major Leaguer Tony Phillips, he certainly wasn't the child on the left side of the patch. But in terms of his evolution to the big leagues, the distance seemed about the same.

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ANAHEIM -- Tribute patches worn on the customized Players Weekend jerseys feature a left-to-right progression of a child evolving into a Major Leaguer.

When Astros right-hander James Hoyt met former Major Leaguer Tony Phillips, he certainly wasn't the child on the left side of the patch. But in terms of his evolution to the big leagues, the distance seemed about the same.

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A 24-year-old playing with the Independent Yuma Scorpions of the North American League in 2011, Hoyt was immediately drawn to Phillips, then 52, who played 18 years in the Majors. Jose Canseco was also the manager and cleanup hitter for the Scorpions.

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"When I met Tony I was just like, 'Who is this crazy dude?'" Hoyt said. "Not only is he 52, but he's bouncing off the walls. Then I looked him up and realized this guy played almost 20 years in the show, he's legit."

Phillips, who died in February 2016, saw something in Hoyt and took him under his wing.

"He pulled me aside and said, 'Hey, you got what it takes. If you want this, you can go get it,'" Hoyt said, "That was huge for my building stage and just having some structure around me.

"After that season I spent with him, he told me to come out to Arizona with him. We would meet at Scottsdale Community College and we'd run the track every single day."

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At the time, Phillips was in pursuit of playing in the Dominican Winter League after someone bet him he couldn't do it at his age. While trying to prove he could still play, Phillips found the time to arrange Hoyt workouts with Major League teams.

Nothing came of the workouts, but the experience was invaluable.

"It was more of the exposure and the confidence he had in me," Hoyt said. "He always told me, 'It doesn't matter where you're at. If you put up the numbers, and you're good enough, they'll find you.'"

The Braves found him a little over a year later while pitching in Mexico.

"[Phillips] was the first guy I called after they signed me," Hoyt said. "He put so much time in for me. Obviously, my parents were right after that. But Tony was so proud."

The Braves traded Hoyt, along with Evan Gattis, to the Astros prior to the 2015 season. He was assigned to the Minors just days before the seasoned opened up. Again, it was Phillips who kept things in perspective for him.

"He just told me, 'If the time is not now, it's going to be in a month or two, it's going to be next year -- it's going to happen,'" Hoyt said. "He just wanted me to stick the course."

Hoyt stuck the course and made his Major League debut last August. While Phillips never got to see Hoyt make his debut, his presence is felt. And for this weekend, Hoyt will have Phillips' presence on his sleeve as well.

"I can just hear his voice in my head saying, 'You did it, man,'" Hoyt said.

Ryan Posner is a contributor to MLB.com based in Los Angeles. He covered the Astros on Saturday.

Houston Astros, James Hoyt