Jun 29, 2023

Uncle Charlie Night

Wednesday, June 28, 2023
Results: Red Wings defeated Iron Pigs7-6

My wife gave me an amazing early birthday present.  The Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, who are the Triple A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies, invited Charlie Manuel to the ballpark for last night's game against the Rochester Red Wings.  They also had a VIP package that included a ticket to the game, an Iron Pigs Hawaiian shirt (which was the giveaway that night), an Iron Pigs baseball, and the opportunity to meet Mr. Manuel before the game.  I can't begin to explain how happy this made me.  If you told me that you could arrange it so that I could meet any one person from the Philadelphia Phillies that I wanted, my answer would have come with zero hesitation: Charlie Manuel

(left) 1970 Topps - Card #194
(right) 1976 SSPC - Card #86

If you told me that you could arrange it so that I could meet any one person from the Philadelphia Phillies that I wanted, my answer would have come with zero hesitation: Charlie Manuel.  He played for the Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Dodgers from 1969 to 1975 before going on to have one of the best careers of any American to play in Japan.

1979 TCMA Japan - Card #44

He helped lead the Yakult Swallows to their first championship in franchise history before moving on to play for the Kintetsu Buffaloes.  He finished his first season with the Buffaloes with a .324 batting average with 37 home runs and 94 RBI and was the first American player to be named the Pacific League MVP.

1985 TCMA Orlando Twins - Card #22

Injuries cut his playing career short and he returned to the United States where he began his post-playing career as a scout for the Minnesota Twins.  He took on his first job as a manager for their Single A affiliate Wisconsin Rapids Twins in 1983, and he continued to manage for minor league teams in the Twins organization for the next five years.

(left) 1991 Line Drive - Card #99
(center) 1993 Fleer ProCards - Card #559
(right) 2002 Topps - Card #301

In 1988, Charlie Manuel was hired by the Cleveland Indians, and for the next 11 seasons, he went back and forth between working at the MLB level as the Indians hitting coach and as a manager for their Triple A affiliates in Colorado Springs and Charlotte.  The Cleveland Indians named him as their manager in 2000 giving him his first taste of managing in the big leagues, and he led the team to the AL Central Division Title the following season.

Charlie was brought into the Phillies organization in 2004 and became the team's manager in 2005.  In his third season managing in Philadelphia, he led the team to the NL East Division Championship.  The following season, he led the Phillies to their second World Series Championship in franchise history.  I still remember that season like it was yesterday.  I never had as much fun as a baseball fan as I did during the Charlie Manuel years in Philadelphia.

Charlie Manuel signed autographs for fans who attended the meet-and-greet prior to last night's game in Lehigh Valley.  Since my wife and I both went, he signed two baseball for us and we gave one to my dad.  Don't get me wrong with what I'm about to say.  I'm very happy to have his autograph, and I will treasure this baseball for as long as I live, but the real value in this experience is that I had the opportunity to shake the man's hand and thank him for some of the happiest memories I've ever had as a Phillies fan.  This baseball isn't a collectible or a piece of sports memorabilia... it's a memory of the time that I got to meet one of my baseball heroes who I respect and admire, and I'm happy to say that he was every bit as kind and genuine in person as he seemed to me when I'd watch him during the games, and in the post-game interviews, and when he'd talk about the science of hitting.  I honestly never expected to have the opportunity to meet him, and I'm very thankful that I did.

A less emotionally charged perk of the VIP package is that our tickets were each loaded with $20 of credit that could be used at the concession stands.  I had the Porker Pierogi Bowl from the Blast Furnace Grill.  It was a dish of pierogies topped with pulled pork, coleslaw and bacon, and a bucket of crab fries from Chickie's & Pete's.

And, of course, there was a ballgame!  I don't care how old I get - I always turn into a little boy at the ballpark.  You know that if I'm lucky enough to live to an old age, I'm going to be one of those old men at the ballpark who tells younger fans about the time I saw Pedro Martinez pitch for the Phillies against the Mets.

Charlie Manuel threw out the first pitch, and I'm pretty sure that he stayed for the entire game.

The Iron Pigs lineup featured a lot of players that were very recently in the big leagues with the Phillies.  Right handed pitcher Nick Nelson, who pitched over 68 innings out of the bullpen for the 2022 National League Champions, started the game.  He went six innings, but got roughed up by the Red Wings, giving up five runs on 8 hits, including a pair of two run homers to Franmil Reyes in the top of the 1st and to Blake Rutherford in the top of the 3rd.

Luis Ortiz relieved Nelson in the 7th and pitched a clean inning.  The Phillies claimed him off of waivers from the Giants over the winter, and he was effective in nine games in Philadelphia this season, pitching to a 3.46 ERA and earning his first MLB save on June 13th.  The Phillies sent him back to Lehigh Valley four days later, but I expect that we'll see him back in the big leagues later this year.

Andrew Bellatti pitched a scoreless 8th inning for the Iron Pigs.  He was pitching out of the Phillies bullpen for the first month and a half of the season, but he's been pitching in Triple A since the third week in May.  Ben Bowden came on to pitch the 9th, but before I get into that, let's talk about the Iron Pigs offense for a bit.

The Iron Pigs got on the board in the bottom of the 3rd on a Darick Hall solo home run.  The next inning, Cal Stevenson hit a ground ball to shortstop that scored Simón Muzziotti from third to bring the score to 5-2.  The Iron Pigs tied the game at 5-5 before the fourth inning was over, with Weston Wilson hitting a two run single, and Darick Hall hitting a single to center field that scored Jake Cave from third base.

The score remained tied at 5-5 until the top of the 9th.  Red Wings right fielder Blake Rutherford came back to haunt the Iron Pigs again with a two RBI single off of Ben Bowden to put Rochester up 7-5.  It looked like Lehigh Valley had a chance to come back to win in the bottom of the 9th.  Weston Wilson reached first base on an error, and Darick Hall hit an RBI single to bring the score to 7-6 with no outs.  Unfortunately, Drew Ellis struck out, Simón Muzziotti flied out, and Rafael Marchan struck out to end the ballgame.

Well, you can't win 'em all, but it was an excellent game.  The Iron Pigs managed to come from a 5-0 defect to tie the game, and although they lost the lead in the top of the 9th, they made it interesting at the end.

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