Big day on and off field for Phillies' Victorino
By Andrew Baggarly
Special to The Advertiser
By Andrew Baggarly
PHILADELPHIA — You associate this city with liberty bells, not ukulele music.
But Philadelphia Phillies fans swayed to a Hawaiian theme yesterday, all thanks to outfielder Shane Victorino.
The Maui native was honored with his own bobblehead day when the Phillies played host to the San Francisco Giants at Citizens Bank Park, but with a Hawaiian twist. The Victorino figurine came with a hula skirt and bobble hips, not a bobble head.
"Like the figurine you put on your dashboard," Victorino said with a laugh. "It's definitely interesting. I like it."
On the field yesterday, Victorino hit a game-ending homer as the Phillies beat the Giants, 9-8.
Ballpark promotional fads come and go, but the bobblehead has become a staple. And getting your own figurine is a signal that you've arrived as an established major league player. They don't make them for bench guys.
Victorino is much more than a role player now. He was an admirable fill-in for the Phillies last year while playing in 153 games, and he opened this season as the everyday right fielder.
Victorino isn't reading too much into the bobblehead promotion, though.
"Having the figurine is nice I guess, but it's not going to help you do what you have to do on the field,'' he said. "During the winter they called me and asked what I thought. They wanted to do something with a Hawaiian theme behind it since I was born and raised there. I said yeah, that would be a fun and interesting thing to do."
The figurine doesn't come with an oversized right arm, but it probably should. Managers and coaches around baseball have noticed that Victorino has a cannon in right field.
Victorino threw out a runner at home plate Friday for his eighth assist, which leads all National League outfielders. Victorino rested the next day, which made Giants third base coach Tim Flannery sigh with relief.
"I used to do the same thing when I saw Raul Mondesi wasn't in the lineup for the Dodgers," Flannery said. "They both have a way of charging the ball and getting rid of it quick like a shortstop, and it's very accurate. That combination gives third base coaches a lot of sleepless nights."
Victorino could be a Gold Glove candidate this year. He is able to catch a lot of soft flares and bloopers because he plays so shallow. He's able to position himself that way because he has great speed to run down balls hit over his head.
"We all know about it," Flannery said. "He's got a great quick release and he's getting better."
That's true of his hitting, too. Victorino was still learning to switch-hit when he made his major league debut with the Padres in 2003. He hit .151 in 73 at-bats.
"The struggles wore him down mentally," said Giants Manager Bruce Bochy, who was the Padres' skipper in '03. "They beat him up pretty good. He's a very confident kid, but it was too much for him."
Bochy knew Victorino had a chance to become a good player, though.
"What you saw was a great athlete with a great arm and he could run," Bochy said. "He had good instincts to steal bases and we had Davey Lopes working with him to make him better. We weren't in position to wait, but now he's at the point he figured it out and become a productive hitter."
As luck would have it, Lopes is on the Phillies coaching staff and has continued his work with Victorino. It appears to be paying off. Victorino entered his bobblehead day with 16 stolen bases in 18 attempts.
The Phillies like his approach at the No. 2 spot in their high-powered lineup, which also includes reigning NL MVP Ryan Howard, dynamic leadoff hitter Jimmy Rollins and budding superstar Chase Utley.
"You're talking about what I think are the top three offensive players at their positions," Victorino said. "I definitely have fun in the middle of this lineup, whether I'm moving a guy over, getting on base for them or scoring a run."
Philadelphia is known for its critical fans. These are the same people that famously booed Santa Claus. But they love Victorino, whom they call the "Flyin' Hawaiian."
"My parents always told me it doesn't hurt to hustle," Victorino said. "People love players who hustle and play hard and that's how I'm going to play. When the team's going good, this place is amazing. Fans are on their feet every pitch.
"They're so in tune with everything. Even if you're winning 13-0, if you make a mistake, you're going to hear about it."
It's been a long road for Victorino, who couldn't stick with San Diego after the Padres took him from the Dodgers in the Rule V draft in 2003. The Phillies used the same means to steal Victorino when the Dodgers failed to protect him.
Victorino didn't make the club out of spring training that year, so the Phillies had to offer him back to the Dodgers. Except this time, L.A. didn't want him. So he signed a minor league contract with the Phillies and worked his way back to the big leagues.
Then he played well enough to get himself an everyday job.
"You can make adjustments quicker when you play every day," Victorino said. "That's when you become a better player. This year, if I'm 0 for 1, I know I've got three or four more at-bats to help my team win."
The Phillies really played up the Hawaiian theme yesterday. They piped in ukulele music over the stadium speakers. Singer Danny Kalai performed "Tiny Bubbles" on the field as the Phillie Phanatic danced in a grass skirt. On the jumbo screen, Hawaiian shirts were superimposed on the bodies of Phillies players as they came to bat.
And members of the Phillies spirit squad, supplied with huge boxes of plastic leis, combed through the crowd.
Flannery enjoyed watching all of it. He was a base coach with the Padres during Victorino's stint in San Diego.
"I was giving a house concert in Maui a few years ago with all the guys who live up on the crater," said Flannery, who plays guitar and recorded folk and surf music. "All they wanted to talk about was Victorino. I felt bad because we'd just let him go.
"Now when I go back, I'll have some stories to tell them. He's brought it all together now. He turned himself into a ballplayer."
Don't bother to ask for a Victorino hula figurine, though. Supplies are limited.
"I'll send a whole box home with my mom and dad," Victorino said. "Everybody wants one back home, it seems."