Ron Costello

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Kapler is Quite a Field General

Remember not too long ago when Hall of Fame expert Michael Jack Schmidt on a 'local-yocal' radio program anointed Obdúbel Herrera as "a can't be a team leader because he doesn't speak English," player.

Mike, hows that working for you now?

Then there were the baserunning miscues. He ran through a third base stop sign and once didn't slide when a Little Leaguer would have known better. There were other mind-boggling mental errors. The word on the street was he doesn't have the discipline to be the Phillies centerfielder, though he ended the season with decent numbers.

Today, he's not only the team's centerfield but the team leader in offensive and defensive numbers. Watching Oduúbel on the field you see that his teammates respect him.

Indeed, credit goes to Odúbel, but not all of it. Phillies manager Gabe Kapler deserves some, not only for Odúbel's turnaround but for numerous other player turnarounds, as well. In fact, Kapler is managing the team with a steady hand and wise heart. After starting off on the wrong foot with the Faithful, Kapler is taking the team where no one expected at the start of the season.

And while teaching them, he's keeping the team in the hunt. Not easy to do. It takes an exceptional manager to do that.

Look, the Phillies need to find out things, like who can play and who can't. Who can take the pressure of closing in the ninth and who cannot. If they play just eight players, maybe they don't find out. For Mr. Kapler and the Phillies, this is the proving ground year. And he's researching like a Wall Street analyst.

Here's the thing. Kapler has a unique style that is perfect for this team. Go back to the start of the season and the Nick Williams incident. Williams voiced his concern about not playing. He griped to the press that a computer is picking the lineup. So, Williams rode the pines for a while; not just a game or two, but many games. It wasn't Mr. Williams' first encounter with management. In the minors, he sat for not running out balls.

So Kapler sat Williams and all the time praised him. Kapler is a first-class praiser. He's convincing, not only to the listener but to the player he's praising. Because he's genuine. I've never heard him put down a player, and he praises with command. So Mr. Williams sits for a week or so and is called on to pinch hit. He comes through, and the next day he's back in the lineup with Kapler singing his praises.

So what do you think Mr. Williams and the Phillies learned from that ordeal? A lot. You keep your mouth shut at least to the papers, and then you sit. Now you have to come off the bench and pinch hit. Nick Williams passed with flying colors.

Next, it was Maikel Franko's turn. Same scenario. Benched. Praised. Pinch hit — comes through — and back in the lineup. Franco also passed and he's a better ball player for it. Mr. Franco — accused in the past as having a poor attitude and not a team player — looks like a different player. Give the credit to Franco but also give it to Gabe Kapler.

Odúbel went into a slump but the manager stood by him, giving him the bold praise that only Kapler can provide. Odúbel Herrera? A different player today. Aaron Altherr is going through a similar process now.

The Phillies manager is juggling the line-up and bullpen, making moves and sending praises, and it seems to be working for the youngest team in baseball.

He handled Hector Naris like Naris was his kid. Which might be the best compliment ever for Gabe Kapler. The way the manager praised Naris — while Naris was cleaning out his locker to head north on the Northeast Extension — it sounded like Naris was leaving for the All-Star game. That's Gabe Kapler. Someday Naris will be a real gem in the Phillies' bullpen.

See, Gabe Kapler has taken a young team — with more to come from Lehigh Valley and Reading — and helps them take on different roles, different positions, and different challenges. Let's see how these newbies take with one of — if not the best — team in baseball. The Yankees.

Regardless, Mr. Kapler will make it a learning experience for sure.

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