On a mid 70-degree Monday night in June at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York, Andy Phillips pounded out a career tying high three hits–a single, double, and a triple–against the Atlanta Braves. The first two hits were against former Auburn pitcher, Tim Hudson. Here is that June 26, 2006 conversation with Andy Phillips, first baseman, New York Yankees. Later we will have a report on our talk with Manager Joe Torre and others in the Yankees organization.
AP STEADHAM: What are you earliest memories of playing baseball?
ANDY PHILLIPS: I remember the first year I ever played organized baseball in Demopolis. It was a lot of fun. We had a lot of really good players. It was kind of an unfair team. We would beat teams literally 50 and 60 to nothing. I remember my dad being the assistant coach for a couple of years up until Little League. Those are the things I remember; more than that is being able to get to share that with my dad.
APS: Andy, you played other sports growing up? Why do you pursue baseball?
AP: Baseball was my first love. I felt as I continued to play all three sports, baseball gave me the best chance to pursue a career. There are a lot of factors that go into determining which is your best sport, such as body type. Not only was baseball my first love but also it gave me the best chance to pursue a career.
APS: Would you discuss your recruitment by Alabama and Coach Jim Wells?
AP: It was Coach Well’s first year at Alabama. I was a junior in high school and they just got the job that summer. They weren’t on the job any time at all and Coach (Todd) Butler and Coach (Mitch) Gaspard were recruiting the summer league where I was playing. That was the only school that recruited me. It was an easy process for me because that was really the only place I wanted to go and that was the only place that recruited me. It was an easy decision on both parts.
APS: What were some of your best memories at UA?
AP: Obviously going to the college world series three out of four years. Being able to play under Coach Wells has done more for my career. Playing under him has literally provided me with the opportunity to still be playing. I don’t think if I played under any other coach in the country they would have been able to get out of me the potential that he saw for me to improve as a player and continue to be playing the game. Being able to play under Coach Wells was probably my fondest memory while at Alabama.
APS: Coach Wells was in the news the past couple of weeks before announcing he wanted to stay at the UA. What would you like the people of Alabama to know about Coach Wells?
AP: Without question, he is probably the brightest baseball man I have ever been around. He knows the game and game situations and how to manage the game better than anybody. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t do things that he wishes he had done differently. He is still the brightest baseball man I have ever been around and I consider him a dear friend. It was really a privilege to play under him.
APS: When you were growing up who were some of your heroes and major influences in your life?
AP: My parents were the biggest influences in my life in the way they raised me. They have supported me to this day with everything they have. They have made sacrifices to give me the opportunity to continue to play and support me in that process. They are the biggest influences that I ever had.
APS: When you were signed out of Alabama and placed in the minor league, what were some of the challenges you faced?
AP: Everything. Getting accustomed to a different style of baseball. When your playing college baseball, there is a common goal to compete to go to Omaha to win championships. When you get to the minor leagues, it changes a little bit because a person’s ultimate goal is to get to the big leagues. You are trying to adapt to those changes but also the changes of living everyday in baseball versus the college environment and try to financially make it when you’re not making much money. There is a responsibility that comes along with trying to take care of yourself every single day and also making the adjustment of playing baseball every single day with the travel and other things. There were a lot of adjustments.
APS: At Alabama, you played on one side of the infield at shortstop and third base. When you were placed in the minors with the Yankee organization, you were switched to the other side of the infield at second and first base. How difficult was the change for you?
AP: It was very difficult at the beginning. In 2002 was when I really made the move to the other side of the infield. I struggled the first couple of months but I was able to play under Brian Butterfield who is probably one of the best infield coaches in professional baseball. Playing under him made the adjustment a lot easier. It took a little while but I feel like that over the course of the last few years I have been able to progress and become better and better every year.
APS: How gratifying was it for you to receive the “Kevin Lawn” award as the best minor league position player in the Yankees organization in 2004 and the “James P. Dawson” award as the most outstanding rookie during spring training 2005?
AP: It’s certainly gratifying because you feel that when you receive the awards for the way you play the game and the contribution you are giving is being recognized by the organization. That generally leads to them giving you opportunities to advance. So that was the biggest thrill for me as I felt that every year there was something I was improving on. I was able to improve on my numbers and improve as a player. To be recognized by the organization was good.
APS: When you were being moved around within the farm system, how did you persevere and have the confidence to believe that someday you would play major league baseball?
AP: For me, I felt that this is exactly where God had me. There was a trust there that as I continued to pray about it and seek what God wanted me to do in my life, he just kept continuing to open up doors in baseball and I never felt that He was moving me out of that direction. With that and continuing to have success, I just kept understanding that ultimately God was in control of what was going to happen with my career. And that was the only thing I held onto.
APS: When you came to bat the first time as a major league player and hit a home run on the first pitch at Fenway Park in Boston, did you reflect on some of the people who influenced you?
AP: It happened so quickly from being told I was getting the at-bat to when I actually came to bat. There wasn’t a whole lot of time to reflect on everything. I think when I reflected on it was after the year was over. I thought about getting called up for the first time and getting my first major league experience. You think about it from day one playing Little League baseball all the way up. You start to think about the coaches and players you played with thru the years. Then you reflect on all the people that have had an influence. So I don’t think it was until that off-season that I was able to sit down and appreciate the fact that I had gotten called up to the big leagues for the first time and been able to hit a home run my first at-bat.
APS: What is the scouting report on Andy Phillips?
AP: The scouting report is probably “Easy out, can’t play defense and can’t run.” Other than that I feel pretty good about what I’ve got going. I think the biggest thing hopefully that I bring to the table is competitiveness, energy and a passion to play the game. I feel like there are some tools there. You can overcome a lot by going out and competing. Ultimately that is all I can control.
APS: Has the coaching staff defined your role as a player?
AP: No, not really. The more you are here; the more you understand there are a lot of uncertainties with injuries and situations. So sometimes it can be hard for them to pinpoint a certain role for guys. The biggest thing is to come prepared to play everyday whether that’s playing everyday or getting a chance once every two weeks. Try to figure out what you can do best to be prepared to have success in the situation when you are called on.
APS: As a member of the Yankees, sometimes you are afforded an opportunity to meet some unique people and have some interesting experiences. Have you had either?
AP: Yes. First of all when you look around this clubhouse, you are playing with guys like Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams and others. That says enough. But also in this organization you get a chance to meet guys like Yogi Berra and Reggie Jackson. You get to play under guys like Don Mattingly and Mr. Torre. The list goes on and on inside this game. So it’s been quite a unique experience for me and one that I appreciate.
APS: After having your first chance to experience the Old Timers Game at Yankee Stadium this past Saturday, June 24th, what does it mean to wear the pinstripes?
AP: To me, it confirms my respect that I have had for those guys all along and the respect for this uniform. You realize that the name on the front of the uniform is a lot bigger than the person wearing it. You see that with all the greats that were in here. There is a certain sense of pride they all had wearing it. Certainly, I hope I can hold up my end of the deal wearing this uniform.
APS: Have you had a chance to see and hear many of the sights and sounds of New York City?
AP: You certainly hear a lot of sounds, that’s for sure. But, yes, I have over the course of the last few years being able to get to the city and travel around and see some things. It’s been fun.
APS: If you were speaking to a group of young people, what would you tell them about pursuing their dreams?
AP: There comes a point in time where you work with everything you have to pursue what you want to do and understand the areas that you have been gifted and the talents you have been given. Pursue those and don’t let the negativity overshadow your desire to continue to pursue what you would like to do.
APS: After your playing days are over, do you have any aspirations to coach?
AP: I definitely want to help people out in the game. If that’s coaching, certainly. I hope Coach Wells will stay around long enough where I can hang out with him even if it was just a guy coming off the street to help him out. I certainly want to continue to help people in the game, whether that’s working with young kids or coaching at the collegiate level. I am not sure. I want to stay in the game and help teach the game. I want to share the experiences I’ve had with people.
APS: What did it mean for you to wear the crimson and white?
AP: That was tremendous. I still remember that first day. Actually I can remember the night before the first game that we played. Actually, I got really emotional about it because as a kid growing up as an Alabama fan, you finally get an opportunity to put on that uniform. I couldn’t sleep the night before when I knew for the first time I was going to get to wear it. I can honestly say that even until the last day I put on that uniform, I still felt that way. It was a tremendous privilege for me to play for Alabama and to be able to represent The University. I am thankful to the coaching staff and I am thankful to all the people that made that possible for me. They gave me that opportunity and believed in me. Even through the struggles in the first year, they didn’t give up on me so I could continue to play. Certainly it was the highlight of my career.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Tomorrow A.P. Steadham concludes his report on New York Yankees first baseman Andy Phillips talking to members of the Yankees staff, including manager Joe Torre.