Phillies' program gives women an inside look
When the Philadelphia Phillies introduced "Baseball 101" in 2006, they set out to create a baseball program "by women for women." The day-long clinic, which had its 11th edition last week at Citizens Bank Park, originally introduced female fans to the basics of the game. In the five years since its debut, it's become much more.
This day is an opportunity for the passionate, knowledgeable female fans who make up nearly half of the Phillies' fan base to experience an all-access, behind-the-scenes look at the team they follow so loyally, with some female bonding and a lot of fun along the way.
There are no rudimentary explanations of balls and strikes, double plays or RBI. Not a single pink hat or T-shirt was spotted among the 147 participants.
These women know their WHIP and their OPS. And they love the game of baseball as much as they love their team.
Casey Landman, 34, a season-ticket holder and lifelong Phillies fan, attended Baseball 101 for the first time in 2010 and returned for her second last week. Landman enjoys the on-field instruction with the coaches, particularly the bullpen session with pitching coach Rich Dubee and bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer.
"As everyone gets up to throw some pitches, they are always really encouraging to each person, giving out a 'Yeah!' or 'There ya go!' with every pitch," Landman said.
"Dubee even was able to help me throw a strike. My first two pitches this year were high and inside, so he told me to 'Hold onto the ball a bit longer' and -- BAM -- my next pitch went right to Mick's glove."
Heather Del Buono, 30, a lifelong Phillies fan, was attending her first Baseball 101. Her favorite part was the baserunning clinic led by third base coach Juan Samuel.
"It was obvious from his enthusiasm how much he loves what he does," Del Buono said. "He talked to us about the strategy behind base stealing, such as when to take a primary versus a secondary lead off the bag.
"Afterward, we had an opportunity to run the bases. It was an awesome feeling getting to tag home plate where so many memorable Phillies moments have happened."
The event raised $13,000 for Phillies Charities, bringing the total to more than $180,000 since 2006. The Phillies sell out the event within minutes and keep the number to around 140 in order to maintain the intimacy, something appreciated by the women who attend.
The Phillies hope to continue building on the success of the event while also serving as a model for other teams that might want to start similar programs. The Nationals introduced a Baseball 101 in 2007 and rebranded it in 2010 as "Nats U."
Phillies play-by-play announcer Tom McCarthy said cultivating the female fan base is a smart business strategy.
"Baseball is such a cross section of fans. And the more you have the merrier," McCarthy said. "I know colleges do this for football. I know NFL teams have tried to do something like this. ... Because let's face it, moms are bringing kids to games. And they're spending money. They're buying merchandise. They're buying food. They're buying tickets. Reach all the demographic you can."
Janice Berdahl of Springhouse, Pa., has been a Phillies fan dating to the days of the "Whiz Kids." The mother of two and grandmother of four has taught her husband "most of what he knows about the game" that she loves. This was her fifth Baseball 101 clinic. Her favorite part is the opportunity to get to know the players during the Q&A session.
"I like seeing the different players and seeing them personally upfront," Berdahl said. "Being here, you can really get close to the players. And you get to see them as human beings, not as ballplayers."
Ryan Madson, who has emerged as the Phillies' closer after serving as a set-up man for most of his career, proved to be a fan favorite during his Q&A session.
Madson answered every question openly and with a smile, discussing his transition from set-up man to closer and the challenges of life on the road with three small children. He even gave a hug to one of the women who was celebrating a birthday.
Dubee entertained the participants with stories of the preparation habits of the vaunted "Four Aces" on the pitching staff.
Dubee said Cole Hamels' resurgence this season is due in large part to his increased core work in the offseason, which allows him to generate torque through his midsection. Roy Halladay's workout regime is "phenomenal." Cliff Lee? Not as much. "But it works," Dubee said. "I'm not going to change it."
"Those guys [Dubee and Billmeyer] just have some great stories to share about that pitching staff every year," Landman said, wearing her Phillies' red "Ask Me About Our Pitching Staff" T-shirt.
The day started with a detailed tour of the clubhouse, led by Frank Coppenbarger, the team's director of team travel and clubhouse services. He answered a woman's question about finding red shoes for trade deadline acquisition Hunter Pence. Pence, who came from the black shoe-wearing Astros, made his July 30 debut with the Phillies in spray-painted shoes.
"They started off 100 percent red at the start of the game," Coppenberger said. "But they were about 49 percent red by the end."
Not even the 5.8-magnitude earthquake that rocked the East Coast and caused the evacuation of Citizens Bank Park slowed the momentum of the day.
"The earthquake actually led to two unexpected but equally pleasant surprises," Del Buono said. "When we were initially brought outside to the seats behind home plate, we got to see Roy Halladay jogging around the infield playing Frisbee. Moments later, when we were led out to Pattison Avenue, we bumped into [general manager] Ruben Amaro Jr. and had the opportunity to chat with him."
One of the fans eager to get back inside the park after the earthquake was 16-year-old Kate Beck. The junior at Lansdale Catholic High School in Lansdale, Pa., has played varsity softball since ninth grade. She arrived at Baseball 101 with her mom, Katie, herself a former softball player. The two received tickets to Baseball 101 from Katie's father as a surprise.
Kate, a die-hard Phillies fan, wore Phillies stud earrings and a Carlos Ruiz T-shirt ("Chooch," a fellow catcher, is her favorite player). Her hard, accurate throws during the bullpen session impressed Billmeyer.
Katie recalls watching her father sit with her daughter as they watched Phillies games growing up, teaching Kate everything about the game. Katie brought her daughter to the clinic with an eye toward the future.
"She's been a sports fan since she's been about 5 years old -- coming to the ballpark, her room is painted all Phillies," Katie said. "She's a die-hard, true fan. She knows it's something in sports she wants to do, so I thought it would be a great opportunity for her to see behind the scenes -- what the camera crews do -- all the avenues, the marketing. There are so many opportunities in baseball.
"Just to see it in her eyes, it's priceless."________________________________________ Please consider the environment before printing this e-mail.