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StarBulletin.com

Victorino puts the thrill in the Phils


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POSTED: Sunday, November 22, 2009

Maybe it's the way he plays the game. His fearlessness in the outfield and his speed on the bases, tackling every play all out with the mentality of an NFL linebacker.

Or maybe it's his personality, a man with emotions always visible, unafraid to voice his opinion, even if it's calling balls and strikes from center field.

Either way, Shane Victorino became a lightning rod for some of the more unusual moments of the 2009 baseball season. He was doused by a cup of beer during a game in Wrigley Field. He was thrown out of a game for arguing balls and strikes with an umpire from 300 feet away in center field. Just a month ago, he wound up on the cover of the New York Post, his likeness photo-shopped onto the body of a skirt-wearing cheerleader with the accompanying headline reading, “;The Frillies are coming to town!”;

               

     

 

SHANE VICTORINO CAREER TIMELINE

        1996-1999: Four-sport star in football, soccer, track and baseball at St. Anthony on Maui
       

1999: Drafted in the sixth round by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Signed, passing up a football scholarship at Hawaii

       

1999-2005: Seven seasons in the minor leagues; called up to the majors briefly by the Padres in 2003 after being selected by San Diego in the 2002 Rule 5 draft.

       

2005: Named International League Most Valuable Player for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after being picked by the Phillies in the Rule 5 draft; made the USA Baseball Regional Olympic Qualifying team

       

2006: First full season with the Phillies; no errors in 232 chances

       

2007: Phillies' starting right fielder on opening day; sixth in the NL with 37 stolen bases

       

2008: Won a World Series with the Phillies; career marks in runs (102), hits (167), doubles (23), home runs (14) and RBIs (58); first Gold Glove

       

2009: Missed six games all season and won second Gold Glove; career highs in doubles (39), hits (181) and triples (13)

       

 

       

“;There's two ways to look at it, as either a good thing or a bad thing,”; the St. Anthony alum said on Wednesday. “;Why would they put me on the cover of the New York Post before the World Series?

“;Obviously they felt like I was a guy that could potentially do some damage.”;

A week away from his 29th birthday, Victorino has won a World Series, appeared in an All-Star Game, and has been fitted for two Gold Gloves. Quite the run for a guy who nearly called it quits just a few years ago.

“;I CALLED UP MY DAD and told him I was done,”; Victorino recalled. “;I felt like walking away from the game. I was over it, I wasn't having fun, and I told him I was coming home.

“;He said, 'Come home then, but just remember, if you come home, you're not going back.' “;

Victorino stuck with it for the majority of six seasons in the minors. But after brief stints in the majors, his big chance came in 2006.

The Phillies were rebuilding and traded away Bobby Abreu to the Yankees near the midseason trading deadline. Victorino took his place in right field and did enough to show the front office he could play at the major league level, earning the starting job in 2007.

By the time June rolled around, Victorino's style of play had already made him a fan favorite. Just two years removed from telling his son to come home if he wanted, Maui councilman Michael Victorino flew to Philadelphia to take part in “;Shane Victorino Day.”; The Phillies played the Giants, and in the only way he knew how, Victorino celebrated the day named after him with a walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Philadelphia let center fielder Aaron Rowand go to San Francisco via free agency in the offseason, moving Victorino to the heart of their outfield.

VICTORINO HAS NEVER avoided the spotlight, but one of the bigger controversies of the World Series had nothing to do with him—even though he tried.

Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels was chastised for saying he wanted the season to be over and “;can't wait for it to end,”; even though the Phillies were in the middle of the World Series.

Hamels, who won the MVP of the Fall Classic a year earlier, struggled all season, and was mentally exhausted. The media was quick to call him a quitter and picture the team as divided over their star pitcher.

“;It was totally overblown,”; Victorino said. “;When I first read it, yeah I was upset. But when I got to the bottom of it, he explained himself and I knew what he was saying. I knew what he meant.”;

That didn't keep Victorino from taking a jab at Hamels, saying, “;I thought you quit,”; to him in front of an estimated 30 reporters. But unlike Brett Myers, who started a firestorm saying the same thing—also in a playful manner common to locker-room culture—Victorino wasn't quoted by the media.

“;Nobody made a story about me saying it,”; he said. “;The whole thing was completely taken out of context.

“;That's why this team is so special. We've got guys like Jimmy (Rollins), Ryan (Howard), Chase (Utley), Jayson Werth, all of these guys that have lots of individual accomplishments. But all that matters is the team and winning and even though we didn't get it done this year, we'll all be back next year and I don't see why we shouldn't be the favorites again, especially in the National League.”;

IT'S NEARLY IMPOSSIBLE for Victorino to put into words what the past two years have been like.

“;It's been an honor more than anything,”; he said after a brief pause. “;I think when you go out there, you try not to get overwhelmed. You go out there knowing you're doing something you love, something that's your passion, and try not to worry about how big things are getting.”;

But in actuality, it's hard to imagine things any bigger. He's a rock star in Philadelphia, and the hometown fans there aren't shy about approaching him in public.

“;It's like walking on water there,”; Victorino said. “;That's what's so unique and humbling about Hawaii. Here I'm Shaney-boy. You can feel the love and the congratulatory thing here, but people aren't clinging onto you like in Philly.”;

That's part of the reason he decided to get married here last weekend to longtime girlfriend Melissa Smith. After six years together, Victorino and Smith tied the knot in a ceremony on Maui last Saturday, less than two weeks after the end of the World Series.

Just like his entire baseball career, Victorino ran the gauntlet of emotions in that short time, but was perfectly clear on which moment was the toughest.

“;Honestly, batting in the World Series against Mariano Rivera with the whole world watching, that's definitely the most nerve-wracking,”; Victorino said. “;Facing Rivera and making the last out of the World Series was the biggest challenge.

“;So far.”;

And therein lies the best part of Victorino's story. At 28, he's only now entering his prime. Who knows what the next 10 years will hold?