For anyone directly, or even peripherally, involved in Major League Baseball, the biggest challenges during the ongoing lockout that has delayed the opening of spring training and soon will threaten the start of the regular season are to remain positive and busy.
That isn’t a problem for Rays outfielder Brett Phillips, who as anyone familiar with him knows, is not like the rest of us — always upbeat, in constant motion and conversation.
Which is to say that the Seminole native has plenty to keep himself occupied on and off the field as he waits — not exactly patiently — to head into the most important of his 11 seasons in pro baseball.
“I’m ADHD as it is, so I have to constantly be in a routine, working out, taking care of business,” Phillips said. “Because there’s no time now to let off the brakes, especially with what’s going on. Because when it’s resolved it’s going to pick up quick.”
His baseball business is fairly standard.
Phillips, 27, works out five mornings a week with his wife, Bri, or his dad, Brett, at the Get Fitness gym near his Largo home. He then heads to one of several area facilities with batting cages to hit. And usually ends the afternoon at either Largo or his alma mater, Seminole High, to get in work on the field and talk with some of the players as a way to give back.
In a new twist, he is also taking hot yoga four nights a week at a Largo studio, where his relative youth and athleticism betray him from a previous attempt six years ago.
“It’s funny, because it’s me and about 12 middle-aged women on a given night, and they’re all having a great time enjoying it and I’m just struggling,” Phillips said. “My arms are shaking. They’re just having at it. And I’m just like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m so weak!’”
Baseball, as you know, is fun
Phillips’ other business interests are more interesting, between his Baseball is Fun T-shirt line, venture into NFTs (non-fungible tokens, which are unique units of data that can be sold or traded) and cryptocurrency, plus some upcoming TV commercials for a local auto dealership.
With Bri in charge, they run the Baseball Is Fun apparel business launched last year, built around the now infamous out-of-breath comment Phillips made after his heroics in Game 4 of the 2020 World Series and celebratory airplane run through the outfield.
After selling out their initial inventory on baseballisfun35.com in about 10 minutes and a holiday season crush for T-shirts, caps, hoodies and other items, business has been slow, as the lockout has dinged interest in the sport overall.
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But that hasn’t slowed the Phillipses.
They are re-investing the proceeds (and not taking out any money, Phillips said) to add new items, including a golf polo; and to stock up on inventory and improve their website, building in an option for charitable donations among new features. They also are learning how to deal with illicit sites selling counterfeit merchandise — another product, they learned, of running a successful business.
“It’s really exciting, and it’s super humbling,” Phillips said. “I think the best part about it all is, it’s so simple. It’s such a simple statement, but it needs to come from the top, right? The highest level. Having fun at the major-league level and enjoying yourself will start to trickle down, all the way down to little league and travel ball where it needs it the most, where parents are putting way too much pressure on their kids.
“So I think this simple reminder of ‘Baseball is Fun’ and me going about my business in the big leagues like I do, it’s really cool how it’s coming together for a successful brand and company that we will be able to maximize in the future.”
Putting nerd skills to use
Phillips is looking ahead by investing (some money, but more time, a couple hours a night) into NFTs, the non-fungible tokens of digital data — most prominently with ExpansionPunks — and cryptocurrency, an extension, he says, of his love for video games, now modeled as play-to-earn rather than just to win.
“I am just trying to get ahead of where the future is going with all of it, because I am a nerd from my past,” Phillips said. “The concept of it all just sounds super cool and interesting to me. … I’m not invested heavy in any of this. I’m more investing my time to educate myself on it. So when this becomes a normal thing I’m not so far behind.”
Phillips is in deep enough that he’s already tweeted a photo mock-up of yellow cleats he plans to wear for Players Weekend that features the image of the purple-haired punk he bought as an NFT: “He’s wild, just like me, and he’s cool.”
Phillips also has signed on to be the new pitch man for the Crown Buick GMC car dealership, promising loud, ‘90s style TV commercials. “So stay tuned for me yelling and with fireworks going off,” he said.
Time for money ball
Of course, the highest priority for Phillips is being ready for the season, whenever it starts.
After playing parts of the past five seasons in the majors with the Brewers, Royals and Rays, Phillips for the first time is eligible for arbitration and the doubling in salary (to a projected $1.2 million) that comes with it, with the foundation to earn more going forward.
Phillips feels well-positioned to take advantage, showing in a “super encouraging” 2021 he was more than a top-shelf defender and speedy baserunner. He made good in his first extended big-league opportunity (253 at-bats) to hit a career-high 13 home runs, including three grand slams. He also was extremely clutch, ranking among league leaders with 25 RBIs from the eighth inning on.
There is the potential for more playing time if the Rays, as expected, trade one of their other lefty-hitting outfielders, Kevin Kiermaier or Austin Meadows.
Despite the frustration of being idled by the lockout, Phillips’ infectious enthusiasm to play, especially for his hometown Rays, comes through.
As does his playful nature. He is still joking — we think — that his biggest highlight last year was taking the mound for an inning July 2, claiming he had expected an invite to report to camp with the pitchers, on a similar level as Angels two-way standout Shohei Ohtani.
“I was a little upset, because everyone knows me now as a two-way superstar, right?” Phillips said. “Everyone saw the pitching performance. So I believe that I would have been reporting (Wednesday), I would have been showcasing my talents with the rest of the pitchers. Unfortunately, it’s been put on pause, but that’s OK.”
Seems safe to assume Phillips will get through it.
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