As the last bits of confetti are swept away from the 50 yard line at Levi’s Stadium in California, site of last Sunday’s Super Bowl, the eye of the sports landscape shifts to Arizona and Florida, where pitchers and catchers will report next week to begin spring training for major league baseball’s upcoming season.
Among those men will be two local high school graduates, hoping to impress the Philadelphia Phillies’ brass.
Andrew Bailey, 31 (Paul VI High School Class of 2002); and Greg Burke, 33 (Gloucester Catholic High School Class of 2000), are pitchers signed to minor-league contracts with the Phillies, with an invite to the team’s spring training camp in Clearwater.
Making the trip down south this weekend, the two hope they can make enough of an impact to join the squad when it comes back up north to Citizens Bank Park for the regular campaign.
“This is a great opportunity,” says the righthanded Bailey, a former American League Rookie of the Year with the Oakland Athletics in 2009, and an All-Star closer with them in the 2009 and 2010 seasons. In those two years, he converted 51 save opportunities, with a 1.70 ERA in 132.1 innings.
From 2012 to last year, however, injuries reduced him to only 59 major league appearances. After being traded to Boston after the 2011 season, he underwent thumb surgery, missing the first part of 2012.
In 2013, he closed for the team, before shoulder surgery ended his season. Bailey signed a contract with the New York Yankees before the 2014 year, but complications from the previous surgery caused him to miss the entire year.
Last year, between rookie league and triple A in the Yankees system, he pitched 35 innings as a closer, allowing seven earned runs, and joined the big league club in September for its final month.
Confident in his physical fitness and abilities, he is eager to “prove that I’m healthy, and able to do what I’ve done before, earn the opportunity to make the big league team out of camp, and ultimately help the team win some games.”
Growing up in South Jersey, Bailey was a diehard fan of the early 90s’ Phillies, and its players such as Mickey Morandini, John Kruk, Lenny Dykstra. He lives in Connecticut with his wife and two small children. The whole family will soon head to Clearwater.
“I’m battling back and look forward to playing for my hometown team,” he said.
Righthander Greg Burke, like Bailey, has overcome injuries, and he hopes a successful February in Florida leads to a trip to Philadelphia, close to the Medford home where he currently lives with his wife and two children.
“All I knew was the Phillies growing up” in Bellmawr, the Annunciation School alum says.
“The opportunity to being close to home is the biggest plus” to the signing.
In two of the last three years, he has had surgery to repair his hip and rotator cuff.
Last year, Burke pitched in the Toronto Blue Jays organization, with a combined 5-1 record and 2.63 ERA in double- and triple-A.
He has also seen major league action with the San Diego Padres (2009), and the New York Mets (2013). All told, he has a 3-6 record in the majors, with a 4.77 ERA in 77 1/3 innings.
This offseason, he has undergone a “vigorous” workout program, hitting the gym and throwing multiple times a week.
“I’m more determined then I’ve ever been (in my career), and I’m working harder,” he said.