Commentary

Freddy Galvis epitomized an era of change in Philadelphia



041312-freddy-galvis-400.jpgOn April 11, 2012, Freddy Galvis uncorked a two-run double off Josh Johnson. It was his second major league hit, pushing the Phillies to a 5-1 lead against the Marlins in a game they’d win 7-1.

His first hit wasn’t spectacular, but this one was, and not because it was a double, or because the bases were loaded. What some may remember was as Galvis stood in against Johnson, the sell-out crowd at Citizens Bank Park chanted “Freddy! Freddy!” at the 22-year-old infielder. Galvis wasn’t the team’s top prospect, though he was one of the better ones. His major league debut wasn’t heralded like that of Domonic Brown, who doubled in his first plate appearance two years before. He was brought in because Chase Utley was hurt to start the season. In essence, Freddy Galvis just happened.

He happened to happen in April 2012, when the Bank was still filled to the brim with red-clad fans hoping for a postseason berth, when fans chanted “Chooch!” for every time Carlos Ruiz appeared on Phanavision. You couldn’t ask for a better environment to enter the major leagues.

Galvis is from the Venezuelan city of Punto Fijo, which means “fixed point.” He played baseball with corks and sticks as a child, separating himself from his peers by flashing an outstanding infield glove reminiscent of his idol Omar Vizquel. He joined youth league teams in Venezuela, at one time bunking with a flashy infielder from a rival team. That infielder, Cesar Hernandez, and Galvis became good friends. Soon they both earned a look from major league scouts. Galvis was recruited by many teams, and while the Tampa Bay Rays offered him the most money, he chose to join the Phillies.

He worked his way up the system thanks primarily to his superb defense, and his bat came alive in double-A Reading, pushing him closer to the majors. In 2011 between Reading and Lehigh Valley, Galvis hit .278/.324/.392 with 41 extra-base hits in 590 plate appearances. That season forced the Phils to consider Galvis as a utility infielder for 2012, but Utley’s back problems led the Phils to consider him at second base. He slid in there and played relatively well, then suffered a back injury of his own. During his disabled list stint, Galvis was suspended 50 games because a drug test proved positive for a performance-enhancing substance.

In 2013 and ’14, Galvis bounced between the majors and minors, proving inconsistent at the plate with an above-average glove. The Phils tried other utility bats in his place, from John McDonald to Reid Brignac, names that recall the ugliness of those recent seasons. As the front office tried pushing poor performers into spotlight situations, Galvis waited for his big shot, often stumbling but still young and hungry.

When Ruben Amaro Jr. traded Jimmy Rollins after the 2014 season, Galvis finally received his opportunity to play full-time, but even then it was assumed he was the placeholder for future shortstop JP Crawford. Still, with steady playing time Galvis developed into a decent everyday player, hitting .253 with a .375 slugging percentage, but more, flashing that outstanding glove. It was as a full-time player that Galvis became one of the top fielders in baseball, a trait that would serve him and the Phillies well for the last three years.

Between 2012 and ’17 there was no more fixed point in Philadelphia baseball than he. His 2,440 plate appearances since opening day 2012 lead all Phillies, as do his 555 hits. Moreover, Galvis has been one of the most spectacular infielders in baseball. He makes nearly every routine play, and he pulls off challenging plays with panache.

But Galvis was ultimately the symbol of the last five years of Phillies baseball. He debuted at a high point, with sell-out crowds and an excitement that would fade quickly from sight. Soon he’d find himself in purgatory, much like we fans who wanted nothing more than change but saw only aging and failing veterans. By 2015 it couldn’t get any worse, and that’s when Galvis assumed his rightful place on the lineup card, finally giving us a glimmer of hope even if, in the backs of our minds, an even better future was upon us. And while Galvis was never the best shortstop in baseball, while he lacked in plenty of places, he was ultimately a breath of fresh air. He was fun to watch in the field, infectious with his smile and leadership, and the most fitting piece during a period of rebuilding.

Galvis’ final game as a Phillie was the final game of the 2017 season, the 11-0 drubbing of the Mets that featured big performances by Nick Williams, Odubel Herrera and the new shortstop, Crawford. Galvis was called pinch hit in the sixth inning, and leading off, he stroked a double to right field. It was just like his second hit, the big game-breaker in 2012 against the Marlins. But there weren’t a host of “Freddy!” chants. The crowd was juiced not for him, but for the new kids in town. It was a fitting sendoff for a guy who epitomized an era.

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