Phillies Phever was on full display this past Thursday at Dynasty Sports in the Oxford Valley Mall and Phillies Nation’s Ryan Gerstel and Corey Sharp were sent out to report on the event. Fans of all ages were in attendance to get an autograph, snag a picture, or even share a laugh with two young, sensational arms from the Phils: Aaron Nola and Vince Velasquez. The two budding stars signed autographs and took pictures for over an hour for every Phillies fan in line.
Both pitchers have had great success on the mound this season. Nola has a 3-3 record with a 2.85 ERA and a 0.90 WHIP, which is 3rd best in the NL behind Clayton Kershaw and Jake Arietta. Velasquez this season is 5-1 with a 2.42 ERA, which is the seventh-best mark in the National League. Both guys have shined and were ready to meet their biggest supporters.
Many fans were lined up at the door by 6:30pm, half an hour before the event started. They were more than ready to meet these young pitching studs. Ryan and Corey were at the scene to gauge the vibe of the crowd just minutes before the doors opened. The morale of the fans was very high, as to be expected with a surprise 24-18 start to the 2016 season. Out of the fans we talked to, not many of them thought the Phillies could keep this going for the rest of the season. Nonetheless, they are enjoying this hot start and hope it lasts through the summer.
Corey caught up with Bob and Chris from Northeast Philly. Both gentleman are optimistic about the team, and for good reason. When asked if the team will contend this season Bob said, “I thought no, but who knows; after last season I’ll take anything!” Chris explained that he was trying to convince people that the Phillies wouldn’t be as bad as everyone thought. Turns out he was right. Chris added an interesting nugget when he said that he believes Aaron Nola has “one of the cleanest signatures” for an autograph. It must look great on that baseball, Chris!
Ryan had the opportunity to speak with one of the youngsters in attendance, Matt from Richboro. Ryan asked Matt who he was more excited to see, and after careful, meticulous thought, he went with Vince Velasquez because he “throws harder” than Aaron Nola. Ironically, he brought a Nola baseball card for the two players to sign. Hope that didn’t make things awkward for Vince.
Corey also spoke with longtime Phillie fans Karen and Debbie from Lansdale. They’re staying optimistic as they believe the Phils can keep this going through the rest of the season. Corey asked Karen how she handles all these one-run games and she said, “Oh, I’m used to it from Mitch Williams.” The fans are fine with the nail-biting finishes, a win’s a win!
Finally, Nicole from Langhorne praised Nola’s pitching ability with Ryan and added a note for this year’s upcoming draft when she said her husband saw top draft prospect Jason Groome pitch in person and said he was “insane.” Groome could be the Phillies’ choice with the number one pick, although reports have surfaced that the Phillies have eliminated high school arms from their draft board.
While Nola and Velasquez were signing all kinds of memorabilia, Ryan and Corey had the opportunity to ask them a couple questions. The first man up was Nola, who had no trouble offering long, thoughtful responses while signing autographs. The feat was almost as impressive as his nasty curveball.
Corey: “When did you realize you had that wicked curveball?”
Nola: “I switched grips up over the last few years or so. It was different when I was in high school, it was different when I was in college and it’s different now that I’m here. I feel like over the offseason and at the end of last year I had a good feel for it. I felt like I could throw it for strikes and for balls when I needed to. I just kept working on it as much as I could and trying to be consistent with it.”
Corey: “Where are your favorite places in Philly?”
Nola: “Palladino’s is my favorite Italian restaurant. It’s a cool place, a lot different from in the south where I’m from and it’s got a lot of history. I like to walk around and look at the history of Philadelphia. I like going to the Rocky steps. There are a lot of old building and people refresh my memory of what they are and what people were like here back in the day.”
Ryan: “The league leaders in WHIP read as follows: Clayton Kershaw, Chris Sale, Jake Arrieta, and you. How does it feel to have your name mentioned among those greats?”
Nola: “It’s definitely pretty cool those guys are great and what they’ve done in their careers leading up til now is amazing and they’re solid all around players. They can field, they can hit, and they play the game through better than anyone in the game can with the confidence they have.”
Ryan: “Do you think you have that same confidence on the mound as those guys have?”
Nola: “Yeah, but I don’t try to think too much about that. I feel like experience means confidence but you can also have confidence by knowing what to do. Those guys know what to do, and it means success which also means confidence. I feel like it’s all as a whole.”
Ryan: “You all seem confident, as a team. The pitching rotation has been great.”
Nola: “Yeah it’s been fun. I feel like that’s the number one thing, we’re all having fun.”
Ryan: “And as a fan it’s been fun, too. The crowds at your games are electric. It hasn’t been like that for a long time. Are you guys having as much fun on the field?”
Nola: “The more games we’re winning the more the fans are getting into it and that makes a big difference. It’s really awesome having a large crowd at Citizens Bank Park. That’s what I’ve heard from the past several years back. We’re having fun out there. The main source of the fun is playing as a team.”
Ryan: “How much does Pete have to do with that? You guys seem really loose out there.”
Nola: “He plays a big part. He knows how to chill us out and knows a lot about the game and I feel like he knows how to keep the guys lose and let us play our game and he’s still teaching us. He still tells us what we need to do and what we didn’t do. He’s the right guy for us.”
Ryan: “You were teammates for a short time with Cole Hamels. Did he give you any tips? Did he show you how to throw his changeup?”
Nola: “There was a short amount of time I had with Cole. I tried to talk to him as much as I could. We were actually locker buddies. I tried to to talk to him about his change-up. It’s an incredible pitch. Everybody holds theirs differently, and I did try to hold it the way he holds it, but it didn’t work for me. He’s a great guy, not just a great pitcher, but a great guy. He taught me things just by watching him even before I got up in Philly.”
Ryan: “It must have been something to see him go out like he did, with a no hitter.
Nola: “The cool thing is that was actually my first time watching him pitch in person. My hands were sweating on the bench and I was really into it. It was the first no hitter I’d ever seen live.”
Ryan: “I sell beer as my day job, so I feel obligated to ask you this: do you have a go-to beer?”
Nola: “Uhh, I don’t really have a go-to beer. I don’t know…I guess Budweiser tastes pretty decent.”
Velasquez was the next man up for Corey and Ryan. Unfortunately, there wasn’t as much time to speak with him. Nonetheless, he means business and is definitely as intense off the field as he is on the mound.
Velasquez struck out another 10 hitters in just five innings against the Miami Marlins last Tuesday night. Of course, we all remember his 16 strikeout performance against the Padres in early April.
Corey: “When do you know you have the ‘stuff’ for a special outing?”
Velasquez: “I don’t know when I’ll have one of those games. You just have to let it happen. Instead of looking at the strikeouts I had against Miami, I kept looking at the pitches I had and I was in a bad situation.”
Ryan: “The offense has struggled this year, obviously. Does that put any extra pressure on you on the mound?”
Velasquez: “I’m not thinking about the offense. I just pitch, that’s it. I let the offense do their thing. When I get up to the plate, I’ll try to do whatever I can do to help the offense. But I’m not a hitter, I’m a pitcher so I have to make good pitches to get my guys back in the dugout so they can hit.”
Ryan: “What’s better: getting a strikeout looking on the corner, or blowing a fastball by somebody who swings for the fences?”
Velasquez: “A strikeout is a strikeout, anyway you can get it.”
Nola and Velasquez will continue to be looked upon as key pieces to the staff, hopefully for years to come. Nola needs to be consistent with the curveball and Velasquez knows he needs to go deeper in games. They are both paving the way to a bright future, but for now, they’re only concerned about winning games. However on Thursday night, their minds were taken off baseball to meet the Phillies fans who believe in them so much.