Camp Kapler Is A-rockin' With New Vibes, New Concepts

CLEARWATER, Fla. - It's still baseball here at Camp Kap. Hit the ball, catch the ball, get the (bleeping) job done, as Lee Elia once said. But under Gabe Kapler, things are just a little bit different.
The sound of music fills the air.
And the men in blue have already arrived.
Just before Phillies pitchers and catchers began their third workout of the spring Friday morning, three umpires, in full gear, emerged from the locker room at Spectrum Field and made the walk over to the Carpenter Complex.
Grapefruit League games don't start for another week, but umpires were on hand to call balls and strikes during pitcher bullpen workouts.
It was a first.
But then again, there will be a lot of firsts under Kapler, the high-energy, uber-positive, 42-year-old new-schooler hired as Phillies skipper in October.
"We're trying to find value at the margins," Kapler said. "How can we find the last little detail that gets us a tiny bit better and gives us one step forward?"
Friday's detail was umpires and batter's boxes painted in the bullpen.
"We're trying to create more game-like conditions," Kapler said.
The manager praised Craig Driver, the team's new bullpen catcher/receiving coach, for suggesting how "powerful" it would be to have umpires provide feedback to catchers on their ability to frame and keep pitches in the strike zone. And, of course, it doesn't hurt the pitchers to get some early feedback.
"I didn't know if I would like it at first, but I did," Jerad Eickhoff said after the workout.
He paused.
"Even though the guy squeezed me a couple of times," he deadpanned.
Kapler has a democratic approach. Pitchers could have said no to having an umpire. None did.
"It was a first for me," Aaron Nola said. "You've got the umpire and the white lines. They told us about it this morning. Everybody liked it."
The umpires were local professionals hired by the club. They will be back again.
While pitchers went through their workouts, music played on the speakers at Carpenter Complex. It is not unusual to have music playing during a workout. It happens nightly during batting practice in every Major League stadium. The Phillies have played music during spring training workouts in other years. Kapler has brought it to a new level. Players have complete input in what they want to hear. Classic rock. Some country. Latin. Pop.

"I want them to be inspired," Kapler said. 

The music is always on in the clubhouse and even in the hallways around the clubhouse.
"It makes every space not boring," said Wes Helms, the former Phillie who is back with the club as a coach at Triple A Lehigh Valley.
Helms played with the Phillies in 2007. He spent four seasons in Atlanta, where Braves manager Bobby Cox famously would not allow music in the clubhouse. Too many different guys with too many different tastes equaled too many problems, Cox believed. He required music-loving players to wear headphones. Cox won 14 division titles, a World Series and is in the Hall of Fame so it's difficult to argue with his methods. 
"The game has changed, the personality of players has changed," Helms said. "As a staff, we have to relate to them on their level so we can get more out of them on the field. I like it. It livens up the atmosphere."
That's Kapler's plan. Create a vibe that makes everyone want to move. Create a work environment that is fun.
"Oh, gosh," Kapler said. "This is a really passionate topic for me. I believe strongly that mood is enhanced by music. One of the ways we decide on the music is we ask all our players: 'What do you like to listen to? What makes you feel strong during your workouts?' We ask them after the workouts. 'Hey, how was the music today? More volume? Less volume? Did you hear something that you liked?'

"When we're surrounded by music, we feel good. We smile more. When we smile more, we're more relaxed at the plate. There is science behind this. It's not a theory. It's been studied. Workplaces are happier and they're more inspired when music is playing."
Kapler's passion for music is a family thing. His dad, Michael, is a piano teacher and classical musician.
"I grew up with music in my house all the time," he said. "And, if you ever come into my office, there will be music playing. In my home, I have music playing all the time. Mostly, because it makes me feel strong.
"If you come into my office, you might hear some John Lee Hooker or, early in the morning, some Norah Jones as I drink coffee. It's eclectic."
Umpires in the bullpen. The sound of music all over the facility. If it helps the Phillies have one more efficient workout here at Camp Kap, then it's all worth it.

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