CLEARWATER, Fla. - John Vukovich, the late, great Phillies coach who spent his entire big-league playing career battling to make teams as a utility man, once described the final days of spring training as a time he'd wake up in the middle of the night and see snakes.
Phil Gosselin knows all too well what it's like to come to camp having to fight for the last spot on a roster.
But he doesn't see snakes.
"I'm used to it," he said with a laugh. "I wouldn't know what to do if I showed up [in February] and they told me I was on the team.
"There are times [late in camp] when you're getting changed and you look around to see if you're being called into the manager's office. But it's part of the business. One of my college coaches used to say, ‘Pressure is a privilege.' So you just show up, play well and see what happens."
Gosselin, a local guy from West Chester who played at Malvern Prep before a stellar career at the University of Virginia, has made four straight opening day rosters with three different clubs, and "each time I didn't find out if I made it or not until the last day," he said.
Now, at age 30, and after stints with the Braves, Diamondbacks, Pirates, Rangers and Reds, Gosselin is in camp with Phillies, once again trying to win the final spot on the roster. He has spent parts of the last six seasons in the majors and getting to do so again this year with the Phillies would be …
"Pretty surreal," he said. "Whether it's opening day, September, whenever. I went to Phillies games as a kid, watched them all on TV."
Gosselin and his brother, Matt, were in the upper deck at Citizens Bank Park the night Alex Rodriguez belted a controversial home run off a television camera in Game 3 of the 2009 World Series. A few years later, as a rookie member of the Atlanta Braves, he had to remind himself to focus on the game and not get caught up in the fact he was standing between Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. Scott Rolen was his all-time favorite player. As a kid growing up in Chester County, he had a mini locker in his bedroom with Darren Daulton's nameplate on it.
"In a roundabout way, the Phillies are the reason I'm here," he said in the team's clubhouse Tuesday morning. "They're the reason I fell in love with baseball."
Gosselin was thrilled when his agent, Barry Meister, called over the winter and said the Phillies were interested in signing him to a minor-league deal and giving him a look in spring training. Sure, there was the attraction of having the opportunity to wear the uniform of his boyhood dreams. But there was more than that.
"I wanted to go to the team with the best opportunity and I felt like this it," Gosselin said. "The Phillies are trying to win now. I think I've been around a little bit and I can help doing some of the stuff off the bench, bouncing around and things like that. So I think they're more likely to give somebody like me an opportunity than maybe a 20-year-old prospect just because they're trying to win now, as opposed to a team that is in rebuild mode and is going to choose a guy they drafted and is younger."
The Phillies typically go with an eight-man bullpen which leaves just four bench jobs. One of them will go to a backup catcher, Andrew Knapp or Drew Butera, and one will go to super-utility man Scott Kingery. Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr are the lead candidates for what looks like two extra outfield jobs, but Quinn is down with an oblique strain and might not be ready for opening day. In addition to Gosselin, the Phils have veteran infielders/outfielders Sean Rodriguez, Gregorio Petit, Andrew Romine and Gift Ngoepe in camp on minor-league deals looking for jobs.
Good thing that Gosselin, who can also play corner outfield spots, has learned to just go out and play and not stress about roster machinations.
Gosselin does not have an out in his contract at the end of camp. If he has to open the season at Lehigh Valley, he will go there and keep reaching for his dream of one day being in the big leagues with the team of his boyhood dreams.
"Obviously, we all want to be in the big leagues, but if you're going to be in Triple A, that's as good a spot as any, especially for me because it's close to home," Gosselin said.
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