Coming into Spring Training last February, Jonathan Papelbon was fresh off an All-Star appearance, and his quirkiness mixed with his desire to be great, seemed to be making him a fan favorite. Papelbon enters Spring Training 2014, after a down season that saw him blow seven saves and have a drop in velocity on his once electric velocity, in a very different situation. Not only is “Pap” trying to prove, that as he approaches his mid-30’s, that he can still pitch at an elite level, but he is trying to get back in the good graces of the fanbase who he alienated last July with his “I didn’t come hear for this” comments, when asked about the second straight disappointing season for the team.
Bringing a newly found positive attitude to Spring Training this year, Papelbon appears ready to buy into the idea that the team can return to the playoffs under new manage Ryne Sandberg.
“This year, I’m definitely trying to be a lot more of a positive influence and be more upbeat,” Papelbon told reporters Tuesday. “It starts from Ryno. It starts from our manager encouraging us to stay positive and be upbeat even though the last two seasons didn’t go as expected for myself and the rest of the guys in that clubhouse.
Papelbon noted that an early culture change, which he largely credits to Ryne Sandberg being at the helm for his first Spring Training, as the source of his positive outlook for 2014.
“Yeah, buying in, man,” Papelbon said. “Like every morning we have a meeting with Ryno and we talk about things. If you can’t buy into your manager, you’re not going to buy into anything.”
Papelbon seems to believe that a new voice in the clubhouse has allowed a culture change to begin to take place. At least publicly, he didn’t seem to directly blame Charlie Manuel for the previous culture, which seemed to become stagnant even as far back as 2010, but rather that a change might have been needed at managerial position just to shake up the feeling of complacency.
“Well, you know, I think, um, when Charlie was here, there was already a set environment,” Papelbon said. “There was already a set way of doing things. And they were winning. They were winning, then all of a sudden it hits rock bottom. Literally within a year you start losing. So I think that just took on a whole life of its own. Not that I didn’t buy into it. I bought right in. But two years you lose …
“As an athlete, we come out here and prepare and put so much hard work into it. When it doesn’t pay off, it’s a hard thing to deal with.”
It all sounds good now. If the Phillies can compete, and Papelbon can be the adrenaline-filled stud at the back end of the bullpen that the Phillies are paying him to be, then for 2014, things will be good with Papelbon. In a perfect world, that scenario will transpire.
If the Phillies struggle to the 65-75 win season that most national media outlets are predicting them to be at, then it is hard to see a world where Papelbon, or anyone, keeps a positive attitude about the season. But Papelbon needs to voice his frustration to the front office this time, rather than to the media, if he wants to be moved to a contending team.
Either way, Jonathan Papelbon will be in uniform for Opening Day for which you can find Phillies tickets here.