Marlon Byrd has had a fantastic spring training and will be an anchor in the Phillies lineup in 2014. Credit: Getty Images
Marlon Byrd is the answer to the following trivia question: Who is the first Phillie to bat at Citizens Bank Park? When the Phillies traded their one-time center fielder the following season in 2005, it appeared that Byrd would become a trivial player.
However, the classic late bloomer turned it around and became an All-Star, who is one of the game's best at hitting left-handed pitching. The Phillies reaquired Byrd, who is one of the few Phillies to carry a .300-plus average throughout spring training, during the off-season. The Phillies hope the right-fielder, who inked a two-year $16 million deal, is the answer for a club that desperately needs a dependable right-handed bat.
Metro sat down for a one-on-one with the Phillies' biggest position player acquisition this off-season.
It’s obvious what you bring to the club. You posted the second best batting average against southpaws in the game last season. You hustle and you’re a leader, but what else do you bring to the Phillies?
I bring stability. You know that I’ll be out there every day in right. I bring professionalism. I’m going to bust it everyday. I won’t miss a game.
That would be a tonic for an oft-injured team. You must have noticed how often key Phillies were out last season.
I did notice, but not just because the Phillies were a rival. I played with the Mets most of last season and I saw the Phillies a lot. But the other thing is that I have some good friends on this team that I’ve known for years.
How cool is it to come back where you started and you look around and you see Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley, who you came up with, and even Bobby Abreu, who was a veteran on that team?
It’s incredibly cool. I never stopped being friends with those guys. The best part about coming back to Philadelphia is that I can play with those guys again. Jimmy was here when I came up. I was in the minors with Chase and we came up together. Ryan was right behind us and then there was Cole (Hamels). Chooch (Carlos Ruiz) came up as well. And it is funny that Bobby is back here when I returned. I learned so much about how to play the game from Bobby Abreu. It’s very comfortable being back with the Phillies, who were my first organization. It didn’t work out the first time with them but I give them credit. As opposed to leaving me to play in their minor league system, they traded me and gave me a chance to become the player I eventually became.
Why didn’t it work out the first time around with the Phillies?
I was still just a kid in many ways. In 2004 I just met my wife and it was the first time in my career that I struggled. I left the Phillies and I developed as a ballplayer and as a person. Now I’m a family man with two kids an 8- and a 6-year-old. I’ve grown up and become a pretty good ballplayer.
Did it ever bother you watching your friends, the core of this team, go on to not just win a World Series title but to go on to the best run in Phillies history?
No, they’re my friends. I was happy for those guys. I was thrilled. I was at the playoff games in 2008. We still lived in South Jersey, in Swedesboro, and I went to the games, took my seat and waved my rally towel. If you’re a real friend, you root for your friends to do well. I did that and I was very proud of them. They won a World Series, and I believe this team can win another one.
What will it take for this aging core to make the playoffs?
We need things to go right but so does everybody else. Who thought the Boston Red Sox were going to win the World Series last year? You had some aging guys step up, like David Ortiz. We have Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins, just for starters, who can do some damage. We’ve seen what they can do. I can’t wait to see what we can do in April.
Since you lived in the Philly area for so long, you must understand the town’s desire for a winner.
I do. I get it. I’m fine with that pressure. My wife and I are looking forward to moving back. I love Philadelphia. It’s a great city with amazing fans. Nobody gets into it more than fans in Philly. My wife is thrilled she gets to root for the team she grew up rooting for. It’s all Philly with her. She loves the Eagles, Flyers and Sixers and, of course, the Phillies. I love Philadelphia since it’s a big city with a small town feel. You have great restaurants and a great energy.
Jason Grilli said you were a great teammate and a huge reason the Pirates got over the hump and made the playoffs last season.
That was an amazing run we went on last year with the Pirates. I wish it didn’t have to end so quickly, but I think this team can take it that much farther. You have two Pirates from last season’s team on this one, me and A.J. Burnett. I think this team is going to surprise people. I know a lot of people have questions about this team but I don’t. I think we’re one of those teams that’s going to put it together and make a run toward the playoffs.
Marlon Byrd hit .317 against lefties last season, the second best mark in the MLB behind Dustin Pedroia.
Byrd was suspended for PED use in 2012. He insists that it was just a mistake. “Guys do it to beat the system,” Byrd said. “I was just stupid. I didn’t do my due diligence and it won’t happen again.”
Byrd is a popular character in the clubhouse. “It’s fun having Byrd-man around,” Ben Revere said. “He’s a veteran, who knows how to win, how to lighten things up. He’s a huge addition to the clubhouse.”