Allow me to introduce two of the newest members of the Philadelphia Phillies to the reading audience. They won’t be found on a recent list of the Phillies 40-man roster. They can’t be found on a “Who’s Who” of top Phillies prospects. They will not appear on any listings of a Phillies Top 10 Draft Picks from any season. Their names are pitcher Geoff Geary and third baseman Travis Chapman. They are the Poster Boys for players who battle, struggle, overcome long odds, then finally succeed in reaching their dreams of making a major league roster.
Though their ultimate roles in helping the Phils to achieve their goal of a National League playoff birth is uncertain, it would not be wise to discount their potential contributions. In the end, talent will prevail and though press clippings would suggest otherwise, the performances of Geary and Chapman seem to indicate that lack of talent has never been among their problems.
The stories of Geoff Geary and Travis Chapman are fascinating and worth recounting for an audience that may be a bit unfamiliar with their past exploits. These are not the stories of players like Cole Hamels, Gavin Floyd and Chase Utley. Rather these are the stories of players who were given nothing but an opportunity and have both made the best of them. They are stories worth telling.
By all accounts Geoff Geary was an outstanding college pitcher at the University of Oklahoma. As a college senior his 13-1 record was among the best in the nation and the Phils selected him in the 15th round of the 1998 draft. If this draft year looks familiar it should. In perhaps one of the more bountiful drafts in Phils history, no less than five players have already seen service in the major leagues and there are a few more on the way. Included in this group are current slugger Pat Burrell, reserves Jason Michaels and Nick Punto, recently traded outfielder Eric Valent, and young pitchers Ryan Madson and Geary. It is not inconceivable that prospects like Jorge Padilla and Greg Kubes could someday be added to the list.
Geary immediately joined the Batavia team in the Short Season NY-P League and was the best pitcher in the league with a 9-1 record and a microscopic 1.60 ERA. He also showed he was not bothered by pressure as he won a playoff game for the Muckdogs. A 10-5 record, and another playoff victory, while at Clearwater followed this in 1999.
Though his record would seem to indicate that Geary was a prospect worthy of attention, he was lightly regarded for two reasons. In an organization that favors tall right-handed pitchers, Geary, at barely six feet tall, was considered too short to be successful. The other reason was a fastball that didn’t exactly light up radar guns. On a good day, Geary might touch 91-92 MPH and he was deemed as a non-prospect by all but one person, Geary himself. As he struggled through a 9-10 record at Reading and Scranton-Wilkes Barre in 2001, a baseball fan suffering from a terminal illness inspired him. In a world that idolizes players like Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriguez, it was Geoff Geary who captured this fans heart and Geary vowed he would always pitch for his favorite fan.
It was in 2002 that Geary reinvented himself, as a relief pitcher, and his 4-2 record at Scranton belied his effectiveness as a middle inning reliever. Still, any thoughts of Geoff Geary sharing a locker room with the likes of his past draft mates, Burrell and Michaels, bordered on sheer fantasy…to everyone but Geary.
Geary’s coming out party occurred during the 2003 season when he seemed to add a foot to his fastball and an attitude to his demeanor. He began to display a closer like mentality and it showed in his 9-4 record and 2.16 ERA. Add to this his 5 saves and a wonderful ability to keep the ball in the ballpark and it became impossible to ignore Geary any longer. He was recently called up and should get some action in middle relief in the Phils September push for glory.
Chapman’s story is an equally uplifting tale of a player who does nothing but play well. He will never inspire legends of tape measure home runs, nor win any speed contests. His batting style suggests a player who should never hit the ball, yet Chapman not only hits the ball, but also hits it well. In fact, in an organization that has been sadly deficient in producing solid hitting prospects the past few years, Chapman has been a welcome beacon of light in a dimly lit room.
Much like Geary, the story of Chapman is one of perseverance, determination and a bit of good luck thrown in for good measure. It is also a story full of twists and turns in an unlikely journey that has led to Veterans Stadium.
Travis Chapman was a solid collegiate player at Mississippi State University and was drafted in the 17th round by the Phils in the year 2000. In a year when Chase Utley, Keith Bucktrot and Taylor Buchholtz were the pin up players of the draft, Chapman was almost an afterthought as he prepared to make his professional debut.
Again, like Geary before him, Chapman had a solid rookie season at Batavia with a .316 average. While at Batavia, he displayed the rare ability to understand the strike zone well, and his walk to strikeout ratio was very impressive. Though this should have endeared him to the Phils organization, his lack of power seemed to be more an issue than his ability to play the game well. In 2001 he showed that his hitting skills were genuine as he averaged .301 in the very pitcher friendly FSL at Clearwater.
Maintaining a philosophy that had been taken during his rookie year, the Phils were more unimpressed with his lack of power than they were impressed by his ability to play the game. This seeming lack of respect deterred Chapman not one iota as he made the difficult leap to Double A ball at Reading with a minimum of difficulty.
Truth be told, Chapman’s first half in 2002 was spectacular. With an average hovering at .360 and solid power numbers, Chapman seemed impossible to ignore, yet ignore him the Phils did. Talk of moving him to catcher or even trading him were the discussions of the day, and when Chapman finished the 2002 season with a .301 average and 15 HR yet was left off the 40 man roster, it seemed his days in the organization were over.
Drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the December Rule Five Draft, Chapman nearly made the Tigers rosters out of Spring Training 2003. Fortunately for the Phils, the Tigers could not quite fit Chapman on their roster and were forced to offer him back to the Phils. Even then, more out of necessity than desire, the Phils accepted Chapman back and put him on the SWB Triple A roster. Rather than bemoan his fate, Chapman arrived at SWB with a desire to do well and force the issue once and for all. A .272 average, 12 HR’s and 82 RBI highlighted a season that saw him make the International League All-Star team. It was here that fate played a hand in Chapman’s arrival at the Vet.
After a near disastrous road trip and the surprising release of third sacker Tyler Houston, the Phils were in need for some infield help for the stretch run. It was then, and only then, that GM Ed Wade made the decision to put Chapman on the 40-man roster and called him up to Philadelphia. He joined his minor league teammate, Geary, with the Phillies this week.
As the Phils make their September push to the playoffs, heartfelt cheers for Jim Thome, Kevin Millwood, Bobby Abreu and Placido Polanco will resonate from the distant bowels of the Vet. Appropriately enough, the fans will attempt to show their desire for victory by applauding a Phillie success wherever it can be found.
It would behoove Phils fans everywhere to reserve a hearty cheer for Geary and Chapman as they contribute any way they can to Phils victories. That they are at the Vet at all is a tribute to the fact that they “acknowledged their deficiencies but did not let these deficiencies master them.” In this they were taught “patience, sweetness, and insight.” It is these traits that Helen Keller knew well and are traits that make this story twice as nice.
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