White Sox catcher Josh Phegley celebrates his first major league home run… (Getty Images )
When Josh Phegley boarded a plane with his Triple-A Charlotte teammates headed to Atlanta to play Gwinnett, it was a trip that was supposed to last two days, not the rest of his life.
"We were on a two-day trip in Atlanta so I took two T-shirts and that was it," Phegley said. "It was just a one-night stay and I got the call to go to Tampa [to join the White Sox]."
Upon getting to Tampa Bay with the Sox, Phegley made his presence felt almost immediately, hitting his first big league home run off reigning Cy Young winner David Price in only his second major league game.
"[I] felt a little bit more comfortable [in my second game]," he said. "I think I was a little more prepared, just trying to get good pitches to hit. I was ready to swing."
Now that he's in the big leagues, his boss says Phegley, 25, doesn't have to worry about making a return trip to North Carolina anytime soon.
"He's not going anywhere," Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "He's up here to play."
You sure about that?
"He's not going anywhere," Ventura repeated emphatically.
Even if it means he's going to have to spend as much time on his wardrobe as he is on his hitting stroke.
"I've been shopping more times this week than I have in the last two years probably," he said with a smile. "[I'm] just trying to go day to day with now we need this for the trip or we need this but I think I'm pretty well set for this road trip."
On the field, Phegley has done nothing to betray his manager's confidence since getting called up to the big leagues on July 5. In short order, Phegley etched his name into the Sox record books as the first player to hit a home run on the first pitch he ever saw in Chicago. He also is the first Sox rookie to record an RBI in each of his first three games and became only the second rookie in team history to homer in his second and third games.
"It's been pretty surreal," he said. "Just to kind of jump in and hit the ground running, you don't have time to really think about it all."
Coming out of spring training, Phegley wasn't supposed to be the man behind the plate making a major impact.
That designation fell to Tyler Flowers, a former top prospect who was designated the heir apparent behind the dish once franchise icon AJ Pierzynski left for greener pastures.
Flowers' struggles at the plate (.205, 8 HR, 22 RBI) have left the door wide open for Phegley, something Ventura doesn't see as an entirely bad thing.
"In any situation I like that it pushes both [Flowers and Phegley]," Ventura said. "Competition's not always bad. You'd like to see it get the best out of both of them."
When you're the hottest player on a disappointing ballclub in one of the biggest cities in the world, the spotlight is going to find you whether you like it or not.
Prior to his debut at U.S. Cellular Field on Monday, Phegley was surrounded by a phalanx of media from his hometown of Terre Haute, Ind., chronicling his every move before the game.
For the reticent Phegley, it's just something that comes with the territory.
"I mean you've gotta deal with it I guess," he said, shrugging. "It was definitely tough. You've got some hitters' meetings and meeting with the pitching coach to go over the lineup and then you get asked questions from the media in between there. You're just trying not to be late to anything."
"He's just one of those guys that's kind of born to be a catcher I guess," Ventura added. "He's just a tough guy, tough-minded."
For all Phegley's accomplished in the week he's spent living out his childhood dreams, the humble catcher from small-town Indiana says he's most proud of one thing.
"It's definitely good not to go hitless in my major league career I guess," he said. "I'm just getting started."
Matt Lindner is a RedEye special contributor.
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