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The unpretentious joy of Brett Phillips

We should all love baseball as much as Brett Phillips loves baseball

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

I have a theory about Brett Phillips. This theory is that he’s basically Tom Hanks in Big, a super-enthusiastic 12-year-old wishing to become a MLB player, who wakes up one day to discover he has become a 27-year-old outfielder for the Tampa Bay Rays. Now, I know this idea sounds wild, but it’s truly the most logical explanation I have to capture the absolutely limitless excitement Brett Phillip brings to the game of baseball.

It’s important to note that Phillips is not an especially good player, at least offensively, in spite of all the other gifts he brings to the table. At present, he’s hitting only .199/.314/.315 with an 84 wRC+. These are not unusual numbers, but rather par for the career for Phillips, and yet I don’t think you’d find many Rays fans out there clamoring for him to be benched.

Part of that may be that he’s actually a better outfielder at the moment than Kevin Kiermaier, and don’t let Kiermaier’s replay-worthy exploits distract you. Entering the last week of play before the All-Star break, Phillips has a DRS of 10 in the outfield, while Kiermaier has a 6. Kiermaier is also floundering at the plate with an average of .227/.282/.304 and an anemic 67 wRC+. In spite of Kiermaier declaring himself to be the best centerfielder in baseball, he is being overshadowed by someone under the Mendoza line.

That’s largely because what Phillips offers is more than statistical quality, rather it’s a pure, exuberant enthusiasm for the game, something from which both the Rays and baseball in general, can benefit. Prior to the 2021 season, Phillips is probably best known for the hit that made highlight reels in Game Four of the 2020 World Series, the hit that ultimately won the game.

He was also the unofficial team cheerleader that season, making signs from the dugout to support his more offensively impactful teammates.

This season, even as the Rays struggled initially to start out of the gate, his “just happy to be here” doggedness made it hard to feel down and out through the doldrums. As the team climbed their way up the AL East standings, Phillips's excitement grew, and he began making his own remarkable outfield catches, and getting his own moments worth mentioning in postgame analysis and shareable video clips.

Most recently his name was making the rounds through MLB sites because of an absolutely hilarious pitching appearance that is everything wonderful about position players pitching, and the incredible postgame interview where he couldn’t stop smiling while explaining to the media about his Mariano Rivera-esque cutter.

Phillips won’t compete for team MVP and he’s not on the 2021 All-Star roster, but he absolutely embodies the never-say-die attitude that makes a team infinitely watchable. He has made some sensational catches in the outfield, and at every turn, his in-game appearances have been marked by a level of eagerness best rated as “intense.”

My theory about Phillips: his Big-like move to the majors might not be real. I think it’s safe to say, however, that there are few players who endear themselves to baseball fans with their giddy love of the game quite like Phillips is doing. Ultimately it seems like he is fully aware of just how fleeting a career in baseball can be, and how quickly things may change for him.

Phillips is making the most of every single moment he has, and it’s truly a delight to watch.