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At-bat meant everything to former Crosscutter Logan O’Hoppe

SUN-GAZETTE FILE PHOTO Logan O’Hoppe celebrates after scoring a run during a game wtih the Williamsport Crosscutters.

Phillies bench coach Rob Thomson walked over to Logan O’Hoppe and told the 20-year-old he would hit after Alec Bohm in the ninth inning. The emotion spread like wildfire through O’Hoppe.

He had been sitting in the Yankee Stadium visitors dugout for eight innings and knew he needed to find a way to get loose. So he walked through the tunnel to the batting cage to get in some swings. O’Hoppe has been to Yankee Stadium more times than he can count in his life as a Long Island native. None of them involved seeing this part of one of Major League Baseball’s cathedrals.

In his three weeks as part of the Philadelphia Phillies’ 60-man Summer Camp player pool, he never felt intimidated playing on big league fields. But in this moment, getting ready to hit in a stadium less than 50 miles from where he played high school baseball, he couldn’t help but realize this was a little different.

He had played at Yankee Stadium once in high school in a scouting showcase. But now he was wearing a Philadelphia Phillies uniform. Tony Zych, pitching for the Yankees, is a veteran of 70 Major League games. O’Hoppe has played 79 minor league games since being drafted in 2018, 48 of which came with the Williamsport Crosscutters last summer, and none of which have come above rookie ball. On top of that, he was the only player in the Phillies dugout with a birth year not in the 1900s.

None of that mattered as he grabbed his bat and put on his helmet. He was just another player in an MLB scrimmage. O’Hoppe refocused quickly as he reached the on-deck circle, reminding himself he had a job to do. He went over his approach and dialed in. He could hear former Phillies baserunning coordinator Rob Ducey in his head saying 93 miles per hour in the minors was the same as 93 in the big leagues.

Bohm grounded out to shortstop and O’Hoppe walked toward the plate. He told Yankees catcher Erik Kratz, a former Phillie, it was nice to meet him after the stories he heard about Kratz from the Phillies’ coaching staff.

O’Hoppe dialed back in to the job at hand. Phillies mental skills coach Hannah Huesman’s reminder baseball is the same game at every level rang through his ears. He stepped out of the box for one final practice swing and Kratz cracked a joke, eliciting a big smile from O’Hoppe which, no matter how much he tried, he couldn’t hide.

Slider, outside corner, 80 mph, called strike.

O’Hoppe stepped back with his left foot and looked at his bat. He quickly readied himself for Zych’s second pitch. For the moment he was safe from another Kratz quip and his face was stoic.

Slider, high, 80 mph, ball one.

O’Hoppe again stepped back. As he raised his right arm to adjust the sleeve of his red spring training jersey, Kratz fired off another joke which got the player half his age to again laugh and smile. O’Hoppe again focused on the pitcher. Kratz fired off another joke for another smile.

Slider, inside corner, 80 mph, fly out to left field.

It wasn’t just a hittable pitch, it was crushable, a cement mixer of a hanging breaking ball begging to be deposited into the stands. It was one which O’Hoppe could have sent to the same upper deck front-row seat in left field where he caught a Manny Machado home run two years ago at Yankee Stadium.

But he just missed it. Some 368 feet from home plate, the baseball settled into the glove of Yankee left fielder Zack Granite as he took his fourth and fifth steps on to the warning track.

“I knew I missed it. I was pissed off about it, too,” O’Hoppe said. “But being in that spot was super great. I just wish I had stayed on the ball a little bit more.”

O’Hoppe returned to the dugout to no fanfare whatsoever from his teammates. In three weeks with the Phillies, he had become one of them and his at-bat was just another in a meaningless nine-inning game to prepare everyone for Opening Day today against the Miami Marlins. But to a New York native, that one at-bat meant everything.

Nobody expected something like this to happen so quickly in O’Hoppe’s career. He was a 23rd-round draft pick out of St. John the Baptist High School in West Islip, New York, in 2018. He spent the early part of last summer at extended spring training in Florida before joining the Williamsport Crosscutters for the remainder of the season in June. Over his final 30 games with the Cutters, O’Hoppe slashed .262/.302/.505. The Crosscutters Booster Club voted him the team’s most popular player. The Cutters’ front office staff voted him the winner of the Max and Alta Border Good Guy Award for Community Service.

As he trained at home during the COVID-19 pandemic quarantine, he joked with his trainer they’d be getting the call for him to go to Philadelphia for Summer Camp any day. It was a joke because what’s the likelihood a rookie ball catcher would be added to the Phillies’ 60-man player pool as they prepared for the resumption of the season?

But on June 28 he got the most unexpected call saying that’s exactly what the Phillies were doing. He had to be in Philadelphia on July 1.

“It was absolutely surreal to be there the first day. But I never felt intimidated by the moment,” O’Hoppe said. “This is where I always wanted to be, at Citizens Bank Park, so I was honestly ready to get going and get back to work. But it was surreal when I realized where my feet were.”

His goal was to spend however long he was at Summer Camp as the awkward quiet kid in the corner. He wanted to keep his eyes and ears open and his mouth shut and soak in everything he could. When he was drafted in 2018, Huesman gave him a notebook to write down things he learned along his travels through the Phillies’ minor league system. That notebook is now full, and it’s primarily full from things he saw and heard while at Summer Camp.

He wanted to watch established veterans like Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto and Jake Arrieta and see how they went about putting in their work. What he learned was those players were laser focused when it was time to work, but they always made sure to have fun at the same time. O’Hoppe knows sometimes he can forget that part and will overthink the task at hand.

He enjoyed working with pitchers who knew exactly who they were and what it was they wanted to work on each time they threw a bullpen session. In the lower levels of the minors, O’Hoppe often is helping pitchers develop who they are as competitors and finding their comfort zone.

“I really got to sit back and just observe,” O’Hoppe said. “I watched those guys in spring training a little bit, too, and I could see how they walked around and the presence they carried with them. I want to replicate that in the way I do things.”

The information he was hit with in meetings and he was picking up on the field was overwhelming. He didn’t take any of it for granted. He didn’t even have to pick the brain of Phillies manager Joe Girardi because just hearing his thoughts and opinions on different things helped shape the way O’Hoppe thought about those same things.

He saw some game action in the team’s intrasquad scrimmages at Citizens Bank Park, but never did he expect to get the at-bat he did at Yankee Stadium until Thomson told him to grab a bat. In the days since that one at-bat and its innocuous fly ball, O’Hoppe has had over 250 messages from people who saw the game live or saw the video posted by Major League Baseball.

He’s answered them as he’s found time, starting with the individuals who helped make the moment possible. O’Hoppe was sent with the rest of the Phillies’ taxi squad players to Lehigh Valley on Tuesday following their last scrimmage – in which he hit an inside-the-park home run – to stay sharp in case the Phillies need reinforcements during their 60-game season. He still thinks about his one official spring training at-bat, mostly because he knows he just missed the pitch. But he hasn’t had time to really reflect on the moment. There will be time to do that when this whole ride is over, whenever that may be.

“Listen, I love my mom’s cooking and all,” O’Hoppe said. “But I want to hang around here as long as I can.”

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