Ever since Andy Phillips signed with the Hiroshima Carp in late June, the Japanese media has been a group divided. Seems they just can't figure out who he looks more like--Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt.
Phillips has heard it all before, but this has been taking it to a new level.
"Not to this extent," Phillips said at Tokyo Dome late last week, when asked if he had been compared to movie stars in the past. "I've had people here and there make comments, but never to this extent, so it's kind of funny."
While that debate rages among local scribes, Phillips, 32, a former New York Yankee, has gotten off to quick start in Japan, which is not atypical of him.
The versatile Phillips, who plays both infield and outfield, homered in his first game with the Carp, a 4-3 loss to the Yomiuri Giants in Gifu last Tuesday, and also smacked a three-run shot Sunday in Yokohama. Through his first six games in Japan, Phillips already has eight RBIs to his credit and is hitting a shade under .300.
In his first major-league at-bat--first pitch, in fact--with the Yankees against the Red Sox on Sept. 14, 2004, Phillips homered over the Green Monster at Boston's Fenway Park. Talk about your "Welcome-to-the-big-leagues" moment.
"That's what I shoot for, but it doesn't always work out that way," said Phillips, when asked about getting off to a quick start.
2004 was also the year Phillips was named the top player in the Yankees' minor-league system with a batting average of .321, 101 RBIs and 30 home runs. The future looked bright for the good-looking kid from Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
When Phillips finally got a chance to crack the Yanks' formidable lineup in 2006, playing first base when Jason Giambi moved into the designated-hitter role, he started off well--as usual--leading the club with a .333 batting average into July before tailing off and finishing the year at .240 in 246 at-bats.
When called up to the big club in June of the following year, he also began well, but he took a pitch on the wrist on Sept. 2 that fractured a bone and required season-ending surgery.
Prior to the 2008 season, Phillips signed a minor-league free-agent deal with Cincinnati. He spent that season and the early part of 2009 bouncing around the Reds, Mets, Pirates and White Sox systems, mostly in the minor leagues, before striking a deal with Hiroshima toward the end of June.
Carp manager Marty Brown likes what he has seen of Phillips so far, which is pretty much what he expected. Brown feels that a veteran presence like Phillips will help his club relax at the dish a little more, which will lead to a more "consistent offense."
"He doesn't look at it like he's in Japan hitting--he's just looking at it like there's a baseball coming at him and he doesn't care who's holding it before they let go of it," Brown said after Phillips' four RBIs sparked the Carp to a 6-4 win over the BayStars on Sunday. "That's why he's so successful--he's cocky and very sure of himself when he hits. I'm sure he'll have to make some adjustments as we go on but Andy's going to be Andy."
Phillips signed a one-year deal with the Carp worth a base salary of 40 million yen, with an option for a second year. It's still early but so far, so good, he says.
"It's a blast, I'm really enjoying this," he said after taking his hacks in the batting cage. "I'm enjoying the energy, the baseball, the country, everything."