2017 Phillies Report Card: Rhys Hoskins Crashbag
I met the man at a pretty good tapas joint in Barcelona on the eve of the Catalan Secession Referendum. He was having a Sangria, of course, and talking up the Ibérico he’d earlier sampled at the all-too-brightly-lit spot around the corner. I wondered if he really knew what he was talking about, or if he was just halfway drunk already, because that place, I’d been told just the day before, always, *always* passes off their lower-end Jamóns to tourists.
Rhys Hoskins stood out like a sore thumb, what with his imposing physicality, and the fact that he clearly learned the broken Spanish he was mustering from spending last winter as a line cook at Distrito.
Minor league pay is shit, as we all know, so much so that even a potential future star can’t afford to squander an offer to work at an upscale Cantina as a resume builder in case things go wrong at the five-cornered dish or, God forbid, the injury bug bites down hard and refuses to yield.
I approached him cold with my equally sweat-stained and sun-faded charcoal Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs cap as an ice breaker. We struck up a conversation about all things Allentown. Rhys had spent the better part of spring and half of summer 2017 in “The Valley”, as us natives sometimes call it, and all he had to show for it was a little-used season pass to Dorney and an International League MVP award. As we sampled the 60-grade Gambas Al Ajillo, he lamented missing The Red Elvises at Musikfest in early August. He was busy that day, he said, but I told him that I saw them at Volksplatz as long ago as the late-90s, and again a year or two after that, so they’ll almost certainly be back. We both wondered if they’d ever tried to sue over the obvious rip-off of their tune “Love Pipe” that was Weezer’s “Hash Pipe”. We ordered some Piquillos stuffed with what turned out to be a really mediocre Idiazabal. Meh.
As we contemplated our next spot to crawl, I asked Rhys what he thought about some of Philly’s all-time greats. He was a fan of Chuck Klein, of course, as are all fans of his generation. He said he liked Richies Allen and Ashburn, and Schmidt and Carlton, of course. He felt a little weird wearing Scott Rolen’s old number and all but copying his posture at the plate as well, and he said that he hoped he’d someday be at least as revered as the Phils great third-sacker. It would be hard not to be, for some fans and media members who treated Rolen like trash, I said. Rhys stood stoic, not wanting to say too much. You could sense that he thinks some of us are absolute dicks. Fair.
Our the door and into the air – a beautiful night for contemplating true independence in place of mere autonomy. – like a promotion to the bigs. We settled in with a colorful Paella at a communal table on the square, and the smiling slugger invited a couple of young-and-in-love passers-by to sit and share the slightly-too-salty fare. What a nice young man, I thought. Even if he doesn’t really have a vowel in his first name. “Y is a vowel”, he said aloud. Was he reading my mind? No. I was just starting to lose my filter. Better slow down on the hooch.
The conversation went from tomatoes to olives, to salt cod and uni, and finally came around to Chase Utley, as most of my conversations, foreign and domestic, tend to do. Hoskins lit up when we talked about “The Deke”, and Utley’s wasted dominance at the plate in the 2009 Series, saying Utley was both his hero and his all-time favorite Phillie. He said he hopes The Man adds a couple milestones or another ring to bolster his Hall or Fame case. Maybe this is the year for the latter “if they can get past that solid Nats team”. Sure, sure. Right. That Solid Ol’ Nats Club.
As we split the last of the flaky bread with the mainly-burnt onion slivers on top, (yes, good), Rhys mentioned how he sure does “hate the G-D-M-F Yankees”. This guy gets it, I thought. And he can spell. I ordered a nice Cava for the table and we toasted to “The Repeated Downfall of The Bums From The Bronx”. The Paella-sharing couple looked confused as heck. I think they were from Warsaw. The language barrier, it seemed, was taller than Kyle Young.
Rhys killed the Cava before we hiked a couple blocks off the square to a bakery this amazing busking guitarist told us about. They had these little half-dollar sized cookies with tiny chunks of maybe 80-85% Cacao. I barely remember the rest of the evening, but before we hit the street again and everything turns dark, Hoskins said, “Best cookies ever, man. Raisins can go screw. Someday when I’m bigger than everyone on the club, I’mma tell Matty K to get rid of all the oatmeal people, or watch me walk.”
Turns out those Poles knew enough English to keep up with cookie talk. Admirable.
I woke up in the passenger seat of a beat-up teal/blue Mini in a parking lot on the far side of Mataró. Had to thumb it back to the hotel. Hard to complain, though – Rhys texted me that The Poles had made off with his passport, all his cash, and left just a half-decent caricature someone had drawn of him and me. The upside – it had the totally baller nicknames “The Sac-Town Stinger” for Rhys and “DC DONNIE” for me. I guess someone thought my name was Donnie.
It was Rhys. Rhys Hoskins thinks I’m called Donnie. No way am I correcting him.