In April 2018, Joe Girardi and his wife, Kimberly, were at a high school baseball tournament in North Carolina when a lanky right-handed pitcher took the mound. Seven innings later, that pitcher — a freshman named Andrew Painter — had yet to allow a hit, until a third baseman ripped a line drive single to finally get his team on the board.

Painter wasn’t shaken. He promptly recorded three straight outs to finish the game (which was seven innings long), and complete his day of work at 92 pitches, seven strikeouts, and a 3-0 win for Calvary Christian Academy in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

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The Girardis were in attendance to see their son, Dante, who was a sophomore infielder for Calvary Christian at the time. What was meant to be a showing of parental support inadvertently became a de facto scouting trip for the Phillies, who would hire Girardi to be their manager two years later.

As Painter walked off the mound, Girardi turned to his wife.

“This is what a first-round pick looks like,” he said.

Girardi proved to be correct. In 2021, the Phillies took Painter in the first round of the MLB draft, at No. 13, overall. It was the first time in 19 years that the Phillies had gone with high schoolers in the first round of back-to-back drafts, a move that some saw as risky. But Phillies scouting director Brian Barber had done his homework. He and his team had made a point of watching every one of Painter’s starts dating back to the summer of 2020.

In those starts, they saw a pitcher with a ton of upside. Painter seemingly had everything — a four-pitch mix, a fastball that touched 97 mph, an innate feel for pitching, and a towering 6-7 build — but there was one issue that was nagging at Barber.

“He’s a really happy-go-lucky kid,” Barber said. “The question was, how competitive is he? Is his desire to really go out and dominate and win? On the field, how tough is he? We didn’t really get to see that because 99% of the time he just went out and dominated. Even on the mound, he’d joke around at times. He’s not going to give the Roger Clemens scowl at a hitter.”

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Barber had met with Painter and his family, but only for an hour. He decided to give Girardi a call, a few months before the draft, to see if he could get some answers. Girardi responded by giving Painter a glowing recommendation, lauding the 18-year-old’s ability to cope with adversity (even if, at times, it looked like he was joking around). Barber had heard everything he needed to hear.

“We, as a scouting department, were already sold on Andy, with his sky- high potential of becoming a front-of-the-rotation type pitcher,” Barber said. “Bringing an 18-year-old into your organization and making him your first pick is something that you have to take seriously. Joe’s endorsement gave me that comfort that this was the right guy to be able to do that with.”

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With the MLB draft, it became official: Painter would start his career in the Phillies organization, where he would be reunited with his former teammate’s dad. He Facetimed Dante to give him the good news, and Joe called Painter’s mother, Leslie, to congratulate her. It felt like a full-circle moment for Painter, who also played basketball with Dante at Calvary Christian and had known Joe more as an eager father who raked the infield dirt more than anything else.

“He would rake the field before practice,” Painter said. “We’d go out there and help sometimes.”

“I turned all the dirt over with a rototiller,” Girardi added. “I thought my forearms were going to pass out. The head coach was supposed to help me, Alan Kunkel, who is now an assistant at University of Alabama Birmingham, but his dog had a bunch of accidents in the house and the car and he had to clean them up, so I’m like ‘Where is this guy?’ I wasn’t coaching at the time and I wanted their experience to be the best that it could so I helped out.”

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Girardi has made a point of connecting with Painter since they’re both in Clearwater, Fla., for the Phillies’ minor-league spring training. He said that a lot of pressure can come with being picked in the first round, especially for a pitcher so young. He plans on checking in on him from time to time, but overall, he isn’t too concerned about the right-hander’s ability to adjust to this next level of his career.

“Funny things line up in this game sometimes,” Girardi said. “That’s just the way it happens. I happened to be part of David Cone’s perfect game on Yogi Berra Day and Don Larsen was in the stands. That’s kind of freaky. Things have to align sometimes and they really did. I’m extremely pleased that we have him because I know a lot about him. I know his mother and his father. I know his work ethic and I know his competitiveness.”