MIAMI — There’s a rhythm to the way Johan Camargo stands at the plate. He’ll have his front toes down, and his heel up, as his legs rock back and forth, back and forth. His hands, clutching his bat, will do the same, rocking back and forth, from his chest, to his head, from his chest, to his head. Sometimes he’ll crouch down low, and sometimes, when he’s off balance, he’ll do a little shuffle. But no matter what happens, Camargo is always in rhythm, as if he’s following some internal beat ringing through his head.
Second baseman Jean Segura, who likes to watch the Phillies utility man bat from the dugout, has a word for it.
“Flow,” he says in Spanish. “He has a style to the way he plays. There are a lot of players who don’t have that, who don’t have charisma. He has it.”
Camargo’s flow emanates through every facet of his game. First, there’s his look. He wears not one but two necklaces, a diamond nose ring, and two stud earrings on each ear. Rather than just rubbing eye black haphazardly on his cheeks, he’ll carefully cut out pieces of black KT tape to put there instead. He mixes and matches his shoelaces and arm sleeves with precision, so he’s never wearing the same color, always a blend of red, white, and gray.
Then, there is his defense. No matter what position Camargo is playing, he will contort his body to reach the ball that’s hit to him. He’ll dive, he’ll run, he’ll jump — whatever it takes. Camargo has a job that is not an easy one. Not knowing when your next at-bat is going to come is not easy. Not knowing what position you will field in your next game is not easy. But Camargo makes it look easy — and that’s because of his internal flow, which has guided him since he was a young ballplayer in Panama.
Things weren’t easy then, either. Of MLB’s 22,602 major league players, only 113 have come from Camargo’s homeland. He grew up playing multiple sports, but his true love was soccer, until a scout helped him realize that he had a unique skill: the ability to hit a baseball consistently. Camargo knew that if he was going to make it in professional sports, it would be in baseball. But if he was going to commit to that, he was going to bring his flow with him.
“I loved the emotion of soccer,” he said in Spanish. “So I decided to bring that emotion to the way I play baseball.”
The Phillies signed Camargo as a free agent in December, just before the lockout. Before that, he spent a decade in the Braves organization but never found a full-time spot in the big leagues after losing a battle for third base to Austin Riley. Luckily for Camargo, in Philadelphia, that spot is wide-open, and manager Joe Girardi has already said that Camargo is the team’s best defensive option at that position.
Beyond that, the 28-year-old switch-hitter has quickly become one of the Phillies’ most consistent hitters, with a five-game hitting streak through his first six games of the season. This takes some pressure off the Phillies’ louder bats, but so does Camargo’s energy.
“Before the game, I always say, at game time, we’re starting BP,” he said. “We’re going to kill it. We have to have that mentality. We have to go out with that good energy.”
He’ll cheer his teammates on from the dugout. He’s always teasing them (which sometimes includes imitating players’ different Latin American accents). In short, he brings lightness to the clubhouse. This is an important season for the Phillies, perhaps the most anticipated season in the past decade. A missed playoff berth would be a serious disappointment, and a looming, singular goal like that can weigh on a player. But Camargo is determined to not let it weigh too much. So he’ll stay in lockstep with that internal beat, emanating the flow that come to characterize his game, and hoping that his teammates capture some of it, too.