At first, the journey didn’t make much sense to Josh Ockimey. The 26-year-old first baseman was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the fifth round of the 2014 draft, but he found it hard to rise through the ranks. For seven seasons, he refined his game in silence, patiently waiting for his chance at the big leagues. It didn’t come with Boston, and he hit free agency this winter unsure of where his career would go.
While he waited, he continued to work in silence. He worked on his picks at first base, worked on keeping his bat in the zone for a little bit longer, and then finally, last week, he received the call he’d been waiting for. His agent had gone to the Phillies to see if they’d be interested in signing him, and they came back with an offer. And that’s when it clicked: It was time to go home.
Ockimey likely would have benefited from a fresh start anywhere, but ending up on the team he grew up watching felt particularly serendipitous. He was raised about 10 minutes away from Citizens Bank Park, in the Elmwood neighborhood of southwest Philadelphia. His high school, Neumann Goretti, was so close to the ballpark that the track team would often run there and back as a workout. His travel team, the Philly Bandits, was run by David Amaro, brother of former Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.
As a young ballplayer, Ockimey devoured the legendary Phillies teams of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins. One of his fondest memories was skipping class to attend the World Series parade on Broad Street in 2008 — and witnessing Utley drop an F-bomb in the middle of his speech at the ballpark.
“It’s part of the city,” he said with a laugh. “I think that moment kind of defines the sports town we grew up in. They love their athletes. They love hard-nosed, blue-collar players.”
Fourteen years later, that is the player Ockimey has become. He’s battled his way through the minor leagues, but looks back on those seven seasons in the Boston organization with acceptance, rather than bitterness. This is his journey, and it has brought him here, to the city that shaped him, with a real chance to contribute.
Ockimey doesn’t hit for high average, but brings some natural pop from the left side of the plate — which could be useful in a Phillies lineup that is heavy on right-handed hitters. He hit 25 home runs for triple-A Pawtucket in 2019, and 15 for triple-A Worcester in 2021, slashing .225/.358/.416. He’s skilled at getting on base — he drew 145 walks through 220 games over the past two seasons. Entering 2022, Ockimey could provide some depth behind Rhys Hoskins at first base, or at DH, to balance out the lineup.
“I’m ecstatic to be here,” he said. “Obviously, the main goal is to reach the major leagues. And not only reach it, but to stay there. I’ve been training and I want to get to the point soon, if not now, where I can say to them, ‘Hey, trust me. Believe in me.’”
Ironically, Ockimey received the news that he’d be joining his hometown team while he was in Sarasota, Fla., where he lives with his girlfriend. This has been his first offseason that he’s spent away from home, but Philadelphia is still very much with him. Before he began his minor league career, he was convinced that “water” was pronounced “wooder.” He swears by Wawa coffee, and will drive out of his way, if necessary, to buy a cup. He has figured out where, in Sarasota, Fla., to watch an Eagles game, and he streams WIP 94.1-FM’s morning show five times a week. He was listening even more of late, amid the lead-up to the James Harden trade, so he wouldn’t miss the segments when former Sixers GM Billy King was on.
“Last time I was listening, Billy was like, ‘Harden would be a good fit. You got to take the emotion out of it, he’s a good basketball player,’” he said. “And I’m like, ‘Exactly! Exactly!’”
All of this is to say that for Ockimey, the journey is starting to make some sense. He doesn’t know where it will lead, but he hopes that at some point, he’ll get the chance to swing a bat at Citizens Bank Park, and perhaps stay for a while.
“I would love to make a long career here,” he said. “Everything happens for a reason, and this time, my journey brought me back home.”