Freddy Galvis has become the Phillies' leader. But what is his future here?
"I think he's probably the most underrated player in baseball," veteran pitcher Clay Buchholz said. "I really do."
The request, Pete Mackanin joked, was more of a demand. This was maybe a month ago, well before Freddy Galvis slugged a home run on the same day his second daughter was born. "How are you feeling?" Mackanin asked Galvis. Fine, Galvis said. And, by the way, no need to ask that question again.
There was not a moment when the shortstop decided he would strive to start every game this season. The Phillies have a 162-game schedule. Galvis is paid $4.35 million to work.
"If we are playing," Galvis said, "I want to play."
The first three months of this Phillies season were challenging for those who wore Phillies across their chest. The veteran players who joined the group were acquired under the expectation that they would be traded, so their loyalty to this team was finite. The rest of the room was filled with unestablished, young players.
So this is Galvis' team. The Venezuelan bristles at that suggestion — "I'm just trying to play hard every day," he said — but that is how his teammates see it.
"Everybody has noticed," Andres Blanco, the seasoned infielder, said. "If somebody doesn't, he's not watching the game. Honestly."
The present, sometimes, can be lost in the grand scheme of this rebuilding operation. These are the facts: The Phillies like J.P. Crawford, who is 22 and blessed with a proclivity for getting on base. He plays shortstop. He has underperformed at triple A, prompting doubt from some scouts but patient pleas from others. Galvis is 27, under contract through 2018, and one of the finer defenders in baseball. He has a career .283 on-base percentage, although it is .303 in 2017.
And he has responded to the challenge issued by Mackanin and others, including Blanco, before this season. Be a leader, they told him. Lead by example. Show the unestablished players how to respect this game, just as Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins and Carlos Ruiz did for you. Lead, if you want, with your words. Galvis has done that in private clubhouse chats and through impassioned, curse-filled rants to reporters after Phillies losses.
"He's the everyday guy," first baseman Tommy Joseph said. "He's the guy we're going to turn to every day. That's just being a gamer. We all look to him."
"He's wanted to really push us to be better," outfielder Aaron Altherr said.
Clay Buchholz is a veteran of 11 seasons in the majors. An elbow injury has reduced him to dugout cheerleader, but Buchholz has spent considerable time around the team while at Citizens Bank Park. He approached Galvis and Blanco during batting practice earlier this week. He wanted to tell Galvis how he had been impressed by his game from afar, as an opponent, and how his opinion changed in three months.
"Being here, and seeing what he does, I think he's probably the most underrated player in baseball," Buchholz said. "I really do. The way he goes about his business on the field, in the clubhouse. He's a great teammate.
"If he doesn't win a Gold Glove this year, I don't know who deserves one more. He's a bright spot in this organization, for sure."
But Galvis could be in the right place at the wrong time. The Phillies will not be competitive before Galvis reaches free agency. They want players with good on-base skills, and they will not be competitive until they make outs at a less-frequent rate. It is not hard to envision Galvis batting eighth on a team filled with better players and providing considerable value with his glove and leadership. But the Phillies do not have that luxury. At least not yet.
"People sometimes don't appreciate how valuable a guy like that is," Larry Bowa said. "It's unbelievable."
This is a passionate topic for Bowa because he works more closely with Galvis than anyone else on the club. The 71-year-old bench coach is a former shortstop, one known for his glove and not his bat. He took pride in playing with energy. So does Galvis.
"This guy wants to win as bad as anybody I've seen," Bowa said. "He takes it personally when we lose. I'm sure he's starting to understand this: He could go 0 for 24, and the way he plays out there, he saves a ton of runs. I tried to tell him that in spring training. You don't have to hit .300 to be a leader. I think he's well aware of that. Everybody in there respects the way he plays."
"I wouldn't swap that kid for anybody, even if they hit 40 homers," Blanco said. "He comes to play and win every day. That's why he's the guy."
Galvis' mom is a teacher in Venezuela. His dad worked for an oil company before he was laid off and coached Galvis' baseball teams. Sal Agostinelli, the Phillies' director of international scouting, forged a strong relationship with Galvis' father. The family fielded at least six better offers than the one from the Phillies, who promised Galvis $90,000 from their limited budget. But they were the first to offer, and they had tracked Galvis since he was 14.
"They were honest with us," Galvis said. "I'm an honest person."
Now it's been 11 years — more than a third of his life — spent with the Phillies organization. Galvis, in the last calendar year, has hit .258 with a .303 on-base percentage and .428 slugging percentage. Those numbers rank 13th, 16th and 10th among all shortstops. It's been the best stretch of his career. For comparison: All National League batters have hit .254/.323/.418 in the last 365 days.
Galvis has been on the field for all but six of this season's 739 innings. If he starts all 162 games at shortstop, he'd be just the fourth player to do it (Jimmy Rollins, Miguel Tejada, Alcides Escobar) since Cal Ripken's streak ended in 1997.
"Really, the kind of thing you like to hear," Mackanin said. "He's determined to do that."
It might not be good enough to keep him here, past this malaise between eras of winning Phillies. But, while he's here, he will play. Every day.