HOUSTON — As the team bus wound its way through downtown Thursday morning en route to Minute Maid Park, Phillies baseball operations president Dave Dombrowski chatted with some players.
“You haven’t seen the World Series yet,” he said. “Wait until you get to the World Series. I mean the [League Championship Series] is great. The World Series is different.”
And just in case any of the Phillies doubted that Dombrowski knew what he was talking about, that he wasn’t just making conversation or being folksy, consider what awaited them when they arrived on the eve of the 118 Houston Astros.
» READ MORE: Phillies vs. Astros Predictions: Who Will Win the World Series?
Start with the makeshift video studio in a hallway between the clubhouses, the flashing red strobe lights and the Fox Sports team of cameramen shouting “set, set, action” while Phillies players posed and moved around the series’ trophy . And it wasn’t just Bryce Harper, JT Realmuto and other star players who were invited to participate.
“What am I supposed to be doing here?” midfielder Brandon Marsh asked at one point during his video shoot, which preceded pitchers Ranger Suárez and Seranthony Domínguez, who had a false tug-of-war with the trophy.
Soon after, the players moved to the club level in the ballpark’s 200 level, where everyone sat at a designated table and answered questions from reporters at a Super Bowl-style media day, not just about baseball.
None of this came as a surprise to Dombrowski. This is his fifth World Series (with his fourth organization) in a leadership career that will almost certainly see him inducted into the Hall of Fame. It was probably old hat for the Astros, too. Much of their roster was in the World Series last year. Houston has played in three of the last five World Series, with infielders Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Yuli Gurriel appearing in all three.
But the Phillies? Aside from Kyle Schwarber (2016 Cubs) and David Robertson (2009 Yankees), none of the players have experienced this before. Prior to this year, few had ever made the playoffs.
‘It’s the big dance, isn’t it?’ said Rhys Hoskins. “I mean, just look at this room. How many people are in here? Coverage from around the world, probably. But where better to stay now? Usually I probably book a tee time somewhere. But I can spend my day preparing for a practice session on a field where we’re going to play the greatest series of our lives. It is wonderful.”
And totally unexpected.
The Phillies came to Houston on Oct. 3 and secured a playoff berth — the last of three National League wild cards, a berth up to this one — with a 3-0 win behind 6⅔ innings scoreless by Aaron Nola year did not even exist. Two nights later, after ending the season with an 87-75 record, they flew to St. Louis for the wildcard series.
Before they left, Harper knocked on Astros manager Dusty Baker’s office door. Harper played for Baker at the Washington Nationals in 2016-17 and was looking to catch up.
“I said, ‘I’ll cheer for you guys when you’re there and we’re not. But I hope to see you guys,'” Harper said. “And he said the same thing.”
And here they are.
“It’s pretty surreal, isn’t it?” Third baseman Alec Bohm said. “It’s the last two teams. Everyone else is at home. All my buddies are training and starting their off-season.
We’re still playing for something. It is fun.”
So Marsh and the others struck a pose during their video shoots. The Phillies practiced while an MLB Network tent was set up along the first baseline and fulfilled their media obligations.
“I’m just like, ‘Tell me what to do’ because it’s my first time,” Marsh said. “It’s just talking, look at the camera. It was cool to look into the cameras afterwards and see the unfinished product. It was pretty sick.”
Hoskins said: “I’m not necessarily a natural in this environment, but where we are and why we’re here, it’s easy to just let go and go with it. I take the direction. And I asked for it. I have never been here. But for the World Series, shoot, I’ll do it all day.
There was a “full circle” feel to all of this. Not only will the World Series reunite Harper and Baker where the regular season left off, but the Phillies will also face Astros ace Justin Verlander in Game 1, who is favored to win his third career Cy Young Award . The 39-year-old right-hander made his debut with Dombrowski’s Detroit Tigers in 2005 as a 22-year-old.
» READ MORE: Assessing the World Series MVP Betting Market
“When did you restart your career?” said Dombrowski, interrupting Verlander’s press conference.
“He’s still wearing the same cologne, by the way,” Verlander said. “I smell it. It’s a very distinct one. I remember that smell.”
Nola will surely remember the feel of the hill at Minute Maid Park. Twenty-four nights after throwing the Phillies into the playoffs, he will start Game 1.
Maybe then it will feel like another baseball game. Probably not.
“We did video shoots like this at the LCS in San Diego, so it was pretty much the same,” Bohm said. “But then you start walking around the trophy, the World Series trophy, and you’re like, ‘This isn’t normal. It is different.'”
Just like Dombrowski had told them.
“It’s all over the world now,” Dombrowski said. “It’s a different level of intensity. It is great.”