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Column: How Angels’ Brett Phillips turned a wacky World Series play into a small business

For Angels outfielder Brett Phillips, baseball is about having fun, including on photo day Tuesday in Tempe, Ariz.
(Morry Gash / Associated Press)
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The first image one remembers from the 2020 World Series: Julio Urías throwing a called third strike, crouching behind the mound and pumping his fists, then rising to hug catcher Austin Barnes as teammates swarm in celebration. For the first time since 1988, the Dodgers were champions.

The second image one remembers from the 2020 World Series: a giddy man prancing around the field, flapping his arms up and down in glee. Brett Phillips plays for the Angels now, but he played for the Tampa Bay Rays then.

His hit ended a game. He might be a career .188 hitter, but he is immortalized for that one hit. The Hall of Fame took his cleats. His career batting average in the World Series: 1.000.

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“I have a moment in time I can tell my kids about,” Phillips said.

He was not supposed to bat in that World Series. He had not batted in 17 days. He was on the roster because he is an exceptional defender and swift runner.

In the eighth inning of Game 4, he entered as a pinch-runner. In the top of the ninth, he moved into right field. In the bottom of the ninth, with the Rays trailing by one run and Kenley Jansen on to close for the Dodgers, a coach reminded Phillips he would bat fifth that inning and predicted he would deliver the game-winning hit.

“God has a funny sense of humor,” Phillips said, “putting Brett Phillips in that situation.”

Two on, two out, Rays still down by one run. On many nights in his career, Phillips said he had been hampered by performance anxiety in critical at-bats. Not on this night.

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He recited his favorite Bible verse, from the Book of Isaiah, just as he recited it in the Angels clubhouse this week: Fear not, because I am with you. Be not in dismay, for I am your Lord. I will help you, I will strengthen you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

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“This calmness came over me,” he said.

Ball one. Strike one. Strike two. Then a single, with an exit velocity of 83 mph, a flare that descended into a shallow patch of center field at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.

Said Hunter Renfroe, his teammate with the Rays then and with the Angels now: “For him to come up there against Kenley, one of the best closers in the game, and to get that hit there was incredible.”

Said Phillips: “I made contact. I’m running down to first base and I’m like, ‘No way is this happening.’ ”

No way center fielder Chris Taylor bobbles the ball. No way the relay throw from first baseman Max Muncy caroms off the mitt of catcher Will Smith. No way the Rays’ Randy Arozarena falls down between third base and home plate, scrambles to get back on his feet, then dives headfirst to touch the plate and score the winning run.

No way Phillips enjoys a delirious victory run, extending his arms wide, then up and down, and circling and doing it again. An airplane, in human form.

“Came out of nowhere,” Phillips said. “I’d never done that before. No one has ever shown me how to play this game as an adult, so what came out was my inner child.”

Tampa Bay's Brett Phillips dashes across the field after his game-winning hit against the Dodgers in the 2020 World Series.
Tampa Bay’s Brett Phillips runs across the field after his game-winning hit against the Dodgers in Game 4 of the 2020 World Series.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
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Said Renfroe: “You can’t script that. It may be something you remember forever, or it may be something you regret forever, but it just happens.”

That would be the end of a pretty good story right there, but the story gets better. In his nationally televised on-field interview moments later, Phillips blurted out, “Baseball is fun.”

The feedback from those three simple words was so positive that Phillips dashed upstairs one day, in search of printer paper. He grabbed a sheet, wrote “Baseball is fun” and asked his wife Bri if she would like to start a business.

They printed 500 T-shirts, just to see if anyone would buy them. Worst case, friends and family would get some free T-shirts.

“Sold out,” Phillips said, “in 10 seconds.”

The “Baseball is fun” website offers T-shirts, sweatshirts, caps and more, all with the “Baseball is fun” slogan and/or or the “Flying Man” silhouette that resembles Phillips’ playful look after that crazy game.

Michael Jordan has his Jumpman. Phillips has his Flying Man.

Sales have topped half a million dollars, Phillips said, and his wife has invested the profits back into the business. The couple now is looking into how to convert the business into a charity, so profits can be redirected toward kids who need some money to play in a youth league.

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“Anyone in professional baseball has a platform,” Phillips said. “It doesn’t matter if I’m a superstar. It’s not about that. It’s about using my platform for the best.”

The Rays won that wild game, but the Dodgers won that World Series. In our conversation, Phillips has moved onto another defeat, this one included in his Twitter biography: “4th grade spelling Bee finalist.”

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All these years later, does he remember the word that tripped him up?

“Miscellaneous,” he said. “I spelled it with one ‘l’ instead of two.”

And then, without prompting, he spelled it just as he would have in the bee — but, this time, the correct way.

“M-I-S-C-E-L-L-A-N-E-O-U-S.”

As a fourth-grader, he said, he was “super distraught” about the mistake. As a major leaguer, he is not distraught. Baseball is fun.

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