Simply Baseball Notebook straight from the source June 2004

Josh Phelps Looks to find his Niche in '04

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Josh Phelps burst onto the big league scene in 2002, hitting .309 and smacking out 15 homers in just 265 at bats. 2003 wasn't as easy, the Alaska native hit 20 homeruns, but his batting average dropped to .268 and he spent most of August on the Disabled List with back spasms.

Now in his second full major league season, Phelps seems to be settling in, "My approach has been the same (as 2003)," he explained. "The league hasn't changed any -- it's the same league. It's not that you learn this or that from the beginning of the season to the end, it's just the day to day experience you get playing in the big leagues."

Phelps has become a mainstay in the Jays lineup because of his bat, but the team has yet to find a permanent place for the 26-year-old on the diamond. A catcher in the minors, Phelps has split time between first base and DH in the big leagues.

"I've taken the role at hand over the past two years and made the most of it," Phelps said of his position change. "Getting behind the plate is not really something that is up to me -- I've just been trying to learn first base."

With perennial All Star Carlos Delgado a fixture at first base, it is difficult to tell just how good (or bad) that Phelps could be at that position. "I've put a lot of work into it," he commented. "I don't get a chance to go out on the field a lot, so it's hard to see how well it has progressed."

Although he chose to be politically correct about the situation, it doesn't appear that Delgado goes out of his way to teach Phelps the finer points of firstbase, "Carlos does his own thing," Phelps said. "Spring Training is really the only time we're on the field at the same position at the same time. So, he helps when he can."

Phelps, the Blue Jays 10th round pick in 1996, appeared in nine major league games from 2000-01, before joining the team on a permanent basis in July 2002. In late August of that season, the league took notice when Phelps became just the 10th player to hit a homerun into the fifth deck of the SkyDome. The fact that he hit it off Roger Clemens, in his first at bat against the future Hall of Famer, made it especially notable.

"I was hoping the ball would stay fair," Phelps said of the titanic blast. "It wasn't until after the game that I realized the ball went into the fifth deck. It was a feeling of...just, joy. Hopefully everyone experiences a highlight like that sometime during their career."

The memorable night wasn't over yet, "The next time (against Clemens) I struck out, and it was the at bat after that, that I hit another homerun," the 6-3 225 lb slugger explained. "It was the same kind of situation (as the first homerun). It was a like a 1-2 or 0-2 count and I hit another elevator fastball."

Because of his tall, lanky frame and power potential, Phelps has been compared to Richie Sexson and Dave Kingman. He however, shies away from such talk, "Everybody is different, everybody has a different approach," Phelps commented. "So, I just try to fine tune what works for me."

Like those before-mentioned players and most other power hitters, Phelps has been strike out prone (203 times in 674 at bats entering 2004). "(Striking out) comes with the territory (of being a power hitter)," he explained. "I learned early in my career that the more I tried not to strike out, the more I struck out. You just dont want to strike out in the wrong situation."

Like most players, Phelps is reluctant to set any specific numerical goals for the season. "The thing I'd like to achieve is to play a lot of games, stay as healthy as possible, and just be consistent," he commented. "I don't think you can put a goal on a number because there are too many factors that go into it."

Make no mistake though, Phelps is not your stereotypical jock. In high school he excelled at mathematics and even turned down a college scholarship in engineering to chase his dreams on the diamond. He doesn't however, rule out a return to the classroom after his playing days are over.

"It's hard to say. At this stage in the game, I'd be starting all over again, but school is a real strong possibility," said Phelps, who graduated 4th in his high school class. "I am a big fan of education and I am always trying to better myself in one facet or another, so it's not something that is out of sight or out of mind."

-David Zingler

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