Since he was promoted to the Chicago White Sox on Friday, Terre Haute native Josh Phegley has been the toast of his hometown.
But excitement over Phegley isn’t just confined to Vigo County. The 25-year-old catcher is the next big thing for the White Sox, too.
After Phegley earned his first career hit, RBI and home run in his first Major League Baseball series at Tampa Bay, South Siders were excited about phenom Phegley.
A home run on Monday in his home debut at U.S. Cellular Field didn’t hurt that cause one bit.
The buzz was evident Monday long before the White Sox hosted the Chicago Cubs in a crosstown rivalry game. There were so many Chicago media members staked out at Phegley’s locker in the White Sox clubhouse that his first home press availability was moved to the White Sox dugout.
It’s just another milepost on a road paved with excitement for the former Terre Haute North and Indiana University catcher.
“I’m excited. Getting the call in Tampa was a real quick hit. It hit me really fast. I think coming back it’ll maybe be more of a nervous feeling playing at home. Probably a pretty good crowd with the crosstown rivalry, but I’m ready to go,” Phegley said.
Rain delayed the start of the White Sox-Cubs game for 29 minutes — a contest that was itself rained out on its original May 28 date — and it concluded after the Tribune-Star’s press time.
The pre-game gully washer might have taken some of the sting out of the crowd, but not the appreciation White Sox fans expressed for Phegley.
He was received warmly in his pregame introduction. Batting eighth in the lineup against the Cubs, Phegley got a loud cheer from White Sox fans as he came to bat in the third inning.
The reception became rapturous shortly thereafter when he hit the first pitch he saw from Matt Garza into the second row in left-center field at U.S. Cellular Field. The 393-foot blast was Phegley’s second of the season.
Per usual, Phegley was business-like as he took batting practice for the first time at U.S. Cellular Field. The media crush and myriad questions from Chicago and Terre Haute media alike were taken in stride and rolled off of him easily.
It’s an approach Phegley has used to maximum effect all season. When Phegley didn’t go north with the White Sox after spending the spring with the big league club, he didn’t pout, he bore down at Triple-A Charlotte.
Phegley’s .316 batting average, 15 home runs and 41 RBI in 61 games for the Knights became too much for the struggling White Sox to ignore, especially given that starting catcher Tyler Flowers was having trouble breaking the Mendoza Line.
It was all a testament to Phegley’s determination.
“You see how guys are when they go down and they put in the work and produce. He did something a lot of guys dream of. He went down and produced and forced the hand to earn your way to the top. I think it’s exciting for him,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said.
It’s been a whirlwind four days for Phegley. Though he was anticipating a call-up, he was caught off guard when it occurred. Charlotte was on a two-game road trip to nearby Gwinnett, Ga. … and Phegley’s didn’t pack clothes for a weekend trip.
Phegley overcame the sartorial conundrum and made the most out of its maiden series against Tampa Bay. In his debut Friday, Phegley earned his first career hit, a RBI single in his second at-bat. He later knocked in another run via a sacrifice fly.
On Sunday, Phegley hit his first career home run — off reigning American League Cy Young Award winner David Price no less — and it accounted for Chicago’s only run in the game.
“I think getting a hit in the first game was huge to get a monkey off your back. It took a couple of innings behind the plate and then I settled in there,” Phegley said. “The home run in my second game was a huge blessing. It’s exciting and I’m enjoying every moment of it.”
Phegley would be enjoying his start more if the White Sox were winning. The Pale Hose were swept in the weekend series at Tropicana Field.
“It’s a little bittersweet getting my first hit, RBI, and then my first home run the next game. I’m trying to settle in, but at the same time, it’s about winning games,” Phegley said. “It’s tough to kind of celebrate within myself when we know this team needs wins.”
Ventura said he will play it by ear as far as how to balance playing time between Phegley and Flowers for the rest of the season.
White Sox bench coach Mark Parent — who put in 13 years behind the plate for seven Major League teams — said Phegley will be given ample opportunity to succeed.
“He’s been given a pretty good opportunity to show what he can do. Tyler Flowers runs the game pretty well. [Flowers] is struggling at the plate and his shoulder is barking a bit, so [Phegley] will get some time and we’ll see what he can do,” Parent said.
In the meantime, Phegley has heard about the support coming from his hometown and he has been humbled by it.
“I’m proud to hear those people are behind me. I’m from Terre Haute and I’ll always represent them. I really appreciate the fans back there,” Phegley said.
The White Sox go back on the road to Detroit and Philadelphia before the All-Star Break. The White Sox return to U.S. Cellular Field on July 19 as they open a three-game series against Atlanta.