Former Bama Greats Team Up at Triple-A All Star Game


Joe Vitiello and Andy Phillips will play together at 2004 All-Star Game
Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Andy Phillips
Andy Phillips
(Photo courtesy of Joe Santry, Columbus Clippers)

PAWTUCKET, RI -- Two former University of Alabama baseball greats will hold an impromptu alumni meeting Wednesday night here in Pawtucket.

Former first-round draft pick, Joe Vitiello, and the school’s all-time home run leader, Andy Phillips, will be teammates for a day as they represent the International League in the 16th Annual Triple-A All-Star Game played here in a sold-out McCoy Stadium. The game will be televised by espn2 beginning at 7 p.m. (ET) with Sean McDonough, Buck Martinez and Kyle Peterson broadcasting to the national cable audience.

It is not the first time they have met each other, or seen the other play, but it is the first time these two former Crimson Tide greats have played on the same team. Both are excited about the opportunity to play in this year’s Triple-A All-Star game.

For Vitiello this is his third trip to the Triple A All-Star game and he is excited to be back in the midsummer classic.

“It’s a great feeling to be back in this game,” Vitiello said in a telephone interview from Pawtucket Tuesday afternoon.  “This has always been a real good experience for me.  This might be my last year, so I am happy to be here and I am really going to enjoy this week.”

Andy Phillips
Andy Phillips
(Photo courtesy of Joe Santry, Columbus Clippers)

Phillips is making his first all-star appearance at the Triple A level and despite starting the season in extended spring training before moving to Double A Trenton (NJ) in the Eastern League, he is glad to have the chance to play in the all star game.

“I was honored and surprised to get the call,” Phillips said.  “I’ve only been in Triple A for two months.  I’ve had  a good season so far.  Our team is a great group of guys and right now we lead the division, so that makes the season a lot more enjoyable.”

Vitiello is batting .329 (92-for-280) with 12 home runs and 55 RBI in 75 games this season with the Toledo Mud Hens, the Triple-A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers.  

Vitiello is in his first season with the Tigers after being cut by the Montreal Expos in spring training.  Last year with the Expos, Vitiello batted .342 (26-for-76) with three home runs and 13 RBI in 38 games, but it was not enough to impress the Expos brass as they released the former Tide star in spring training this season.

A proven hitter, Vitiello quickly landed on his feet and joined the Mud Hens on April and now, three months later, he is the clubs lone representative at this year’s Triple A All-Star game.

The Stoneham, Mass., native is currently fourth in the IL in hitting (.329) entering the all-star break.  His best month so far was the month of May, where he hit .352 (31-for-88) with five home runs and 21 RBI despite missing a number of games to return home for the birth of his second daughter.

Vitiello went 4-for-5 with two doubles, three RBI and one run scored in a win over Norfolk on May 4.  In the month of July, Vitiello is batting .300 (12-for-24) and already has four home runs and eight RBI.

The former first-round pick by the Kansas City Royals (7th overall selection in 1991), Vitiello was a First-Team All-American selection by Baseball America following his junior season with the Crimson Tide.

In 1991, Vitiello batted .395 (87-for-220) with 15 home runs and 67 RBI in 62 games, while leading the Crimson Tide to the a runner-up finish to Florida State in the 1991 Atlantic Regional in Tallahassee, Fla.  His .395 batting average still ranks as the ninth best single-season mark at Alabama.

In his three-year career (1989-91), Vitiello batted .375 (196-for-523) with 34 home runs and 149 RBI in 151 career games.  He was also a Freshman All-American selection by Collegiate Baseball newspaper after hitting .353 (42-for-119) with eight home runs and 29 RBI in 1989.  

Phillips is in his sixth season of professional baseball since being taken in the eighth round by the Yankees in 1999.  After battling numerous injuries the past few seasons, Phillips is now in his second full season with the Triple-A Columbus (Ohio) Clippers, where he is a budding star in the Yankees farm system.

The Demopolis, Ala., native is currently batting .327 (80-for-245) in 66 games with 15 home runs and 46 RBI for the first-place Clippers.  He ranks sixth in the IL in hitting (.327) and third in the league with a .402 on-base percentage thanks to 32 walks this season.  He also has a .576 slugging percentage, which also ranks in the Top 10 in the league this season.

Like Vitiello, Phillips has bounced back from some adversity with a solid year in Columbus.  After starting the year in extended spring training, Phillips moved to Double A Trenton (NJ) in the Eastern League before his promotion in May to Triple A.  He missed most of the 2003 season with injuries, but this year has been a different story for the Yankee farmhand.

“I am completely healthy now,” Phillips said.  “I have not felt this good in three or four years, physically.  I am playing this year, having a good season and I am injury-free.”

A consensus All-America selection as a senior, Phillips was named the 1999 National Collegiate Baseball Writer’s Association District III Player of the Year and finished runner up to Baylor’s Jason Jennings as the winner of the Dick Howser Trophy, presented by the NCBWA to the best player in college baseball.

Phillips was also named First-Team All-American by the NCBWA as well as member of the 1999 NCBWA Super All-American squad.

In addition to the NCBWA honors, Phillips was also named First-Team All-American by College Baseball Insider and was Third-Team All-America selection by Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball and the American Baseball Coaches Association.

The Demopolis native wrapped up his Alabama career as the school record-holder in eight career statistical categories, including most games played (244), games started (224), at-bats (904), runs scored (222), total hits (322), home runs (61), RBI (226) and total bases (590).

In addition, he ranked second in career doubles (63) and triples (11), and was third in assists (537) and 10th in walks (86).

As a senior in 1999, Phillips set the standard of excellence for Crimson Tide baseball. He played in 64 games and batted .398 (103-for-259) with 22 home runs and 66 RBI.  Phillips also added 71 runs scored 22 doubles, 30 walks and 16 stolen bases for an Alabama team that captured the SEC Tournament Championship and finished third at the College World Series.

He also set Alabama single-season records for total bases (203) and set records for most home runs (22) and RBI (66) by a shortstop at Alabama.  The 22 home runs are the most by an Alabama senior.

The former Tide shortstop also set the SEC record with a 36-game hitting streak during his final season at Alabama, breaking the old standard of 33 games held by LSU second baseman Todd Walker (1993). During his record-setting hitting streak, Phillips batted .407 (66-for-162) with 17 home runs and 45 RBI.  

The 2004 season is Vitiello’s 14th season in professional baseball, more than doubling the years of experience of his fellow Bama alum and IL teammate.

The two have had a few days to reminisce about their days at Alabama.  Vitiello played for Dr. Barry Shollenberger, while Phillps came along five years later and played for Coach Jim Wells.

“I told Joe ‘this is pretty bad, I grew up watching you play at Alabama when I was a kid, and now I am on the same team with you at the Triple A All-Star Game’,” Phillips said.  “I remember coming to Tuscaloosa from Demopolis and watching Joe and Mickey Kerns.  He could hit at Alabama and he can still hit.  He is a great person and a great hitter.”

Vitiello takes the “old-timer” jokes in stride.

“Andy has busted my tail about watching me at Alabama when he was a kid,” Vitiello said with a chuckle.  “It’s nice to be here, but its nicer to be on the same team with a guy that has the same passion for the Crimson Tide.  Andy is a great player and a great person, I am glad that we are teammates this week.”

The former Bama duo has shared many stories and talked about their separate careers at Alabama.  They have even shared places in the Crimson Tide baseball record book.  Now, they share a lockerroom at the Triple A All-Star game.