As we look forward to the future and get excited about another season of Philadelphia Phillies baseball, I feel as though it is a good time to look back at their past.
The Phillies are enjoying one of their best stretches in over a decade, and if you include the 2007-2011 run, one of their best stretches in franchise history.
A lot of people have helped mold the club into where it is today, but some members of the organization haven’t always gotten their shine.
I had a chance to catch up with former Phillies starting pitcher Brandon Duckworth, who pitched for the Phillies from 2001 to 2003. Brandon has put together a unique and well-traveled baseball career that is continuing to this day.
Duckworth’s influence on the franchise and the organization goes quite deeper than the seasons on the diamond that he played, and we sat down to discuss his role in Phillies history.
Brandon Duckworth’s Path to the Bigs
Growing up in Utah, Brandon fell in love with baseball.
Utah doesn’t have a Major League Club, leaving young baseball fans to find fandom in other cities. I asked Brandon Duckworth what that experience was like. He mentioned that he grew up watching whatever games were on TV. The Cubs and Braves were two teams that he often got to follow, and he tried soaking up as much Major League Baseball as he could.
It is hard to imagine growing up in an area without a big-league club. Considering how much fun the last two seasons have been with the Phillies, it would be nearly impossible to experience that level of passion.
Despite not having a team close by, Brandon’s love for the game grew, and he would make it into the college ranks. He started at a Junior College before getting a chance to transfer to Cal State Fullerton. Cal State is one of the best baseball programs in the country and has been for quite some time.
Rejecting the Draft
Brandon Duckworth was drafted in the MLB Amateur draft two times while he was playing his college ball. Both times, Duckworth felt like it would be a better option for him to continue the collegiate path. While that move could have been risky, it paid off for him in a big way.
It was in the Cape Cod league where Brandon would finally get a chance to sign on the dotted line. After being discovered by longtime Phillies scout Dick Lawlor, Brandon agreed to join the Phillies organization, which moved him one step closer to realizing his dream.
Quickly rising through the ranks, Brandon would be in the Phillies’ minor leagues from 1998-2001. During that stretch, he won the Paul Owens Award back-to-back seasons, which goes to the best pitcher in the Phillies’ minor league system. Other players to have won that award include Cole Hamels, Andrew Painter, and Orion Kerkering.
When asked about what it was like to win the Paul Owens Award, Brandon said, “It felt unbelievable to be recognized.” It showed that the Phillies valued him, and it gave him the confidence to keep pushing.
In 2001, Brandon Duckworth got his chance. After Randy Wolf went down with an injury, the Phillies promoted their #2 pitching prospect to the big leagues to make his debut.
On August 7th, 2001, Brandon Duckworth made his big league debut.
I first asked Brandon what it was like getting the call. The team was in Ottawa, Canada, for a road series when his skipper, Marc Bombard, called him into the office. Marc told Brandon about Randy Wolf’s injury and how the Phillies were selecting his contract. He went to pack his bags, and Brandon Duckworth was on a flight to Philadelphia.
In his first matchup, he toed the rubber against the San Diego Padres. Brandon went six innings, allowing four hits, three earned runs, striking out 4, and he got the win. I asked Brandon what souvenirs he had from this game. He told me that has the ball from both his first hit in the bigs, as well as a ball for his first Major League Baseball win. They are proudly displayed in his home.
Brandon Duckworth joined an exclusive list of 20,000+ people who have suited up for a Major League Baseball game. Millions of kids grow up wanting to find themselves in that spot, and Brandon can say he made it to the mountaintop.
The Duck Pond
Think about how electric Citizens Bank Park has been in the last couple of seasons.
Phillies baseball has come a long way, and back in Brandon’s day, fans had to do a little more to get engaged with the club.
During this era of Phillies baseball, the fans began to create fan sections at Veterans Stadium. Some of these sections include Randy Wolf’s Wolf Pack, Vicente Padilla’s Padilla Flotilla, and, of course, Brandon Duckworth’s Duck Pond.
Of course, I had Brandon break down what it was like to have a fan section. He thought it was incredibly cool that fans would get behind him in this manner. The dedication and passion were things he recognized instantly, and he was grateful to have that support.
He commented on how the players absolutely love that sort of thing. I challenge Phillies fans to get more fan sections rolling in 2024.
Greatest Trade in Phillies History?
Without Brandon Duckworth, the Phillies would never have won the 2008 World Series. Without Brandon Duckworth, the Phillies never would have acquired Roy Halladay.
Okay, maybe that is making things a little too simplistic, but Brandon was involved in a trade that began an insane domino effect in Phillies’ history.
In November of 2003, Brandon was traded alongside two other players to the Houston Astros (then in the National League), for All-Star closer Billy Wagner. Both Brandon and I agree that Wagner should be in the Hall of Fame.
After two seasons in Philly, Wagner would then move on from the team in free agency. To some, that would be the conclusion of the Brandon Duckworth deal. However, the Phillies would receive two draft compensation picks for losing Wagner, who would sign with the Mets.
The players the Phillies would draft with those picks were Kyle Drabek and Adrian Cardenas.
Cardenas would be dealt to the Oakland Athletics in 2008 for starting pitcher Joe Blanton. Blanton was pivotal in winning the 2008 World Series.
Most fans remember Kyle Drabek, who was practically Sixto Sanchez, just a decade sooner. Drabek would be the centerpiece in the Roy Halladay trade, which is one of the greatest moves in franchise history.
To Philly and Beyond
After his time in Philly, Brandon Duckworth became a well-traveled professional baseball player. He spent 2 seasons with the Houston Astros before signing with the Pirates in 2006. He would never play a game in Pittsburgh, as he was then traded to the Kansas City Royals for a few seasons.
In 2010, Duckworth signed a minor league deal with the Phillies, returning to where it all began.
I asked Brandon what it was like returning to the team 7 years later. He mentioned how the Phillies are a world-class organization and that it was a great feeling to return to the club.
It was a little different than when he had left in 2003, however. At this point, the Phillies had moved to a new stadium and were coming off back-to-back World Series appearances. Brandon felt as though he could have been a contributing member of the 2010 team, but injuries unfortunately derailed that opportunity.
Around the World
After his second stint with the Phillies, Brandon Duckworth signed on with the Boston Red Sox on a minor league deal. He spent 2011 and part of 2012 in the Sox system before making a life-changing decision.
Brandon Duckworth would sign with the Rakuten Golden Eagles, a Nippon Professional Baseball League team in Japan. The choice was certainly not an easy one, as he moved himself and his family to a foreign country. Brandon spoke about how excited he was for the move and how he always considered Japan as an option. When he got the call, he knew it was an opportunity he had to pursue.
Duckworth pitched with the Golden Eagles from 2012-2013, winning the Japanese Series Championship in 2013. He was teammates with Masahiro Tanaka, who went 24-0 that season in Japan. Brandon called it one of the most remarkable feats he has ever seen and said Tanaka was masterful that season.
After the 2013 season, Brandon moved home to the United States, where he would retire. Between the minors, majors, and time in Japan, Brandon had spent 15 years in professional baseball.
Upon returning home, Brandon Duckworth joined the New York Yankees as a scout in their organization and remains with the club today. He resides in South Jersey, and when he is not working for the team or spending time with his family, Brandon hosts pitching camps to help the next generation of baseball players.
Brandon Duckworth recently joined the Phillies Phantasy camp as a legend and coach. Phantasy camp gives Phillies fans over the age of 30 a chance to play baseball at the team’s Clearwater complex.
The participants get coaching from the pros, play several games a day, and spend time with legends of the Philadelphia Phillies.
For Brandon, he gets an opportunity to spend time with the fans, as well as his former teammates and coaches. He was honored that they asked him to take part in the festivities and he enjoys every second of the program.
The 2024 edition of Phantasy Camp kicks off on Wednesday, January 17th. For more information, stay tuned to Philly Sports Network.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Phillies