9 years after the Phillies lost to the University of Tampa, where are they now?

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Phillies Bryce Harper MVP
PHILADELPHIA, PA – SEPTEMBER 26: Philadelphia Phillies fans hold up Philadelphia Phillies right fielder Bryce Harper (3) for National League MVP sign during the Major League Baseball game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Pittsburgh Pirates on September 26,2021 at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia,PA. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)

The first few weeks of Spring Training are always an interesting period each year across Major League Baseball, including the Phillies. Young prospects and veteran journeymen alike get a chance to show their teams that they deserve a chance at the 26-man roster, and fans, who likely made the pilgrimage to Clearwater as their vacation, get a chance to be closer to the players than they ever would at Citizens Bank Park.

Today, Friday March 1st, marks the nine-year anniversary of a different kind of special Spring Training event. In 2015, the Philadelphia Phillies hosted The University of Tampa Spartans in an exhibition game at Bright House Field (now BayCare Ballpark). Tampa, an NCAA Division II program, defeated the Phillies 6-2 on the day, sending the baseball world into chaos.

PHILADELPHIA, PA – SEPTEMBER 19: Philadelphia Phillies batting helmets sit on the wall during the MLB game between the New York Mets and the Philadelphia Phillies on September 19, 2018, at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)

Not Just Any Division II Program

But here’s the thing. The Tampa Spartans aren’t any ol’ random Division II school. The Spartans have won eight Division II National Championships in the past 32 years, including the National Championship in 2015 following their victory over the Phillies.

At the helm of the Spartans’ success is head coach Joe Urso, who is in his 24th year as head coach. An alumni of Tampa, Urso was a four-year starter at second base and a member of the 1992 National Championship team. Following the 1992 season, he was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels in the 49th round of the MLB Draft.

In 2001, Urso returned to Tampa as head coach, determined to continue the recent success the Spartans had had, winning both the 1993 and 1998 National Championships under head coaches Lelo Prado and Terry Rupp, respectively.

Over the course of Urso’s career, he has led the Spartans to five National Championships (2006, 2007, 2013, 2015, and 2019) while becoming the winningest coach in Tampa Athletics history, currently standing 31 wins away from hitting 1,000 on his career (969-279-1).

Over his 23 seasons, Urso has coached 74 players to be drafted in the MLB draft, though since the MLB draft was reduced from 40 rounds to 20 in 2020, the battle is harder for a Division II player to be drafted now.

The Teams Going Into the Game

Looking back at the 2015 season is not a particularly fun one for the Phillies. Remnants of the 2007-12 team such as Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz, and Cole Hamels still remained in town while a fresh crop of players hopeful to turn the tide on what seemed like a Phillies team destined for mediocrity began to step forward. Most notably, Aaron Nola would make his MLB debut in July of that season for the Phillies.

Phillies Aaron Nola
Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Aaron Nola leaves the game against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the fifth inning in Game 6 of the baseball NL Championship Series in Philadelphia Monday, Oct. 23, 2023. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The Phillies entered Spring Training that season coming off a 73-89 season in 2014 that found themselves in last place in the National League East for the first time since 2000.

Meanwhile, the Tampa Spartans, fresh off a 2014 season in which they went 54-4, losing to Colorado Mesa in the semifinals of the NCAA Championship Series, entered their 2015 season determined to finish the job. Benefiting from the beautiful Florida weather (and a stunning view of the Tampa skyline from their campus stadium), by the time March came around the Spartans had already accrued a record of 13-1 and were riding a five-game winning streak going into their Sunday exhibition against the Big Leaguers.

How It Happened

After a quiet first inning, the Phillies broke the ice against the Spartans in the bottom of the second inning. Russ Canzler and Aaron Altherr scored on the inning for the Phillies, with Canzler recording a double before Altherr batted him in on a single. Altherr then scored on a throwing error on a failed pickoff attempt. Altherr went 2-for-4 on the day with a run, RBI, and a stolen base for the Phillies overall.

Following a quiet three-inning stretch, the Spartans’ offense began finding its gears in the top of the sixth. Andrew Amaro (nephew of then Phillies’ General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr.) singled with one out in the inning before being batted in by fellow senior Giovanny Alfonso to cut the Phillies lead to 2-1. Philippe Aumount was on the mound for the Phillies on the inning.

Phillies Spring Training 2024
The Phanatic greeting his fans down in Clearwater, FL. Photo Courtesy of the Phillies.

Nefi Ogando then started out the top of the seventh inning for the Phillies. Recording two outs on the inning, Ogando loaded the bases on two singles and a walk to the Spartans before allowing the game-tying run to score on a walk to Amaro.

Going back to the bullpen, manager Ryne Sandberg brought in a now familiar name to Phillies fans, current Chicago Cubs reliever Hector Neris. Neris, who had appeared in one game for the Phillies in 2014, started out his 2015 Spring Training by allowing a grand slam to the Spartan’s Alfonso, locking in what would be the final score of the contest at 6-2.

Nine-Years Later – Where Are The Phillies Now?

Starting with the Phillies, there were six notable players to play in the game that day. We’ve already mentioned Aaron Altherr, who played a part in both of the Phillies’ runs scoring. Altherr last played in the Majors in 2019, appearing in 49 combined games for the Phillies, Giants, and Mets. Since then, the outfielder has bounced around from the KBO to the Frontier League and recently made a splash in the Caribbean Series for Team Mexico.

Perhaps the most notable player to enter the game is that of Hector Neris. Neris, the former closer for the Phillies, will likely lineup as the setup man for the Chicago Cubs behind closer Adbert Azolay to begin the 2024 season. In his eight years with the Phillies, Neris pitched a solid 3.42 ERA out of the pen while accruing 84 saves and 520 strikeouts over 407.2 innings pitched.

Also amongst the players to don the Phillies’ pinstripes that day were Cesar Hernandez, Darin Ruf, Tommy Joseph, and Odubel Herrera. This particular quartet of players were all thought of as potential stars at one point or the other by the Phillies, with Hernandez and Herrera being the only two to make any true impact on the Big League club for any extended period of time. Herrera’s career has, of course, taken a downward turn since 2019 while Hernandez has not appeared in a Major League game since 2022.

Phillies Jean Segura
Philadelphia Phillies’ Jean Segura, top, throws out New York Mets’ Darin Ruf at first base after forcing out Francisco Lindor (12) for a double play during the fourth inning of a baseball game Friday, Aug. 12, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Darin Ruf, meanwhile, made a return to Major League Baseball in 2020 after spending a few years in the KBO, appearing in 296 games over four seasons for the Giants, Mets, and Brewers.

Tommy Joseph, the once-lauded replacement for Ryan Howard, is the assistant hitting coach for the Seattle Mariners. After the first baseman’s two seasons in Philadelphia, Joseph spent a few seasons bouncing around the Minor League system along with stints in the KBO and in Independent ball before getting into his current career as a hitting coach.

Looking at the Careers of the Tampa Spartans

Among the Tampa Spartans, there were six players to appear against the Phillies who would end up being drafted by the end of their careers with the Spartans.

We’d be remiss in starting anywhere other than the Phillies’ pedigree in outfielder Andrew Amaro. That’s right, of course Uncle Ruben was going to draft his nephew! Following his 1-for-3 day with two runs scored, an RBI, and a walk, Amaro ended his 2015 season with a .302 average and .923 OPS to help lead the Spartans to their National Championship season. He was then drafted by the Phillies in the 35th round of the 2015 MLB Draft, making appearances across A and A- League ball in 2015 before moving on from playing professional baseball. Amaro is not out of the family business, however, as he currently serves as a scout for the Cincinnati Reds.

The first player to be drafted out of Tampa in 2015, however, was Giovanny Alfonzo. Alfonzo, who hit the grand slam off of Neris at Bright House Field, was the Spartan’s starting shortstop during their National Championship run, posting a .344 batting average and .963 OPS on the year. Alfonzo went on to be drafted by the Miami Marlins in the 21st round of the MLB Draft. He then bounced around the Minor League systems of both the Marlins and New York Mets, along with spending a few seasons in Independent ball before hanging up the cleats after the 2022 season. Currently, Alfonzo has found himself back in Division II baseball as he serves as a Graduate Assistant with Valdosta State.

Jumping over to the mound for a moment, let’s look at the player who recorded the win against the Phillies that day. Dylan Barrow pitched two innings in relief on the day for the Spartans, allowing two hits and one walk while striking out one batter against the Phillies. Barrow, a right-hander, pitched 58.1 innings for the Spartans on the year, yielding a 3.70 ERA while striking out 56 batters. Barrow went on to be drafted by the Chicago White Sox, pitching in Rookie and A ball across two seasons.

The Spartans had three additional players drafted out of that year’s pool of players, two in 2015 and then one to follow in 2016. Left fielder Stephen Dezzi, who went 2-for-4 against the Phillies and led the Spartans with 14 home runs in 2015, was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 25th round of the 2015 MLB Draft.

A few rounds later, in the 34th round, third baseman Nick Flair joined Alfonzo in being drafted by the Marlins. Flair led the Spartans with 59 RBI on their way to the National Championship in 2015. Then, in 2016, the final player to be drafted to appear in the Spartans’ victory over the Phillies was center fielder Casey Scoggins. Scoggins co-led the Spartans with 77 hits in 2015 and was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 39th round of the 2016 MLB Draft. Scoggins reached A+ ball in the Twins’ organization before transitioning to Independent League baseball in 2018.

Two Teams Looking to Bring the Championship Home in 2024

The Philadelphia Phillies are in a lot different of a state as an organization in 2024 as opposed to 2015. With an all-star-filled lineup and one of the best one-two punches in Major League Baseball, the Phillies are no longer a team of potential breakout players. They are a team in the mix every year for the MLB Postseason and have their sights set on, as John Middleton would say, bringing the trophy home.

A similar sentiment can be felt at the UT Baseball Field as the Spartans, perennial competitors, will look to bring the NCAA Division II National Championship trophy home for the first time since 2019.

Before the Spartans do so, however, they have their eyes set on another prize: currently standing at 14-0, the Spartans are close to topping their school-record of a 16-0 start to the season as they open up Sunshine State Conference (SSC) play in Tampa against Palm Beach Atlantic University on Friday.

Not even 40 minutes away, either east or west of Tampa, you can also find Phillies action today as the Phillies are split-squadding against the Marlins in Clearwater and the Tigers in Lakeland.

Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire