LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - For Redan High School alum and self-proclaimed ATLien, Friday's Spring Training Debut felt almost like a family reunion.
"Happy to be here," said Phillips. "Been raised in Stone Mountain Georgia, finally going to be getting my chop on."
The Braves new second baseman took part in his first workouts in Lake Buena Vista on Friday after being traded to Atlanta from Cincinnati five days ago. Phillips said the last time he put on a Braves uniform was when he was 16 or 17, taking part in a workout for the club.
Phillips' smile was seen and his laugh was heard around batting practice Friday morning. It's a new team, but there are plenty of connections: for example, Phillips was traded from the Montreal Expos to the Cleveland Indians back in 2002 in a deal that included new teammate Bartolo Colon. His connection to Atlanta pitcher R.A. Dickey is even more surprising.
"I was RA Dickey's batboy," said Phillips. "I was a batboy in the Olympics in 1996."
Phillips said his only regret is that his late friend Jarvis Johnson, also from Stone Mountain, couldn't see him today. Johnson, who Phillips said passed away from cancer, always wanted to see Phillips play for Atlanta. That's part of why his 16th MLB season will feel so special.
"Trying to live my dream," said Phillips. "I'm still dreaming. I haven't woke up yet. I'm going to keep on enjoying this dream."
It's a feel good story, but it's not just a feel good story. Phillips fits in well with what the Braves are trying to do, starting with adding depth to the lineup. The veteran hit over .290 in each of the last two seasons and will be a good option behind an established top of the order.
"You start looking at Free [Freddie Freeman], Matt [Kemp], [Nick] Markakis, him, Adonis [Garcia]," said Braves manager Brian Snitker. "Man, kind of just keep coming at you."
Phillips said you can expect to see some solid defensive play in the middle of the infield alongside shortstop Dansby Swanson.
"He's special," said Swanson. "His talent, his care level, it's pretty awesome. To be able to learn from that, play with him, it'll be pretty special."
Braves general manager John Coppolella says Phillips won't stand in the way of top prospect Ozzie Albies' ascent to the majors; but with Albies coming off an injury last year, Phillips gives the team flexibility to take their time. As for right now, Phillips expects big things in his hometown.
"It's going to be crazy," said the second baseman, "we're going to surprise a lot of people, I promise you."