FOX Sports MLB Analyst
PHILADELPHIA — It’s not every day that one of baseball’s worst hitters gets a standing ovation.
It was early August and Phillies shortstop Trea Turner, he of the $311 million contract and .657 OPS, was suffocating under the weight of heightened expectations. After signing a much-heralded 11-year megadeal in December 2022, Turner had spent most of his first season in Philly grasping at straws and swinging at air.
Despite this, a raucous Citizens Bank Park crowd of over 35,000 greeted Turner with thunderous applause as he strolled toward the plate for his first at-bat of the night. The Fightin’ faithful rose to their feet in a passionate, full-throated display of unconditional support. Phillies outfielder Nick Castellanos scaled the dugout, a towel in his hand, emphatically gesturing for fans to continue.
“He needs to feel comfortable. He needs to feel welcome,” Castellanos told reporters afterward. “I know what that’s like. And I think that’s what that standing ovation does, like, hey we have your back.”
Here was Philadelphia, a sports town best known — fairly or not — for its ruthlessness but also for changing its tune and opening its arms. It’s a city infamous for chucking batteries at a former first-round draft pick who opted not to sign with the Phils and hurling snowballs at Santa — yet capable of banding together to support a severely struggling, high-paid superstar.
And, somehow, the latter actually worked. Buoyed by the Philly Cheer, Turner has completely flipped his season around, posting a 1.150 OPS with eight homers in the 22 games since. He looks like his confident, world-beating self.
“I appreciated it a lot,” Turner told FOX Sports. “My family appreciated it a lot too and it seemed to be the big turnaround factor.”
Before the ovation, Turner was trapped in an endless spiral of offensive ineptitude. And it was clear to those around the Phillies that the issue was mental, approach-based and not the result of any obvious physical problem. There was no light at the end of the tunnel, few signs of progress. Just an ultra-talented player performing well below his abilities.
After months of unconditional support, Phillies manager Rob Thomson dropped his star shortstop from second to seventh in the batting order. Turner’s typically reliable defense had begun to suffer from his issues at the plate. The Athletic reported that after a particularly dispiriting loss in Miami on Aug. 3rd, a desperate Turner spent nearly an hour in the batting cage, hoping to find something, anything, to lift him from his rut. Everyone could tell the pressure was causing him to press at the plate.
The catalyst for his comeback then came from an unlikely source: Philly sports-talk radio.
“It was one of those moments where we could rally behind our guy,” explained local Philadelphia producer Jack Fritz of SportsRadioWIP, who spearheaded the plan to applaud Turner. “Like, he’s gonna be here for a while. So, why would we try to ruin the relationship this early?”
Fritz says he conceived the idea a few days before the Phillies returned from their road trip. As his initial tweet gained traction online, Fritz also started promoting the plan on his show and got other hosts on the WIP network to follow suit. By first pitch on Aug. 4th, the topic had become a big debate on Phillies Twitter, with some skeptical that a multi-millionaire athlete was worthy of such a gesture.
But when Turner walked up to the plate that evening in Philadelphia against the Royals, the message was loud and clear: We’re behind you.
“I saw a tweet of Trea getting cheered [before the game], just running on the field. And I was like, oh s—,” Fritz said. “Like, I think this really worked.”
Even though the Phillies lost to Kansas City that night, with Turner racking up just one hit, the impact of the ovation was obvious and immediate. The following day he homered in a win and has been on fire ever since, helping to propel the team to a 17-9 record in August.
But what exactly drove Phillies fans towards their open-minded embrace of Turner? What turned them toward compassion? And why now?
A big part of it has to do with the generally good Phillies vibes. Last October’s run sent the franchise’s approval rating through the roof. And while Turner was scuffling this season, several of his teammates picked up the slack to keep the club moving forward. Fans are less likely to voice their frustration of a player if the rest of the team is performing as advertised. Plus, this group has dealt with the city’s dissatisfaction before.
A year ago, when cameras caught third baseman Alec Bohm mouthing “I f—ing hate this place” in response to the home crowd sarcastically cheering a routine out following two errors, Bohm came clean, owned the mistake and apologized to the fans. The Phillies faithful appreciated the honesty and Bohm soon became a fan favorite and, more importantly, a more productive player — in part because the pressure had been lifted off his shoulders. A similar thing happened with Castellanos — who struggled mightily after signing a big contract with Philadelphia ahead of the 2022 season — until the now-beloved slugger won fans over with his defensive heroics in October.
Whatever the technical reasons behind Turner’s dramatic redemption arc, the shortstop’s resurgence has been a huge boost to the ascendent Phillies, who have won five in a row and retain a relatively firm four-game hold on the first National League wild-card spot. More importantly, Turner finally looks comfortable in his new home, which bodes well for Philly not only this October but in the years to come.
Fritz is just glad the fan base saw the bigger picture.
“This is a human moment and I think it just connected with people on a human level,” he said.
Rarely do fans have such a direct and obvious impact on a player’s performance. But that special connection was made evident to Turner from the moment he joined the Phillies.
“The passion is pretty cool. And I’ll take the boos; the boos are pretty good too, though,” he joked. “I mean, you don’t get many fan bases that tied into it, that emotional about it.”
Jake Mintz, the louder half of @CespedesBBQ is a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He played college baseball, poorly at first, then very well, very briefly. Jake lives in New York City where he coaches Little League and rides his bike, sometimes at the same time. Follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Mintz.
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