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Billmeyer get his call to return to Majors

October 02, 2003|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

Mick Billmeyer took his time to test his mettle.

Like most, the North Hagerstown graduate aspired to reaching the Major Leagues. He put in his time in the minors and proved himself. Now, he has the metal to prove it.

On Friday, Billmeyer was offered a golden opportunity. On Tuesday, he was awarded with the brass ring.

Billmeyer earned his second trip to the majors as a coach, accepting the position as the Philadelphia Phillies' major league catching instructor. And just because he's making it as a coach instead of as a player, which most little boys dream of, it doesn't make that metal any less precious.

"You still want to get there (even as a coach)," Billmeyer said via telephone from Clearwater, Fla. "Once you get to the majors, everything's great."

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Billmeyer, 39, was promoted from his position as the Phillies' minor league roving instructor - a job he reluctantly relinquished. At the same time, he will be doing much the same job with the Phillies, just with a smaller classroom of players. In fact, he will become to the Phillies catchers what Butch Harmon is to Tiger Woods - a personal coach.

"For the last couple of years, I was the only catching coach in the organization," Billmeyer said. "But whenever (Phillies catcher) Mike Lieberthal would get into trouble, they would fly me in for a couple of weeks to work with him. Sometimes when you are in a funk, someone else can come in and see something to help you get out of it."

Billmeyer said Lieberthal, for example, has had some knee surgeries which tend to affect his habits during the season. Billmeyer's responsibility is to act as the go-to guy to fix problems between manager Larry Bowa and the catchers.

"I will mainly be in charge of the catchers," he said. "I will spend the first few innings in the dugout, helping Lieberthal with calling the game and as a go-between with Bowa and (pitching coach Joe) Kerrigan. Then the last part of the game, I'll go down to the bullpen to work down there and probably will do some catching of the relievers because that still makes me feel young."

Billmeyer, who played for North Hagerstown, Hagerstown Community College and the Hagerstown Suns during his career, spent the last three seasons coaching the 16 catchers in the Phillies' major and minor league system. He spent the season traveling around the country, spending time with each of the six teams in the organizations.

"I really had to think about it because I had a great job," Billmeyer said. "In the majors, if the manager gets fired, usually his whole staff (goes, too) and roving jobs are hard to come by. I really liked the job, but I wanted to make sure this was right for me."

The Phillies approached Billmeyer about the job two years ago, but it didn't pan out because of complications.

Billmeyer played primarily in the minors in his pro career before accepting a job as the Anaheim Angels bullpen/workout coordinator from 1994-99 before moving to the Phillies organization. He is presently working with Phillies catchers in the instructional league.

It has all been a wild ride for Billmeyer, but he is back to where he thought he would eventually be - holding the brass ring of a major league job.

"I thought I would get back to the bigs - you have to feel that way - but you just have to get a break," Billmeyer said. "I could have been there two years ago, but I'm glad it didn't work out. Now I have more of a base and a reputation. It all happened a lot quicker than I thought it would. I'm only 39 ... I got a lot of years left in me."

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