PHILADELPHIA » Any day now Dane Sardinha’s latest big league adventure could be over.
In fact, the big man from Honolulu may already be back in the minor leagues, after a dizzying two-week stretch in which he went from obscurity to becoming first-string catcher for the two-time defending National League champion Philadelphia Phillies.
With regular catcher Carlos Ruiz almost ready to return to action after spending time on the disabled list with a concussion, while veteran Brian Schneider – who missed a week with a sprained thumb that forced Sardinha to assume the job – has also healed, Sardinha knew it was only a matter of time before the fairy tale would come to an end.
He leaves not only with no regrets, but with the hope he’s demonstrated he belongs up here.
"I think I’ve held my own and proven I can call a game and work with pitchers here and supply a little offense,” said Sardinha, who bashed the first three home runs of his career and knocked in eight runs in 39 at bats.
"I went from playing once every 3-4 days in Triple A (Lehigh Valley) in the minor leagues to playing every day for the past week or so (actually eight straight starts before Schneider’s return Thursday).
"I think I’ve shown other teams I can play up here. I need to be more consistent offensively. But I was fortunate to come up and play. If they’d stayed healthy I wouldn’t have gotten a shot.
"So it’s not tough at all to go back down.”
Especially since at least temporarily it’s ended his relationship with teammate and fellow Hawaii athlete, Shane Victorino, who’s been charting Sardinha’s progress since they squared off in high school.
"I played against him in a preseason tournament in high school,” recalled former St. Anthony standout Victorino, of the Kamehameha Schools product. "After that I paid attention to what he was doing.
"When I saw he’d signed with us coming to spring training I was excited for him. I was hoping someday he’d be up here. Now that he’s here he’s done a wonderful job. He’s filled in great.
"I’ve always known him as a great defensive catcher. But he’s swung the bat well for us, got some big hits. I’m definitely happy for Dane.”
After all, it’s not as if the majors were filled with Hawaii players.
Sardinha has never had an isle teammate since turning pro and said Hawaii players are a "different breed."
Victorino thinks that public perception has led to a stereotype.
"I think what he means is we’re very laid back,” said Victorino, who spent a lot of time hanging out with Sardinha and his family during spring training in Clearwater, Fla.
"But a lot of people think we’re lazy. That’s the stereotype we get. That’s just our culture. We work hard, but we get that because we’re laid-back people.
"I’m a little bit more energetic than Dane is. But even in the minor leagues he was labeled as someone who didn’t work hard. To get where we are you just don’t roll out of bed and get here. He’s worked hard. We all have. He’s earned it.
"I’m definitely rooting for him."
While Sardinha doesn’t dispute Victorino’s analysis, he won’t accept the implication that such profiling has kept him out of the big leagues.
"I’ve always struggled offensively, that’s the one thing that’s held me back,” conceded the 30-year-old Sardinha, a second-round pick in the 2000 draft by Cincinnati who’s since gone through the Tigers and Phillies organizations. "There are a lot of catchers who come up and hit. I really haven’t put up offensive numbers. I always expect to hit well. I just never did. But I changed some things in spring training, which helped out. Mostly, my stance, trying to give myself a chance to see the ball.
"But hitting is what separates catchers from being in the big leagues and not being in the big leagues."
Because certainly his defense and knack for handling pitchers has drawn rave reviews.
"He’s done a tremendous job,” said Phils manager Charlie Manuel, whose club will head into the All-Star break in the unfamiliar role of chasing both the Braves and the Mets in the NL East. "When he came up he was supposed to be here for two days. Then all of a sudden he gets in there and he’s done a good job catching, He throws well and he’s hit three homers.
"It’ll be tough to send him down, because he’s done a good job and he’s filled in when we really needed it.”
Added pitching coach Rich Dubee: "We had good reports on him. They said he could really catch and throw. He’s done a great job. He’s got a nice feel behind the plate and has helped us big time.”
But now, unless something changes at the last minute, it’s likely Sardinha’s time here is up.
Like younger brother Bronson, who had a brief spell with the Yankees in 2007 and currently is in the Rockies organization, he’ll be disappointed to go down – assuming he does.
First, though, he has to clear waivers, meaning any team in need of a solid catcher with some power might claim him. Sardinha, though, has no illusions, thinking his success here now might pay off later.
A Scott Boras client ("I was good at one time when I was young and he noticed me,” laughed Sardinha), he’ll spend some time with his wife and three kids during the All-Star break and wait for the phone to ring to tell him his next destination.
"It’s been exciting,” he said of his stint as a Phillie. "I was fortunate we had injuries and got to come up. I thought maybe for a couple of days just as an emergency thing, but it’s been longer.
"Having played and showed teams what I can do, hopefully, this will bring a job opportunity next year."
Phillies 9, Reds 7, 10 inn.
|BPhllps 2b||5||1||1||0||Rollins ss||4||0||1||0|
|OCarer ss||6||0||0||0||Victorn cf||5||1||1||0|
|Janish ss||0||0||0||0||Ibanez lf||5||2||3||0|
|Votto 1b||3||1||1||0||Howrd 1b||4||2||3||3|
|Gomes lf||5||2||3||4||Werth rf||3||1||2||1|
|Stubbs cf||1||0||0||0||Dobbs 3b||4||1||1||3|
|Bruce rf||6||1||1||0||Schndr c||4||0||0||0|
|Cairo 3b||5||0||3||2||Castro 2b||3||0||0||0|
|Heisey cf-lf||4||1||2||0||BFrncs ph||0||1||0||0|
|CMiller c||4||1||1||0||Madson p||0||0||0||0|
|Leake p||4||0||3||1||Blanton p||2||0||0||0|
|FCordr p||0||0||0||0||Herndn p||0||0||0||0|
|Rhodes p||0||0||0||0||Baez p||0||0||0||0|
No outs when winning run scored.
E-Rollins (2), Howard (9). DP-Philadelphia 1. LOB-Cincinnati 13, Philadelphia 4. 2B-Cairo (5), Victorino (12), Ibanez 2 (18). HR-Gomes (11), Howard (17), Dobbs (3), Ransom (1).
T-3:03. A-45,029 (43,651).