Philadelphia Phillie Shane Victorino has an on-the-field style that fires on nothing less than all cylinders, and an off-the-field demeanor that is humble, irrepressible and generous – both in money and time. Nicknamed “The Flyin’ Hawaiian,” the beloved center fielder has endeared himself to Phanatics everywhere – from the city to all of SJ – in ways far beyond what we expect from our modern-day gladiators.

“It was something I was taught as a kid,” says Victorino, 31, during a recent long-distance chat from his off-season home in Las Vegas.

“I think it was from my upbringing. To this day my parents tell me, never forget where you come from. Be humble and understand what got you to where you are today. I think a lot of that has to do with who I am today and what I do out there every day.

“This is still the game I played as a kid. That’s the way I look at it. Yeah, it is a job, and if you don’t go out and do your job, someone else is coming along the line to take your job. But you understand you are playing the game that you played as a kid.

“That was taught to me as a kid. My parents always said to play the game the right way. Why change? There’s no reason to change my game. If you go out and play the game correctly, you bring that kind of energy and excitement.”

That parental advice manifests itself in many ways. Despite his status as an elite player (he has twice been a member of the National League All-Star team), Victorino rarely finishes a game with a clean uniform, preferring to play in the never-stop-hustling, “lunch pail”– style local sports fans adore. And he seemingly does so with an ear-to-ear grin permanently etched across his slightly exotic face. (Besides Hawaiian progenitors, his family tree includes Chinese, Japanese and Portuguese ancestors; his last name, originally spelled with an “e” on the end, is of Portuguese derivation.)

The centerfielder’s reputation for hustling makes it understandable that his manager, Charlie Manuel, counts himself among the legion of Victorino admirers.

“Shane is a high-energy guy and, over the course of a long season, you need that type of player,” says the well-loved coach. “He’s very popular with the fans and his teammates because he plays with a lot of enthusiasm.”

 Victorino and his wife, Melissa

Victorino and his wife, Melissa

Evidence of Manuel’s latter observation is easy to find. In his down time, Victorino, the married father of two young children, is a one-man community-outreach program.

Especially during the season, it seems a week doesn’t go by without a news report of his visiting kids in a hospital or attending a charity event. Last September, he made big-time headlines for donating more than $900,000 to refurbish the long-neglected Boys & Girls Club located in the Nicetown section of North Philadelphia, a particularly rough and dangerous neighborhood.

During the ceremony announcing the gift, Victorino was typically full of emotion, tearing up when he suggested that seeing the revitalized youth refuge was as powerful a moment for him as being a part of the 2008 World Series championship team.

So it’s easy to understand the attraction Victorino holds for Phillies Nation. But Victorino, who makes his in-season home in a Delaware County suburb, insists it’s a mutual-admiration society.

“I just think the city itself has so much uniqueness,” he says. “There’s such diversity. There’s blue-collar, hard-working people. That’s what I love about it. Because I’ve been fortunate enough to play the game hard, that’s why I’ve been loved by the fans. That’s what Philly’s all about: the people who work hard every day. I think the pride the people have is amazing.”

And despite the area’s far-more-varied climate and lack of beaches and palm trees, the native of Wailuku on the island of Maui believes his home state and current place of employment share a couple of significant connections.

“Like I’ve always said, Philly reminds me of Hawaii,” he offers. “It’s very family-oriented. Growing up in Hawaii, that’s what it was all about. It was about being there for your family and your friends. And I see that in Philadelphia.”

He also cites the sincere affection people from both areas have for their respective places of birth.

“You have these generations and generations. You’re born and raised in Philly, and you can move away to Dubai, but Philadelphia will never leave you. And that always reminds me of Hawaii. You can take everybody out of Hawaii, but Hawaii will never leave the person.”

Victorino likewise admires the legendary zeal local sports fans have for their teams.

“Just the passion they have for all their sports and the pride they have in what they do. That’s what’s so unique and so great about playing in Philadelphia,” he says.

It is this understanding of the region’s sports devotion that helped make last season’s first-round playoff loss to the ultimate World Champions, the St. Louis Cardinals, a bitter disappointment for Victorino. But, he insists, not making the 2011 World Series did not plunge him into a deep, off-season depression.

“You understand it’s part of the game,” he reasons. “Somebody’s gotta win and somebody’s gotta lose. But yeah, some off-seasons are harder to swallow than others.

“This one was a little tougher, but as athletes we understand that this is our job. I play the game to the extent I put everything into it and, at the end of the day, if I can look at myself in the mirror and say, ‘Hey, I gave 100 percent,’ no one can question what I did.

“It was definitely a frustrating loss because there was a lot of hope going into the post-season and a lot of excitement around our team having the three guys at the top of the rotation [Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels]…and the guys behind them [Roy] Oswalt and [Vance] Worley. Everybody was somewhat healthy going into the playoffs and our goal was to reach the World Series. Obviously we ran into a team that was playing good baseball.”

It probably doesn’t need to be said that Victorino is intently focused on doing his part to bring another Phillies victory parade to South Broad Street. But when pressed, he does admit to having a couple of personal achievements on his 2012 to-do list.

“I’d like to hit .300, but that’s my goal every season, to hit .300,” says the man whose lifetime batting average after eight big-league seasons (seven with the Phillies) is .279 – a mark he coincidentally matched last season. “That’s my big goal because if I hit .300 that means dynamically, everything else in my game has gotten better. I think that’s the one thing that really stands out.

“And I want to hit 20 home runs,” he continues. “But I’m not gonna change my game to achieve these goals. If it happens, it happens. I just wanna be a better player overall. I wanna win. Being a World Series winner will make me a better player.”

Despite his immense value to his team and the deep bond he’s developed with the people of Philadelphia and SJ, there are no guarantees Victorino will be wearing red pinstripes on Opening Day 2013, because his contract with the Phillies expires at the end of the upcoming season. But if this is his final year at Citizens Bank Park, he’ll accept it stoically and certainly with the understanding that if the Phillies do not re-sign him, the decision will be based on business consideration and nothing personal.

Even if The Flyin’ Hawaiian flies off to a different team, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be gone for good. Given his ebullient personality, maybe Victorino could become the next Richie Ashburn, the beloved Phillies announcer of over 35 years, who died of a heart attack in 1997.

Shane Victorino at the opening of the refurbished Boys & Girls Club in Nicetown, Victorino donated nearly one million dollars for the renovation

Shane Victorino at the opening of the refurbished Boys & Girls Club in Nicetown, Victorino donated nearly one million dollars for the renovation

“Would I like to be a broadcaster and [follow in the footsteps] of Richie Ashburn? Hey, why wouldn’t I? Why wouldn’t I wanna be known as a Richie Ashburn?

“There’s no reason I wouldn’t wanna come back,” he adds. “Philadelphia brought me a lot of pride.

“When I opened up that Boys & Girls Club, I said, ‘I’ll always have a piece of Philadelphia in my heart and Philadelphia will have a piece of me because of this Boys & Girls Club.’

“The fact of the matter is I got an opportunity to become the player that I am, the person that I am, because I got the opportunity to play in a place like Philadelphia. And I got to understand what it’s like to play in a place like Philadelphia.

“Do I see myself as a Philadelphian after the game of baseball? Absolutely. Why wouldn’t I? Not only did I bring a lot of pride to the city, but the city brought a lot of pride to me because of the support and everything else that has come into play.

“Would I love to come back and be a full-time Philadelphian after I’m done with the game? Yeah, but I don’t plan on going anywhere else. Hopefully, I can end my career there.

“When the game’s done, we’ll figure it out. But don’t get me wrong: I would never forget Philadelphia. It made me who I am.”

March 2012
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