By: Mike Ashmore
NEW YORK – As Yankees reliever Phil Coke took a second to re-familiarize himself with his surroundings, he couldn’t help but feel like he was back at home.
But he also was grateful for his brief home away from home with the Atlantic League’s Lancaster Barnstormers.
Coke, who had 401 major league appearances under his belt, primarily as a reliever, was hoping to return to his minor league roots as a starter after getting let go by the Atlanta Braves in spring training, but HE had difficulty finding an affiliated suitor.
On April 23, the 33-year-old left-hander made his independent ball debut, spinning four innings in the second game of a doubleheader against the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs. As it turns out, not only was it all he needed to get signed, he likely didn’t even need to pitch there at all.
“I made one appearance, I was down there to start and get stretched out and get some innings, just to see how it went,” Coke told MyCentralJersey.com on the field at Yankee Stadium.
“I got a text message from (GM Brian) Cashman asking if I was available for a workout, and I asked him if I could have two days. He asked why, and I told him I had to start tomorrow. He asked where I was playing, I told him, and I guess they purchased my contract, but they let me make my start, which was really cool. The next day, we had an off day that we traveled home for, and the next thing I know I’m talking to my wife and we’re driving to Scranton.”
Coke, who helped the Yankees win the World Series out of their bullpen in 2009, was assigned to Triple-A, and had no thoughts of making a return to the majors any time soon. But, on May 6, just 13 days removed from being in the Atlantic League, he was called up to the big leagues.
“Not only did I make one appearance in the regular season (in Lancaster) and I’m in Scranton, I threw two bullpens and had two appearances and then I’m here. It’s crazy,” he said.
“It’s almost like I never left. Obviously, I’m a little older and a little wiser, I hope. But I’m here, I’m happy and I’m excited about it. It was like coming home. I felt like when I was traded, I still had a lot to offer to the Yankees organization. They traded me away, and it kind of hurt my feelings a little bit. But at the same time, that’s the game, but it was a side of the game I didn’t really understand. Now, I have a much better understanding.”
Coke, who re-debuted in relief of Ivan Nova in Monday night’s 6-3 win over the Kansas City Royals, had been traveling the country in a 38-foot RV with his family, and Lancaster was able to accommodate him both on and off the field. For now, he’ll go back to five-star hotels and chartered flights, but he had no qualms about his brief stay off the radar of major-league organizations.
“You know what, it’s one of those things where you have to be willing to put any ego aside and just go play the game,” he said. “I wanted to play the game, and that was the place where I got the chance to go do it, so I did.”