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Brett Phillips changes jersey number to honor Nate Richardson

Bob Putnam

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Brett Phillips has always wanted to wear the No. 35. Trouble was, it was always taken — in stops at Milwaukee, Kansas City and Tampa Bay . 

This offseason, that elusive number finally became available when the Rays traded Nate Lowe to the Rangers as part of a six-player deal in December. 

For Phillips, a former Seminole standout, this career-long quest is personal. 

The number is the same one shared by childhood friend, Nate Richardson, who was among four students killed in a car crash in 2009.

Once the request was granted, Phillips presented a Rays jersey with the No. 35 to Richardson’s mother, Diane, in an emotional video tribute that was posted Thursday night via Facebook. 

“I’ve always wanted to wear the No. 35 in the big leagues to honor Nate, but it was never available,” Phillips said in his video tribute. “It’s exciting, obviously, but also emotional at the same time. I wish No. 35 wasn’t a thing, wasn’t a number, to have my buddy back. Life is precious.”

Phillips recalled selling the Tampa Bay Times with his travel ball teammates in a promotion that allowed him to go to Rays games. 

“I always dreamed of playing in the big leagues and playing for the Tampa Bay Rays,” Phillips said in the video. “And now to be able to do it with his number on is just so special. 

“It’s going to be a special moment  that first game when I run out there with the No. 35 on, look up at him, point to him, and know that he’s going to be smiling from ear-to-ear.”

When Phillips was selected by the Astros in the sixth round of the 2012 draft, Phillips wrote a letter he posted to Nate’s MySpace page. 

“You’re my angel in the outfield every time I step on a baseball field throughout my high school career,” Phillips wrote in the letter. “Every time I step on a baseball field I’m that much better because of you.”

“I want to make a promise right here, Nate, if I make it to the big leagues that first game when I walk out onto the field I’ll be wearing the No. 35 so when your parents and our friends and family will not only see me but will also remember you and what you meant to the city of Seminole, as well.”

That gesture appeared as if it would go unfulfilled. Not only was that coveted number taken, but Phillips wondered if his playing days were coming to an end.  

Through much of last season, Phillips was on the bench with the Royals. In August of last year, Phillips was in the clubhouse hot tub when he noticed a sticker in someone’s laundry that had a familiar number — 35. 

Two days later, Phillips got a phone call. He was traded to the Rays. 

Photos courtesy of Will Vragovic/Tampa Bay Rays

Immediately, Phillips began scouring the roster to see if anyone was wearing No. 35. 

It belonged to Nate Lowe, who had the same first name as Phillips’ childhood friend.  

Phillips believed it was a sign from above. 

“This is where I feel I’m supposed to be,” Phillips told Pastor J.J. Johnson of South Tampa Fellowship in December. “Whatever it is (God) has in store for me, I trust your plan.”

Then in September, during a road trip, Phillips checked his email for his assigned seat on the flight.

The number: 35.

“Now, I’m like ‘Alright God, I get it. I hear you’,” Phillips said. 

When the Rays traveled to San Diego to play the Yankees in the divisional playoffs, Phillips saw a statue honoring Padres’ former Cy Young winner Randy Jones. 

The statue bore Jones’ retired number: 35. 

“In the back of my head I’m like, ‘Fellas, we got this’,” Phillips told Johnson. 

The Rays beat the Yankees, then the Astros, to make it to the World Series. 

That set the stage for Phillips’ Game 4 heroics. His walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth inning helped score two runs (one came on an error) to knock off the Dodgers 8-7. Phillips became the first player since Kirk Gibson to have a walk-off hit with two outs while trailing in a World Series. 

But even in that moment of triumph, Phillips’ thoughts turned to the person not there with him: Nate. 

Phillips — and the Warhawks’ baseball team– continue to honor Nate. Last week, Seminole held its annual Nate Richardson Memorial preseason tournament. Phillips made an appearance. 

Now, Phillips gets to pay tribute the way he always wanted — with the number that bore so much significance but had eluded him for so many years.

“It’s not only important to me in many ways, but important to Nate’s parents, Nate’s friends, his family, people that knew Nate and the type of guy he was,” Phillips said in the video of wearing No. 35. “He was a stranger to no one, someone you always wanted to be around. He was funny. He worked hard. He had all the qualities of someone you want to be friends with. 

“So it was important for me to honor Nate’s legacy and know that when I go out onto that field and people who knew Nate see his number they’ll remember all the great memories that I have of Nate and it brings back and keeps his legacy alive.” 

Baseball

Wednesday sports schedule

Bob Putnam

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What to watch

Baseball

Largo (4-2) at Hollins (4-1), 7

Since losing the season opener to Sarasota Cardinal Mooney, the Royals have won four straight, including the last three by a combined 36-2. The Packers have gone through a similar turnaround, winning four straight after an 0-2 start. 

Boys basketball

Class 3A state semifinal at Lakeland’s RP Funding Center

Andrew Jackson (19-6) vs. Bishop McLaughlin (21-6), 2

The Hurricanes, ranked fourth in 3A by MaxPreps, are in the state semifinals for the first time. They have a tough test going up Andrew Jackson, ranked second in 3A. 

Softball

Calvary Christian (3-1) at Canterbury (1-2), 6

Sure, the host Crusaders have two losses, but one was against Lakewood Ranch, the nation’s top-ranked team according to MaxPreps. The key will be how Canterbury’s pitching and defense hold up against a Warriors’ offense that is averaging more than 11 runs per game.

The schedules

Baseball

Pinellas Park at Palm Harbor University, 4

Clearwater at Carrollwood Day, 6:30

Gibbs at Osceola, 7

King at Brandon, 7

Boca Ciega at St. Petersburg Catholic, 7

Largo at Hollins, 7

IMG Academy White at Wiregrass Ranch, 7

Sunlake at East Lake, 7

Admiral Farragut at Anclote, 7

Fivay at Wesley Chapel, 7

Boys basketball

Class 3A state semifinal at Lakeland’s RP Funding Center

Andrew Jackson vs. Bishop McLaughlin, 2

Softball

Academy at the Lakes at Admiral Farragut, 4

Calvary Christian at Canterbury, 6

Gulf at Cypress Creek, 6:30

Countryside at Dunedin, 7

Springstead at Weeki Wachee, 7

King at Brandon, 7

Wiregrass Ranch at Zephyrhills, 7:30

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Baseball

The PTP baseball players of the week

Bob Putnam

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The fans’ pick

RHP/OF Jack Owens, Jr., Bloomingdale

In five appearances during last year’s abbreviated season, Jack Owens showed signs of becoming an honest-to-goodness, certified No.1 starter. 

He finished his sophomore season with the team lead in strikeouts (30) and ranked second in ERA (1.91). 

Owens has continued to put up impressive numbers. Two weeks ago, he threw a one-hit shutout with 11 strikeouts in a win over Plant. Owens followed that up with a three-hitter, allowing two unearned runs while striking out eight in six innings against Strawberry Crest. 

Fans took notice. Owens received more than 34 percent of the votes (468) to beat out Largo’s Harrison Povey, who had 25 percent (344 votes). 

The PTP picks

INF Bradke Lohry, Sr., Jesuit: Finished a combined 5-for-7 with two doubles, a triple and five runs scored in wins over Largo and Osceola.  

P/OF Harrison Povey, Sr., Largo: Threw a combined seven scoreless innings against Jesuit and North Port, allowing one hit while striking out nine. 

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Baseball

Monday night rewind: Baseball

Bob Putnam

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Scoreboard

Inspiration Academy 11, Seffner Christian 2

IMG Academy Gray 16, Clearwater Central Catholic 0

Sickles 7, Steinbrenner 2

Bloomingdale 7, East Bay 3

Clearwater 6, Pinellas Park 3

Leto 13, Plant City 6

Bell Creek Academy 22, Bayshore Christian 2

Prime time performers

P/3B Wyatt Fordham, So., Plant City: Went 2-for-2, including a three-run double, in a loss to Leto. 

INF RJ Gutierrez, Sr., Leto: Hit a two-run double in a win over Plant City. 

OF Drake Harman, Jr., Bloomingdale: Went 2-for-2 with two RBIs in a win over East Bay. 

SS/UTIL/P Cody Potts, Sr., Clearwater: Finished 2-for-3 with a run scored in a win over Pinellas Park. 

OF Kohl Robertson, Sr., Sickles: Went 3-for-4 with a double and two RBIs in a win over Steinbrenner. 

P Holden Wade, Sr., Sickles: Threw 5 ⅓ scoreless innings, allowing three hits while striking out six against Steinbrenner. 

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