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At Snyder’s of Hanover or on mound, Phillips likes hard work

By Beth Hudson

Mark Phillips
Photo: Rory Glaeseman

HANOVER, Pa.–May 9 started as a normal afternoon for Mark Phillips.

The lefthander had just led his team, the Hanover Nighthawks, to a 2-0 victory over West York, a county rival. In fact, Phillips had put on a show–a two-hitter with 15 strikeouts. After the game, Phillips spent a few minutes talking to scouts.

That’s when something unusual happened.

A few younger kids had arrived at the field for practice. They were carrying balls, gloves and caps. And they wanted Phillips to sign them. They must’ve heard all the talk around town about the kid who threw two no-hitters.

"It’s an honor that that would happen," Phillips said. "There’s total respect for every little kid who would want an autograph. They were very quiet. That’s exactly what I was like at that age. You just don’t say anything. They’re too shy. I was in the same spot when I was that age, so I know how they feel."

Maybe that’s the scene that best illustrates what Phillips has become. A three-sport star at Hanover, the 6-foot-3, 195-pounder has lost some of his shyness as major league scouts have stopped by to look at an impending first-round pick. Plus he has signed with Louisiana State, just in case a college scholarship wins out.

Modest Mark

Pennsylvania’s 1999 American Legion player of the year has a fastball that’s been clocked as high as 95 mph. At least a dozen scouts were at each of his late-season starts. One of his early-season starts drew as many as 60 scouts. At home, he and his family were fielding countless baseball phone calls for months.

People all over York County know about the kid. Yet, despite all this attention, Phillips doesn’t show a trace of self-importance.

"I have never, ever, seen this kid flaunt his ability," Hanover coach Terry Conover said. "That’s the story of Mark Phillips."

Phillips, 18, is grateful that people in the community have supported him. And he makes time for others, whether it’s to sign autographs or just to talk.

He gives credit to his family, especially his father Steve, for keeping him humble.

"If he would see me that way (arrogant), I’d be in trouble," Phillips said.

Phillips, his brother A.J., and their father live in a ranch home in a suburban neighborhood, just a couple of blocks from the high school. Steve Phillips is a salesman for Snyder’s of Hanover, a snack-food company. Mark works there on weekends.

With such a humble background and working for an institution in Hanover, it’ll be hard for the town’s only first-round pick to forget his roots.

Like many brothers, Mark and A.J.–a high school junior who catches for Hanover–grew up playing baseball in the backyard. They had their dreams, and Mark wasn’t afraid to announce his. He still remembers the reaction when he first told people he wanted to be a professional baseball player.

"Elementary school and middle school are probably the worst places to say something like that. ‘I want to play baseball.’ Kids just laughed," Phillips said. "Nothing ever happens to anyone here, nothing big like that. Every single year, I remembered that."

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Early in his varsity career, becoming a professional pitcher began to seem like a realistic possibility. Suddenly his friends wouldn’t chuckle whenever he said he wanted to be a pro ballplayer.

"Back when he was a sophomore, I knew he was going to be something pretty special," Conover said. "Last year as a junior, he really, really blossomed. All you have to do is just give him a goal. Then stand back and watch it happen."

In 1999, Phillips went 10-2, 0.54 with 152 strikeouts in 78 innings. Through eight starts this year, he was 6-2, 0.70 with 113 strikeouts in 55 innings.

He was leading the York Area Interscholastic Athletic Association in strikeouts, and York Catholic High knew all too well about him. Phillips no-hit Catholic twice.

In the season opener on a sloppy, rain-drenched mound, he struck out 12 and walked 10 in a 5-2 no-hit triumph. He showed better command in his second no-hitter against York Catholic, striking out 16 and walking two.

With .600-5-18 numbers as a hitter, Phillips also was leading his league in batting. But he knows whoever drafts him will want to make the most of his left arm.

He wrapped up the regular season by pitching six no-hit innings against cross-town rival South Western, one of the area’s top Class AAA teams. The game was tied 1-1 entering the seventh, when Phillips walked the leadoff hitter and a reliever allowed a two-run homer. Phillips was charged with the 3-1 loss, but he nearly willed the Class A school–from Pennsylvania’s smallest classification–to victory.

"Mark is the best pitcher I’ve seen at the high school level," South Western coach Mike Resetar said. "He’s just a superstar in his own right. The kids are kind of like, ‘Wow. Look at that.’ He throws strikes. His curve was really good–nasty."

For hundreds of local fans, just seeing Phillips and being wowed the same way has been a thrill. The upcoming baseball draft could change his life–and the lives of those in his family–significantly.

But Phillips doesn’t expect it to change who he is; he’s a baseball player from Hanover who appreciates his family, his friends and his hometown.

"Being arrogant is a waste," Phillips said. "No matter how much money you make, you’re not better than anyone else. If you think you are, you start to get labeled. It’s a bad reputation to have. I’d rather not have it."

Beth Hudson is a sportswriter for the York Dispatch.

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