A coach is hitting grounders to Phillips, who ﬁelds them by the book: glove down, head following the ball home, righthand coming down to keep it from bouncing. Major leaguers complain about the monotony of practice, but Phillipshandles his chores with the sort of alacrity found only in rookies.Most of the Indians are huddled inside the clubhouse, and who can blame them? Factor in the wind chill, and thetemperature is in the teens. Phillips wears a stocking cap as he conducts his hour of inﬁeld practice. "I'll play in thesnow," he beams. "I'm having fun."To veterans, a rookie's naiveté is beautiful -- and tragic."Age 21, that's when I started in the big leagues," says Omar Vizquel, now in his 15th season. "I remember how excited Iwas just to be on the ﬁeld."But Phillips will have to earn a position, the same way Vizquel once did. He'll also have to earn his way to the top of theorder. The rookie bats in the lowly ninth spot. Tim Laker, who last year hit .227 in the minors, gets to hit eighth.Still, the bottom is a good place for rookies to learn that patience isn't only a virtue. It's a prerequisite. By the end of hisﬁrst month, Phillips still isn't hitting. The whispers begin: The kid isn't ready. He needs to go back to the minors. Failure,an alien thing, is creeping in.As a child, Brandon Phillips envisioned himself a composite of two Ohio baseball players. "He wanted to run like KennyLofton, and he wanted to play inﬁeld like (Cincinnati shortstop) Barry Larkin," says father James Phillips.When scouts saw him play in the Atlanta suburb of Stone Mountain, they started using the phrase "a young Larkin."Phillips knew he was on the right path. James Phillips would spend countless hours with his son in the backyard, hitting o
a tee, perfecting a whip-like swing. James would even drag his own bed outside, tilt it upright, and let Brandon hit baseballs into it.Buddy Fowlkes probably saved James hundreds in mattress bills. He opened a small gym in neighboring Snellville, whichhoused three batting cages. "I gave him a place to hit," says Fowlkes, "and it was like he lived here."Fowlkes also coached Phillips for SportsTech, a team assembled from some of Georgia's best prep talent, which traveledthe Southeast to compete against other all-stars. The starting spots were typically reserved for high school seniorsbeing scouted by colleges or the pros, but Fowlkes couldn't resist playing a sophomore Phillips. He was scrawny, butwhile most hitters depend on both hand-speed and weight-shift for power, Phillips had enough strength in his hands tohit home runs, even when he was o
-balance. "I've seen him fooled on a pitch, out on his front foot, but he keeps hishands back, and the ball still goes 380-400 feet," says Fowlkes.In 1997, the summer after his junior year in high school, Phillips journeyed to Enon, a town of 3,000, 10 minutesoutside of Dayton, to play for the Ohio Warhawks, a summer league team that functions as a sort of baseball boot camp.Phillips, then 16, was to keep his bed made and room clean, do his own laundry and cooking, arrive at the weight roomat 7 a.m., then practice the rest of the day. Partying was forbidden, and there was no time for girlfriends. Loafers weresent home. But survivors might follow the path of Pat Burrell, a Warhawk alum who hit 37 homers for the Phillies lastyear.Phillips took the latter route. "His work ethic was out of this world," says Warhawks manager Ron Slusher. He rememberswalking into Phillips's room to ﬁnd the teenager sitting with eyes closed, meditating on a game situation where it was upto him to make the play.By the next summer, the University of Georgia would promise Phillips the shortstop position on its baseball team andthe point guard post on its basketball team. The Montreal Expos o
ered him a $707,000 contract, plus the prospect of seven ﬁgures when he hit the Bigs. College could wait.