Central Pa. product recovers from 'bad day' to become valuable player for Phillies

The Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS)
Philadelphia Phillies' Travis Jankowski (9) in action during a baseball game against the Washington Nationals, Wednesday, June 23, 2021, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)

Travis Jankowski grew up in Lancaster County, a Phillies fan who lived and died with the team as a high schooler when it won the 2008 World Series.

So, it was pretty exhilarating last month when Jankowski, who made his major league debut in 2015, went on the field at Citizens Bank Park for the first time wearing a Phillies uniform. And it was easy to imagine how the former Lancaster Catholic standout felt moments later as walked off to a chorus of boos after making a costly late-game mistake on the bases.

It was a blunder that could have derailed Jankowski, a 30-year-old outfielder who had just 41 big-league plate appearances over the previous two seasons. Instead, he persevered and has carved a valuable role with the Phillies as an extra outfielder.

"We all make mistakes. It was one of those things where my mistake was at a very bad time and in front of a lot of people. It cost us the game. Flat-out," Jankowski said Wednesday before he started for the second straight night in center field at Wrigley Field. "I know the fans are tough. I grew up watching Phillies games nonstop and have been to Phillies games my whole life. I know the fans can be tough."

"For me personally, when the fans cheer for me it feels great. When they boo, it hurts. But I know I don't need that — I don't need the cheers or the boos — because I know what kind of player I am. I know what winning baseball is. When I messed up, I 100% deserved to be booed. But I didn't let it crumble me. It was a bad day at the office. We all have them. I just stuck through."

Now a valuable reserve: Jankowski entered Thursday with nine hits this season in 28 at-bats (.321) and just five strikeouts in 35 plate appearances. He's a trusted reserve who can come off the bench to hit, pinch run, or play the field.

"He's been really good," manager Joe Girardi said. "He's another guy to me that's a baseball player. He really knows how to play the game. He knows what his tools are. He uses his tools to the best of his advantage. He's played really well."

After two seasons mostly spent away from the majors, Jankowski has found a place with the Phillies. That didn't seem so certain after his base-running blunder.

On June 4, Jankowski was inserted as a pinch runner on second base with no outs in the ninth and the Phillies trailing Washington by a run. When the catcher blocked a pitch in the dirt, he started for third but thought better of it and then found himself in no man's land. Jankowski ran back and forth between second and third and the catcher ran from home plate to tag him out.,

"I think it tells you that he's able to overcome adversity and it doesn't get the best of him," Girardi said. "To be really successful in this game, you're going to have to be able to do that because you're going to have those moments. I know personally. I can do some really dumb things out there and you're prepared and you're educated and you know and sometimes your brain just doesn't read things right. You think about how many chances we get to screw up. We get a lot. I'm happy for him. He's been a guy who's been up and down and it's never been easy for him. But he keeps fighting."

Lightly recruited out of Lancaster Catholic: Jankowski was lightly recruited out of Lancaster Catholic before finding his way to Stony Brook, which he helped reach the College World Series. He seemed to find his footing in San Diego as a fourth outfielder but broke a wrist before the 2019 season while diving for a ball in spring training.

He was released last year by Cincinnati after just 15 at-bats and last winter signed with the Phillies on a minor-league deal. It would be an uphill battle, Jankowski said, but he returned to the majors and he's holding his own. One bad night did not define him.

"I'm a Christian and I trust that you go through some of the toughest times to bring you to some of the best times," Jankowski said. "It's life, man. For me, baseball is a game of life. In life, you have ups and downs. In baseball, you have ups and downs. It's how you get through the low times that make the high times that much better."