During a five-day period when he was in limbo and not on a roster, Russ Canzler admits to being scared. He didn’t know if his playing days were going to continue.
“It’s nothing that I ever had to deal with before in my life, especially in baseball and I would lie to ya if I said that I didn’t feel anxious or a little scared as to where the next move was,” he said when he was back in town last week playing for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs against his former RailRiders team.
The Hazleton native said his faith got him through the hard time. Almost instantly after saying a prayer, he heard that the Phillies wanted to sign him.
“It definitely tested my faith a little bit,” he said. “I have a lot of confidence that I’ve gone to a lot of different places and done a lot of different things and it’s all been under the Lord’s hand, and I think this is no different.”
The 28-year-old Canzler signed with the Phillies on June 25, and four of his first five games with the IronPigs were against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he spent the first two and a half months of the season. That helped him get accustomed a little more with his new team.
But being on a new team is nothing new for Canzler, who has been a part of seven different organizations since the start of the 2011 season.
It also helped when he walked into the office of Lehigh Valley manager Dave Brundage and saw former Phillies World Series-winning skipper Charlie Manuel, who gave Canzler some kind words.
“It was pretty cool. I walked right into the coach’s office and he was sitting down right there and told me he was excited and he knew some things about me,” Canzler said about Manuel, who was also in Moosic with the IronPigs last week for two games. “That’s always great to hear when you go somewhere.”
His tenure as the IronPigs cleanup hitter has gotten off to a very good start as he reached base in his first eight games with the team. When he returned to PNC Field, he helped Lehigh Valley win both games by hitting a game-winning three-run homer in the first game then collecting an RBI and a run scored in the second game.
In the two games at his old stomping grounds, he went 4 for 10 with four RBI and scored three runs.
While he also got off to a stellar beginning with the RailRiders (.353 in his first five games), he started to press after a 10-game hitting streak ended on June 8. Playing in a platoon role with SWB, he only collected one more hit with the team before getting released on June 20.
He said that the build-up of excitement from fans in his hometown might have put a little pressure on him to perform up to his previous standards.
“(The excitement) built into spring training when I had a good opportunity there, being close to home, all the perks that we had playing for the Yankees,” Canzler said. “So there was a part of me that really wanted to hold onto that and see if there is anything I can do to kinda create more of an opportunity for myself here.
“So I think when you throw in all those other variables — close to home, playing for my hometown team, the Yankees, everything that comes with the Yankees organization — there was a part of me that was like, ‘I can make this work, that they should keep me around.’ And that’s not a good formula for success in this game.”
So he hooked on to next closest place to his home, a mere 45-60 minute drive, to Coca-Cola Park in Allentown as opposed to signing with the Braves, who were his favorite team growing up.
“And as far as being Lehigh Valley, it was a huge blessing for us. I get to be close to home. It’s a little bit longer down the road but a lot of times I’m gonna be close,” he said. “If the 10-year-old me had a contract offer from the Phillies and the Braves and I chose the Phillies, I would’ve freaked out. I think this is a good spot for me.”
And so far it’s been a good fit for the IronPigs too.