(Editor’s note: Aaron submitted his story to TPT in the form of a handwritten letter. So, yes, that is his real handwriting below.)
Where I come from, people don’t really honk their horns much.
In Baton Rouge we sit around a fire and talk life. Hot or cold. It doesn’t matter. It’s a sportsman’s paradise in Louisiana.
So the first time I was able to really experience the city of Philadelphia, in 2014 after my season in Double A ended, it was kind of funny and stressful at the same time.
Cars parked in the middle of the street. Horns honking every 10 seconds. People crossing at every light and corner. Street vendors and people traffic everywhere. And….
A kid from Louisiana, fresh out of college. Far from home. Wearing some faded, broken-in jeans and an old hoodie. Standing in the middle of all that, laughing at myself and this place of chaos. I had never spent time in a large city before. I remember saying to myself: “This has got to be the biggest city in the world.”
Then at one point I started walking around trying to find something to eat, obviously having no idea where I am. It was raining and about 35°. Not knowing any better, I was walking close to the curb when a bus passed and hit a pothole.
I got soaked.
That was a great start to the day.
Welcome to Philly, bud!
Before I got drafted, I wasn’t sure what life would be like in a big city. The hobbies I like to do back home, like fishing and hiking, are not really doable in a big city.
So when I got called up to the big leagues in 2015, I was obviously really excited, but I knew I would need to adjust to city life. I remember holing up in my apartment on Broad Street. My mom would call and ask me what I was up to on an off day. I would usually just give her one of two answers.
“Not much, Ma.”
“Just watching some TV, probably going to order some food.”
She’d always have the same response: “You have to get out and explore! If I were there, I would have your ass walking with me.” When she came to visit, she would walk marathons. She knew the city better than me at the time, and she had only been twice.
I just wanted to play ball and rest up and avoid being in the middle of people traffic. And regular traffic. And when the Phillies traveled to other cities, I’d be the same way. I hated going to New York. That place was the worst of the worst city-wise. Triple everything in Philly and that’s what New York was.
But a few years in, without me really noticing it at the time, something started to change. After all the trips to New York, I would come back home to Philly and find myself thinking that this is nowhere near as crazy as that place. And it gradually got to a point where Philly began to feel like home. It didn’t feel quite so big anymore.
I started venturing out more and exploring on our off days. I have a camera, so I would go out at night and take some pictures. It was peaceful and stress free. I’d go eat breakfast in the mornings and just walk around after with no particular destination in mind. My dad’s family is Italian, so I love Italian food. I would actually go to the Italian part of the city and write down the names of restaurants I wanted to go to.
Now, four years after arriving, I’m like, This place is pretty chill. It gets better every year.
And when I go home to Baton Rouge in the off-season, I find myself thinking, Where can I eat that I haven’t already eaten at 50 times before? The good thing is my mom cooks every night, so I am lucky enough to get a home-cooked meal that’s better than going out to eat anyway.
I never thought I’d say it, but I actually enjoy living in a big city.
I do wish there were more parking lots in Philly, though. And it’s not the easiest place to drive. But I can whip a truck with a camper shell around better than you’d think. I’m probably one of five people in this city who drives a truck with a camper shell. If I see one on the road next to me, I give them a “rock on” sign.
Guys on the team give me grief about having a camper and say it looks bad. But I tell them there will be a time when you’ll move beyond looks and go with functionality. My brother actually got me on the camper life, and I recently recruited a friend on the team to get one. He used to make fun of me for it. But he loves it now.
You always hear about this city being full of really tough, hard-nosed people. But what sometimes gets left out of the equation is that so many people here have a heart of gold. They’re loyal, friendly, and they’ll do anything to help you out if you need it. In a lot of ways it reminds me of what people are like back home. Most everyone I meet in Philadelphia is very kind, and they have treated everyone in my family well. Philly has opened its arms to us in a way that is truly special. It’s like a really big small town.
And when it comes to being at the ballpark?
I love the place. Coming back from road trips and driving up to the stadium, I can take a deep breath….
We’re back home.
I mean, for me, this is the best place in the world to play.
Our fans … yes, they are passionate. They want to win just as bad as we do. They expect a lot out of us. They will cheer you, they will love you, and sometimes, yes, they will boo you.
If you hustle, work hard, and play the game the right way, you will do fine.
The great thing is that every player we brought in this off-season plays the game with passion and effort. They fit right in with this team.
Bryce, he’s a baller. We all know that. He plays the game hard. Philly is going to love him. They will respect that. He’s here to win. Just like Cutch, D-Rob, Segura, JT. Just like all of us.
So I couldn’t be more excited for us to show this town what we can do. We surprised a lot of people last year, and I’m excited to see what happens this season.
When I step on that mound on Opening Day at the Bank, in the city I have grown to love, it will be a great honor.
I came to Philadelphia as a kid from Baton Rouge who’d never experienced life in a big city. And for a minute, when I was standing on that sidewalk, wet from getting splashed by a bus, it looked like a lot for me. But I can now say that I’m a better person because of Philadelphia, my teammates, and the people I have surrounded myself with.
With the grace of God, it turned out I landed in the right place.