"It's definitely a huge honor," said Hellickson, who will open the Phillies' 2016 season on Monday in Cincinnati at 4:10 p.m. ET. "I've been a part of five Opening Days now and just the atmosphere -- standing on the line, seeing everything, how Opening Day goes down -- you kind of just think, 'Hopefully I can pitch one of these game sometime in my career.' It's exciting, that's for sure."
The Phillies acquired Hellickson from the D-backs in a trade in November. He will be a free agent following the season, and it seems unlikely that he will re-sign as Philadelphia rebuilds for the future. The Phils are quietly hoping Hellickson pitches well enough early this season that they can trade him to a contender in July.
It could make Hellickson the first Phillies pitcher to start Opening Day in his first and only season with the organization since Floyd Youmans in 1989.
(Andy Ashby started Opening Day 2000 following a trade with San Diego. He was traded that season to Atlanta, although he began his career with the Phils in 1991-92.)
But that does not mean Hellickson can't make his mark with the Phillies. They are hoping he can influence the team's young starters like Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez as they work to establish themselves.
"This offseason, we made it a priority to add a stabilizing influence to our young rotation, and we think we found that guy in Jeremy," general manager Matt Klentak said. "I think one of the things, on top of the obvious, is that he's a veteran guy, but still just 28 years old. He'll pitch at 29 this season, so we're excited that he's still in his prime. And more than anything, he's a competitor. He wants the ball. We've talked about building an environment, and we think he'll be a very positive influence on our staff."
Hellickson said his goal this season is to pitch the way he did earlier in his career. He went 27-31 with a 3.06 ERA in 70 appearances (64 starts) the first three years of his career, which included winning the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 2011 with the Rays. But Hellickson is 22-27 with a 4.86 ERA in 72 appearances (71 starts) in three seasons since.
"I'd be lying to you if I said I don't think about free agency, but I don't think about it a lot," Hellickson said. "It's definitely an opportunity. I couldn't ask for a better situation to come into. You know, from top to bottom here, this organization is awesome. And all of the guys that I've got to meet so far, we've had a lot of fun so far. So we're all just excited for the season to get started."