Until this year, Phillips spent his entire pro career seeking to wear Yankees pinstripes. He was New York's seventh-round Draft pick in 1999, and he broke into the Majors with the Yankees in 2004.In 2007 he had his best season in the Majors, batting .292 with two home runs and 25 RBIs in 61 games. He played regularly at first base, especially after Doug Mientkiewicz missed extended time with an injury following a rough collision. However, Phillips was the odd man out after the season when the Yankees needed space on their 40-man roster. He rejected an outright assignment to the Minors and elected to be a free agent. The Reds signed him to a Minor League deal with a non-roster invite on Jan. 4. "It was a little surprising after the year I had last year," Phillips said of the Yankees' decision. "At the same time, you can never be caught too off guard in this game, because of the stuff that happened. It's a business." The surprise of being outrighted by the Yankees paled in comparison with the more personal shocks to Phillips' family over the past two years. Last year he missed two weeks of Spring Training when his mother was involved in a serious car accident. He couldn't make up the time in camp and started 2007 in Triple-A. Two years ago, Phillips' wife, Bethany, was diagnosed with a rare form of uterine cancer. They already knew about the disease when he got to Spring Training that season, but they learned just how it serious it was on Opening Day. "It ended up being a six-month ordeal, going through chemo and all that to take care of it, but she's doing extremely well now," Phillips said. "Trying to juggle playing baseball and going home on off-days was very tough. It tests your character a little bit. Looking back now, it's taught me a lot, and I've grown up a lot, which is good." Buoyed by both perspective and optimism, Phillips seemed to have a handle on the adversity and unexpected turns that come with fighting for one of the final roster spots on a Major League club. He's glad he's doing that this spring with the Reds. "I feel really good about this organization and the opportunity I've been given," he said. "I'm having a lot of fun over here."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.