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Phils get familiar with the Trop

Phils get familiar with the Trop

ST. PETERSBURG -- Hitting coach Milt Thompson began Monday afternoon's workout rolling baseballs down the third-base line, as players tried to ascertain how they might react in a World Series game setting.

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Infield practice took on an educational tone, with Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley waiting until the last second to snag grounders otherwise considered routine. Studying the bounces on artificial turf or when they went from turf to dirt became important lessons.

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"It was pretty bouncy," Rollins said. "It didn't stop bouncing when it got on the dirt. Sometimes, it didn't bounce at all. When they put some water on it, naturally, it will bounce a little more."

Coaches later wheeled out the popup machine for drills, allowing players new to the foreign Tropicana Field the chance to pick up balls against the roof's white backdrop.

"There's a lot of action going on up there," Rollins said. "The bars up there, catwalks and lights, more lights and more catwalks. I don't think it will be an issue. We're going to have night games, so the sun won't be shining through and making the roof lighter. But if you don't pick up the ball right away, it will be tough to find it."

Though the Phillies train in nearby Clearwater, Fla., they hadn't played an Interleague game in Tropicana Field since 2001, and only Rollins and Pat Burrell were members of the team then. Matt Stairs, Jamie Moyer, J.C. Romero and Joe Blanton played here when they were American Leaguers, and offered remembrances.

If the Phillies are to win a World Series, they're going to have to win at least one game in St. Petersburg, against a team riding high on momentum.

"They have an excellent team," said Stairs, who saw the Rays plenty while he played for Toronto. "They're young and play the game right. They move runners over. They run the bases. They don't rely on one guy to have that big bop to win the game. They ended the season on a high and we can't take them lightly."

The Rays appear to be taking everything lightly, playing like a young team with nothing to lose.

"That's how they've played their first two series," general manager Pat Gillick said. "You always say, 'The young guys don't know what pressure is.' They don't realize it's pressure. I think now, after this Boston series, if they didn't know what pressure was, they have an idea now. When you're up seven zip and all of a sudden, you're down 8-7 [in Game 5], then you lose the next game [Game 6] and are up 2-1 in the sixth inning of a seventh game, you can have pressure. They're a very good team."

The Phillies appear loose entering their first World Series since 1993. At the end of Monday's workout, the position players ran the bases as a group, laughing and joking all the way.

When players and coaches returned to the clubhouse, each found a rubber duck in their locker, given to them by manager Charlie Manuel.

The duck served as a metaphor, and suggested that players remain loose for the game's biggest contest.

"Lucky ducks," Brad Lidge said. "We'll leave it at that."

Rollins epitomized the casual attitude, regardless of the size of the stage. It's just another game.

"It's a baseball game," Rollins said. "The ball doesn't get bigger, the bat doesn't get harder and no one turns into Superman. It's still baseball."

Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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