Former Phillie hopes Lancaster is gateway back to MLB

By Burt Wilson, 11:46am, July 28, 2014 - Updated 1:31pm, July 28, 2014
(Photo by Marty Heisey)
Ben Francisco feels he can still play in the major leagues.

The last time Francisco played in the bigs, he went 0 for 4 playing for the New York Yankees in a game against Toronto last season. He doesn't want it to end that way.

So he's playing for the Lancaster Barnstormers to show the scouts he is just as good as he was when he debuted with Cleveland in 2007, just as good as when he made three straight trips to the playoffs with the Phillies, including a World Series appearance in 2009.

"I think I can still play," he said. "And (Lancaster) is a good place to play. (There are) a lot of ex-big leaguers, and we're all here for the same reason, trying to get back to affiliated ball. Every night it's good competition."

"He's an experienced guy," ’Stormers skipper Butch Hobson said of Francisco, a quiet guy who lets his bat and skills do the talking. "He gives you a good effort every day, and Ben can be a big bat in our lineup."

Friday's game against the Bridgeport Bluefish showcased his talents. Francisco was 4 for 5 with four RBIs in the game, including his walk-off single in the 11th inning. He displayed his power with two doubles and gave a glimpse of his speed with a steal of third.

"It's good to see him steal third," hitting coach Stan Cliburn said of Francisco, now 32. "That tells us his legs are still good. There's nothing he can't do. And with the work he puts in every day in the (batting) cage, the extra batting practice … he's a big asset for this club."

Following three seasons at UCLA, the California native started his pro career after being selected by Cleveland in the fifth round of the 2002 draft.

In 2007, he was in a hotel in Pawtucket playing for Buffalo (then the Indians’ Triple-A team) when he was summoned to his manager's room and told he was being called up to Cleveland.

"It was a pretty special day," Francisco said. "I got to realize a dream. I called my dad, and he made it out (for my debut)."

His first appearance was as a defensive replacement on May 1 of that year. After striking out a couple of times as a pinch-hitter in latter games, he made the most of his first start.

He singled off Tampa Bay's Edwin Jackson for his first major league hit. Then he led off the bottom of the ninth with a home run against Shawn Camp to give Cleveland a 2-1 win. "First hit and a walk-off home run in the same game, that was a pretty good start," he said.

In 2009, he was traded along with Cliff Lee to the Phillies. "We had a great team," Francisco said. "I played with some Hall of Famers. We had a good run there in the playoffs, three straight years. Got to play in the World Series. It was a pretty special time in my career."

He spent the 2011 season with three different clubs (Toronto, Houston and Tampa Bay). "It was hectic, always packing," he said. "I felt like I was living out of a suitcase all year.

“But I got to experience three different organizations, see how they do things. It's just part of the business."

After his stint with the Yankees last season, he finished the season with Tucson, San Diego's Triple-A team. He was not playing this season until he joined the Barnstormers on June 9.

"It's a good atmosphere here," he said. "We've got a good team, and hopefully we can get to the playoffs in the second half."

"He can help us get to the playoffs," Hobson said. "But he might not be here when they start. He's a guy who can still play. He's a guy who can get signed (by an affiliated team)."

Until then, the Barnstormers will appreciate and benefit from his talents.

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