But what happens when the viral star is no longer viral? When the shine wears off classic underdog story? When the tears that Stassi shed dried up and he got back to work?
The 27-year old arrived in Allentown Thursday trying to make sure the viral moment isn’t all that defines his baseball career when it’s all said and done.
“It’s great that I made it, but you want to get there and stay there,” Stassi said Friday in the IronPigs clubhouse. “I’m going to work my tail off down here and hopefully get back up there.”
The Phillies optioned Stassi to the minor leagues Sunday night with a mission to rediscover his swing. With no regular playing time immediately available in Lehigh Valley, he was sent to Double-A Reading, where he hadn’t been since garnering Eastern League MVP honors in 2015. Stassi enjoyed seeing some Fightins’ front office members, who he had become friendly with while spending two years there, but it certainly wasn’t where he expected to be in June after starting April with the big-league team.
Stassi played in both games of a Wednesday doubleheader with Reading, then packed his bags again and shipped up to Allentown. With Roman Quinn headed for the disabled list, there was suddenly playing time available for Stassi — in left field in addition to designated hitter and perhaps an occasional game at first base to fill in for Rhys Hoskins.
“Right now, we’re going to try to get him in pretty much every day just to get his timing back at the plate and get some at-bats and speed things up,” manager Dusty Wathan said. “When you sit on the bench for a long time, it can be difficult, especially as a guy that hasn’t really done it, trying to pinch-hit off the bench and stuff. Just try to get him back out there, comfortable with his swing and we’ll see where we are about 10 days from now.”
With the Phillies, Stassi played in 36 games but only 11 were starts. He collected just 12 hits and eight walks in 69 at-bats. As a pinch-hitter, he went 2-for-15.
Not seeing the field on a daily basis for the first time in his seven-year professional career, Stassi struggled to produce in the limited times he was called upon.
“I think it’s just that it’s really tough to replicate live pitching and live ABs (at-bats),” Stassi said. “You get in there as a starter and you get your four ABs, kind of get in a rhythm. You pinch-hit, come in and have one AB, and if it doesn’t go so well, you sit and think about it for maybe a couple days if you don’t pinch-hit again.”
There’s no way to get ready for a role coming off the bench where your success is largely defined by your ability to pinch-hit — “I think if there was, there’d be a lot more successful pinch-hitters,” Stassi grinned — when so much of hitting is about rhythm and timing.
But had you told Stassi — way back when he was a high school senior hardly getting recruited for college, or when he was drafted in the 33rd round in 2011 and earned a signing bonus of $1,000, or when he hit .200 in rookie ball — that he’d even have a chance to struggle in the major leagues one day, he probably would have taken it.
That’s what helped make his viral moment viral. And it surely made him appreciate everything that followed in his two months as a big-leaguer.
“Oh man, there’s so many things,” Stassi said. “Every day, it’s kind of like, wow, this is even cooler. If I had to pinpoint one thing, just being on a big-league field is pretty incredible.”
The charter flights and all their amenities were just a bit different from the long, cramped bus rides of the minor leagues. So was the treatment of a major leaguer as opposed to a minor leaguer hanging on to the dream.
Stassi got plenty of positive feedback on social media from his viral moment. Philadelphia and beyond embraced him for his story, the way he reacted to getting the news that every baseball player longs to get.
The California native received celebrity status in the immediate aftermath. He was recognized in places where he didn’t expect it. Tommy Joseph, when making dinner plans for a group of players upon their return to Philadelphia from spring training, made sure to use Stassi’s name for the reservation.
“He always gave me a hard time about that,” Stassi chuckled. “… But other than that, it wasn’t like I needed a bodyguard or anything.”
Stassi certainly didn’t have one as he walked back into the IronPigs clubhouse on Thursday. He had two months of thrills in the big leagues and one gem of a story to tell about how he got there.
But once he arrived back in Allentown, he rejoined a group of 25 players doing anything they can to get out of there, to have their own Stassi moment.
“I think it’s just getting my swing back to where it was in spring training and hopefully that’ll happen sooner rather than later,” Stassi said. “It was awesome up there and I enjoyed every second of it. Hopefully I can get back up there some day.”