BY JEFF FALK
PHILADELPHIA – Not sure if Derek Fisher has arrived officially – if he’s ‘made it’, just yet.
But he is living the dream. And it’s not just his dream, it’s also everyone’s who’s grown up around our national past time.
On a comfortable Tuesday night, Fisher began his second Major League Baseball stint – and hopefully his last – as a member of the Houston Astros, in of all places, Citizen’s Bank Park in Philadelphia. Batting sixth and playing center field, the Lebanon native and Cedar Crest graduate contributed a two-run single and a pair of run-saving catches to Houston’s 5-0 triumph over the hometown Phillies.
Just hours prior to the game, Fisher was called up to the Astros from Class AAA Fresno to help ease an injury suffered by Houston’s regular center fielder George Springer. A little over a month ago, Fisher had made his Major League debut with the Astros and turned in five productive games, during teammate Josh Reddick’s absence from the outfield.
Before a throng of family, friends and former teammates, Fisher certainly looked like he fit in and belonged. His two running catches helped keep the game scoreless early, and his two-run single to right in the sixth capped the Astros’ four-run rally and gave the visitors a 5-0 lead.
Fisher finished his sixth major league game overall one-for-three with a walk.
“You just take advantage of the opportunities you’re given,” said Fisher. “You just have fun. Coming up and being with a team that’s winning like this one, you can’t take anything for granted.
“It’s something I want to set an example for,” continued Fisher. “When I was a kid, I was looking up to these guys. Regardless of the results, I just want to set a good example.”
“I don’t know if he’s here to stay, but I know what Derek is thinking, ‘Just one day at a time and control the things he can control,’” said Fisher’s coach at Cedar Crest, Chris Groff. “If he does that, we’re going to be seeing Derek in MLB for a long time. We’re proud of him. What an experience for us. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime.”
The athletic Fisher, who is just as comfortable playing left and right field, showed his versatility in the bottom of the first inning. He turned his back on a ball hit by Odubel Herrera to deep center field, got his bearings, found the ball in the air and made a sprawling catch on the warning track, just in front of the 409-foot sign.
Then in the bottom of the second, with Philadelphia again threatening, Fisher broke well on a short liner over second base and made a fine running catch to thwart another attempt.
“I found out last night. So I was able to get my stuff together and get here from Fresno,” said Fisher, 23. “It’s been a whirlwind, just like any change of scenery. I was in the lineup when I got here.
“Having come up before, I was able to slow the game down and have some fun,” added Fisher. “I guess it sounds easy.”
“Fish comes up and makes a big impression,” said Houston manager A.J. Hinch. “Then he comes back the second time and is a part of everything again.”
With Houston already up 3-0, Fisher came to bat with two on and two out in the top of the sixth. After falling behind in the count, the left-handed Fisher lined a sharp single into the hole between first and second base for a pair of RBIs.
In the top of the ninth, with one on and one out, Fisher again fell behind in the count, before employing a selective eye to coax a walk.
“They’re showing me what to do,” said Fisher of his teammates. “I don’t have to do too much. I’m just following them.
“I felt good at the plate,” Fisher continued. “It makes it easy to come into a lineup like this, because they’re so good. It makes it a little bit easier, just to contribute.”
“You just kind of knew he was going to get to this point,” said Groff of Fisher. “It was all Derek. Everybody has this dream. But Derek had a work ethic. He prepared himself for this all the time. He knew he wanted to make it to this point.
“He’s living the dream,” Groff added. “We all wanted to do it. But he had two things going for him – work ethic and ability.”
Fisher also had a good at-bat in the top of the second, but lined out to left field on a 1-1 pitch. In the fifth, the former University of Virginia star grounded out to first.
“I came here with friends when I could,” said Fisher of Citizen’s Bank Park. “The last time I was here was in 2011. It’s an awesome place. It’s fun.”
“When he was in high school, our teams were so good and Derek got a lot of attention,” said Groff. “Now all of a sudden I’m seeing the same people again. Everybody’s following him. It’s been so exciting for our county. Derek has fulfilled his dream.
“I have seen so many people from Lebanon County here,” continued Groff. “It’s been great. What’s been so much fun is that Derek deserves this. He’s such a good guy. He will take the time to talk to everyone.”
Fisher is the first Lebanon County native to play major league baseball in 70 years, and just the sixth overall.
“It’s been fun for me to watch at every level,” said Groff of Fisher’s evolution. “His base running and defense are why he’s standing on the field tonight. He’s always been a hitter. You take those two areas, that’s why we’re watching him tonight.”
During his first stint with the Astros in June, Fisher went five-for-18 with two home runs and played all five games in left field. At Class AAA Fresno this season, Fisher has hit .318 with 21 roundtrippers, 66 RBIs and 16 stolen bases., ”
“A couple of months ago I won some tickets and I got to choose which game I could go to, so I picked the first game of the series with the Astros (on Monday night),” said Groff. “But no Derek. So last night in the third inning, Springer got hurt. My wife says to me, ‘Derek’s gong to be called back, isn’t he? We’ve got to come back.’ So we went on the internet and got tickets.”
At 67-33, Houston sports the best record in all of Major League Baseball. Conversely, Philadelphia is the worst at 34-64.
Houston is now a remarkable 37-12 on the road this season. The Astros have won nine straight interleague games.
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