Funeral services for 20 year-old Corey Phelan, a pitcher in...

Funeral services for 20 year-old Corey Phelan, a pitcher in the Phillies' minor-league system, Wednesday Oct. 19, 2022 at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs church in Greelawn. Phelan died on Wednesday at the ChildrenÕs Hospital of Philadelphia after a six-month battle against Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

PHILADELPHIA — In their hearts and on their wrists, the Phillies are carrying with them during this World Series run the memory of Corey Phelan.

Phelan, a Greenlawn native, was a 20-year-old pitcher in Philadelphia’s minor-league system who died Oct. 12 after a six-month battle with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer. Following his diagnosis in April and during his subsequent treatment, he visited with his major-league counterparts, the sort of players he aspired to be, on several game days, including at Citi Field when the Phillies played the Mets, forming a bond with virtual strangers over the beauty and heartache of baseball and life.

On one of those occasions, he gave each of the Phillies a green rubber bracelet bearing his name, a keepsake and a reminder. Many of the Phillies still have theirs, wearing it on the field or hanging it in their locker.

Those ballpark experiences between Phelan and the Phillies were fleeting. The impression was lasting.

“He's on this team right now. We wouldn’t be here without him,” reliever Zach Eflin said. “There are so many guys playing for Corey, playing for other friends that have passed from cancer. It’s absolutely heartbreaking for him and his family. He’s in a much better place, fighting a much bigger fight now. In the meantime, we’re going to hold him in our hearts.” 

Catcher J.T. Realmuto said: “We think about him every day.” 

And leftfielder Kyle Schwarber: “He fought his [butt] off and did everything he could. We’re all thinking about him and his family."

The Phillies’ recollections of Phelan mostly are poignant, the group inspired by his good nature and bravery in the face of an impossible situation. And sometimes they bring smiles. One comes from pitcher Bailey Falter, who had met Phelan before he got sick.

After the pandemic caused the cancellation of his senior season, Phelan graduated from Harborfields High School in 2020 and passed on college to sign a professional contract with the Phillies. Based out of their Clearwater, Florida, complex, he got to know Falter in spring training and instructional league settings, spending some time together as a couple of lanky lefthanders, a subset of ballplayers who “tend to draw close to each other,” as Falter put it.

Falter this season was the kind of role player every team wants, a young pitcher who can start and relieve and bounce between the majors and minors. It’s a tough gig, at least in a baseball context. Even success doesn’t always ward off another demotion. 

Right as Phelan’s late May visit approached, Falter struggled, allowing five runs in three innings against the Mets. So he wasn’t happy, naturally, but he knew that Phelan and his father, Chris Phelan, were going to be there that weekend.

“I heard he was coming in. I was super excited to see him. I hadn’t seen him in such a long time,” Falter said. “It brought tears to my eyes to see the condition he was in, but he still had enough courage to come.” 

Phelan arrived and lightly roasted Falter. 

“He was like, ‘Bailey, man, it’s good to see you. We didn’t know what was going to happen after that start, if they were going to send you down or anything like that,’” Falter said, chuckling at the memory. “So everyone got a good laugh out of that. It just shows you the type of people that they are. They’re awesome."

Phelan shared a particular connection with some Phillies over their mutual strong Christian faith. They had what Eflin called “an awesome huddle prayer” for and with him in the clubhouse during one of his hangouts. He also spoke to the team, conveying a sentiment that later was included on the memorial card given out at his funeral.

“I hope no one has to go through what I have been through to see how beautiful life is,” it reads, “but I hope everyone is able to see how beautiful life is the way I see it."

Schwarber fought tears while recalling that message. 

“It’s just a little reminder that you don’t want to take it for granted, what you’re doing. He was a perfect example,” Schwarber said. "It just [stinks]." 

He paused to steady his voice. 

“Especially when you see words like that,” he continued. 

It was Schwarber who, according to teammates, arranged for Phelan to sit in the dugout, in uniform, for part of a game, MLB rules strictly legislating such areas no matter. Schwarber deflected credit, calling it a “collective unit group decision.” 

“He wasn’t feeling the best, but we wanted to make sure he was enjoying the moment, the time with his family, the time with us,” Schwarber said. 

Memories like those are part of Phelan’s legacy that will stay with the Phillies for these playoffs and beyond. 

“It was good for him to have that moment,” Falter said. “I just wish he was still here to experience this moment with us.”

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