ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Brett Phillips is the fun-loving Tampa Bay Rays outfielder. His personality is the reason he’s picked up lifelong fans throughout his career.
Phillips bounced around the minor leagues for eight seasons before finding a home back in Tampa Bay. Along the way, 8-year-old Isabella followed his minor league closely.
“Mostly he’s a good player and he’s funny,” Isabella said.
One of her favorite Phillips moments in Biloxi was when he had an encounter with a feisty opossum that snuck on the field.
She first met Phillips in 2016, when she was just three years old at a Biloxi Shuckers (Double-A Brewers affiliate) game. Her grandfather, Mike Hager, worked at the stadium.
“I always had her sitting next to the dugout,” Hager said. "He would always come over, talk to her, give her game balls.”
“I remember meeting her specifically in 2016, her and her grandparents,” Phillips told ABC Action News sports anchor Kyle Burger. “She is one of those fans, three years old at the time…it’s been really cool that she’s supported me since then for five years now. She’s watched me go through the minor leagues.”
Isabella has a display case of all the baseballs Phillips signed for her.
“I think 12 or 11,” she said.
Isabella has been to dozens of Phillips games, but never at Tropicana Field. Her most memorable game was when her grandparents surprised her with a trip from their home in Mississippi to New Orleans to see Phillips play for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox (Triple-A Brewers affiliate).
“He was like ‘wow, why did you guys come all the way over here just to see us play?’” Isabella said.
“They’ve been to Colorado Springs, New Orleans, fans drive all over,” Phillips said. “It’s really cool, very humbling that I’ve been able to make an impact, a positive one on their child. Now she gets to grow, and I don’t know if I am her favorite player (he is.)…I am her favorite player, and that’s really cool.”
Isabella now plays travel softball.
“I hit the ball good and caught the ball good,” Isabella said.
So good, she was awarded the game ball. Her first thought...
“She took a picture of it (and posted it on social media) and said ‘Hey Brett, now I can give you a game ball,’” Hager said.
“For her first thought after winning the game ball ‘I got to give this to Brett Phillips,’ I’m honored,” Phillips said. “I don’t normally blush, but thank you, Isabella. I’ll be looking forward to seeing you soon.”
Until then, Isabella and her family will continue watching the Rays every night.
“They’re a really good team and he’s still having fun and being goofy, too,” Isabella said.