CLEARWATER, Fla. |—Bona fide.
Those words have been stamped in big, bold, red letters on the 2003 Phillies as they prepare to try to close Veterans Stadium in style by reaching the postseason.
The touchstone was the free-agent signing of elite slugger Jim Thome to a club record six-year, $85 million package. Thome immediately became the poster boy for the new era of optimism and hope.
Cleveland's all-time home run king yearns to reach the playoffs again. That was paramount in his final decision and the fact that he chose Philadelphia to be his baseball home for the rest of his career spoke volumes.
Thome recognized the Phillies have a nucleus of accomplished young players and the Phillies' renaissance and revival will be enhanced by the move to the state-of-the-art new ballpark next April.
Thome, who crashed a Cleveland-record 52 homers last season, is the very definition of power hitter. His presence gives the Phillies their best everyday lineup since the 1980 World Series championship club.
An enthusiastic Mike Schmidt pointed out early in spring training that the Phillies, with the exception of rookie center fielder Marlon Byrd, have a potential All-Star at every position.
There's even been speculation that the Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell and Thome could emerge as the best middle of the order in club history.
''On paper, I'd agree with that,'' manager Larry Bowa said. ''The potential is certainly there. It's still a matter of doing it on the field.''
Schmidt and Thome think Burrell is destined to become a 50 home run man. Perhaps even this season.
''I think Pat is somewhere in the 65 to 70 percent range when it comes to potential,'' Schmidt said. ''His numbers need to be right there with Alex Rodriguez. That's Pat Burrell numbers.''
The supporting cast is comprised of the good soldiers Bowa adores.
New third baseman David Bell, second baseman Placido Polanco, catcher Mike Lieberthal and outfielder Ricky Ledee, who had a monster spring, are all consummate professionals. They know there are no shortcuts to success and they understand how to play the game.
Shortstop Jimmy Rollins, a two-time All-Star, will be a key man in many regards. The club's leadoff man must increase his sorry .306 on-base percentage and regain the base-running passion that helped him lead the league in steals his rookie season.
He and Byrd, a gifted but very raw talent, took private hitting lessons from Tony Gwynn. Both insist they'll prove they earned their diplomas with marked improvement.
The Phillies lost a numbing 54 games last season when they scored three or fewer runs. That should no longer be an issue.
''This team is going to put up a lot of crooked numbers,'' Opening Day starter Kevin Millwood said. ''That gives you a lot of confidence when you take the mound.''
Bowa is confident he has a pitching staff that will be able to protect those leads.