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Fox enjoying dual role in Reading

READING — Jake Fox sits at a table in the cramped home clubhouse inside FirstEnergy Stadium prior to most games with a few of his considerably younger Fightin Phils teammates.

The 32-year-old utility player doesn't have a winter ball job secured. He has no idea where he will be next spring.

So what's Fox doing during his down time? Teaching his mates how to play card games such as hearts, spades or puck. Sometimes, he plays chess.

Fox isn't mailing in his final weeks of this season on a baseball field. In fact, he's having as much fun as he ever has.

What he's doing, in addition to knocking the cover off the ball with 17 home runs and 56 RBIs in 54 games with Reading, is teaching the younger, more athletic, more coveted teammates how to be better baseball players.

"I feel like I've gotten more fulfillment out of this season because I've seen another side of it," he said.

Fox was signed June 12 by the Phillies after playing in Mexico and assigned to Reading for one specific reason: to teach the prospects how to play the game the right way, to understand the intricacies and mental aspects.

That includes playing hearts, puck and chess.

"It's about teaching them how to look ahead four or five moves, how to think about something or someone other than yourself," Fox said. "The game has changed. These guys here are amazing athletes.

"But, to me, it's not enough to be athletic. You have to be intelligent."

Fox turned back to a teammate in the on-deck circle during a recent game and told him he was going to hit a home run as long as he could keep it fair.

The Reading teammate asked how he knew that.

Fox told him that the opposing pitcher busted him in with fastballs in the previous at-bat.

A few moments later, Fox and his teammate were exchanging high-fives after his home run off an inside fastball.

"He couldn't understand how I knew," the Cubs' 2003 draft pick said. "I said, 'What do you think he's going to throw me if he got me before with an inside fastball?' "

Fox, who has 20 home runs in the big leagues playing with the Cubs, Orioles and A's, has led by example, too.

Shortly after coming to Reading, he and Brock Stassi were at first base during pre-game infield drills when Fox told him he was about to be sick. Fox spent much of his time in Mexico sick from the food.

Fox ran to the dugout, threw up in a trash can, then ran back to his spot. Stassi looked perplexed and wondered aloud why Fox didn't skip the drills.

"I was sick; now I feel better," Fox said.

Fox has not given up on his career — he's hitting .330 at Reading. He's not ready to be a coach or manager, so he made a mental adjustment of his own.

He came out of an offseason when he thought his playing days were over.

After hitting .307 with 16 doubles, 16 homers and 46 RBIs in 57 games in Mexico, Fox promised himself to take a different approach once the Phillies signed him.

"I stopped worrying about where my next job was going to be, if I was going to get called up, what I could do to get better," he said. "I didn't want to [end this season] with a bad taste in my mouth.

"It's amazing what you can do when the weight of all that is off your shoulders."

One thing that continues to weigh on Fox is the distance between him and his wife and two young children in Indiana.

They came to see him once in Mexico and have come to Pennsylvania twice.

But Fox said there is a great support system in place and his wife hasn't wavered in her support at all, even with two little ones at home.

"When we got together, my wife didn't know much about baseball," he recalled. "When she saw me have a great day in the big leagues, that's when she really believed what I was telling her, that I still think I can play in the big leagues.

"Even this year, she told me to finish strong, push through."

In the meantime, Reading teammates, including Zach Collier, have clung to Fox's lessons through card games in the clubhouse and his work ethic on the field.

Collier, like Fox, learned through rejection. He was designated for assignment earlier this season by the Phillies, then re-signed. He's been much more dedicated and performed better since. He has seven home runs in six games this month through Friday.

"It has been great to watch [Collier] work hard and turn it around," Fox said.

Same can be said for Fox.

SIMONS SAYS

Kyle Simon is pitching with more confidence since his demotion to Double-A Reading for a second time this season in late May.

His numbers show that: He is 3-1 with a 2.58 earned run average and just six walks in 381/3 innings since May 26 in Reading. That includes a residual first appearance in which he gave up three runs immediately after being sent down.

"That was a long day," Simon recalled. "Flew out of Lehigh Valley to Atlanta, then up to Akron. It was frustrating, but you have to get over it."

The 23-year-old said he has gotten back to attacking the strike zone and regained confidence in his best pitch, a sinker. It took some time, he said after posting an 0-2 record and a 9.42 ERA in 10 games spanning two stints with Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

"The biggest thing, especially in relief pitching, is the ability to forget the last pitch," Simon said.

The 6-foot-6 right-hander is 3-2 with a 2.62 ERA in his two stints this year with Reading, where he said he has learned to help himself when a pitch, an at-bat, an inning goes awry.

That was something he couldn't control at Lehigh Valley.

"You've got to be your biggest coach on the mound," he said. "No one is going to be out there to help. You feel completely naked. It's all a learning process, especially in the minors.

"I've been able to figure it out, nip it in the bud."

thousenick@mcall.com

Twitter @TomHousenick

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