I was there when Chase Utley hit the ball off the foul pole and had it called foul. I was there when the game started close to midnight because MLB had no contingency plan for weather events. I was there the final weekend in 2005 when the Phillies swept the Nats only to miss out on the playoffs by one game on the last day of the season. I was there in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when the feeling of anger was palpable in the city.
And of course I was there when Ken Mandel, dressed as Thomas Jefferson, took his failed dash down the first-base side of the field. Actually, The Mandel Run could go down as the most memorable moment in my long history of watching baseball games.
Yes, it was epic.
The thought is that Mandel should put that big, oversized Jefferson head back on, station himself back at the top of the ramp beyond the right-field fence, and keep running until he completes the course. If he falls again he should get back up start all over.
In the meantime Ken will probably be watching Julie Moss in the 1982 Ironman Triathlon for motivation because every criminal always returns to the scene of the crime. Ken will run, dammit! He has to.
Anyway, I’m sticking close to the house for the foreseeable future because my wife – God bless her – could go into labor at any moment. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if she is in labor right now as I type this… just checked and we’re OK.
In other words, when the word comes I’m gone. In the meantime, get cozy with Lauber and The Zo Zone! It’s spelled with an exclamation point, right? Isn’t that what the Inquirer does?
Anyway, because of her state, my wife – God bless her – has been watching baseball on the teevee lately. An inquisitive sort, my wife – God bless her – keeps a running dialogue with whomever is around when she’s parked in front of the tube. If she’s alone she has her laptop nearby to give the rundown via instant messenger to keep the conversation going, and if my son or I am in the room, the banter, inevitably, turns to an inquisition.
This happens with movies, too, which usually leads to me responding with, “You’d know what’s going on if you stopped talking and paid attention,” a little too loudly.
Seriously, how complicated was Syriana? Really? Then again, I have watched that one at least four times so I guess I have figured it out by now.
Anyway, last Sunday night the old girl was lounging on the couch and taking in the Phillies-Braves matchup when the incessant chatter on Pat Burrell started up. Burrell, it seems, is an interesting and enigmatic character to casual fans, hardcore fans as well as the scribes the regularly write about the ballclub. Certainly there are other adjectives that could be used to describe Burrell, but enigmatic seems to cover them all like the giant parachute that we used to like to play with in gym class back when we were kids.
So as we were discussing the enigma that is Pat Burrell and his incumbency as the so-called "midnight mayor of Philadelphia," Jayson Werth lined a two-out, bases-loaded single to right field. Running on the pitch because Werth faced a full count and there were two outs, Burrell got a good steam of momentum off second base as the pitch was delivered and wasn’t just going to stop running when he got to third base. The problem, though, was that the ball his struck quite hard and right fielder Jeff Francoeur, known for his very strong arm, fielded the ball cleanly and was in perfect position to make a solid throw to the plate.
As a result Francoeur’s throw to the plate beat Burrell by about five yards. However, despite this the result of the play was still in doubt. Burrell is a big dude and had a full head of steam gathered by the time he reached the plate. Catcher Brian McCann could drop the ball if jarred even though he caught it, turned and was waiting as Burrell approached.
But Burrell avoided the contact with the catcher. Instead of taking the force of his 225-plus pounds into the plate, he launched into a floaty-kind of slide about three yards away from the plate as if he was a running back diving over the top on a goal-line stand.
Needless to say he had no chance.
But that was just the beginning. The commentary shifted to such intense questioning that I now know what it’s like to be sitting at a small wooden table on a hard-back chair with a couple of investigators playing good-cop/bad-cop. The only thing missing – besides the table, chair and detectives – was the naked light bulb beating on my skin and making my face sweat like a fountain. By the end of it I was the innocent man ready to sign the confession just so the questions would stop like Daniel Day-Lewis as the would-be IRA flunky in In The Name of the Father.
“He was running before the pitcher threw the pitch and he was still out?” she asked, incredulously.
“How can that be? Is he slow?”
“How can he be that slow?”
“I don’t know.”
“Is he the slowest guy on the team?”
“He’s up there.”
“You mean there are guys slower than him?”
“Johnny Estrada is really slow. Wes Helms is slow, too.”
“But are they slower than Burrell? He’s really slow.”
“I don’t know.”
“How can he be that slow? Is he hurt?”
“He has had some foot trouble. Last year he showed me the orthotic he wears in his spikes and it looked like a boot. It had ties and clamps on it and everything.”
“You mean it wasn’t like the normal type of orthotic that runners wear?”
“It’s not like that little orthotic that you got when your Achilles was hurting and that guy stole when you were at that race?”
“How can he be that slow? Don’t they know he is slow?”
“Yeah, I think it’s pretty clear that he’s really slow.”
“But that slow… come on.”
“What do you want me to say? He’s slow.”
“Does the guy in the outfield have a good arm?”
“Yes, he has a really good arm.”
“Really good… one of the best.”
“So why did they send him home if they know he’s slow and the guy has a good arm?”
“That’s a good question.”
“And what was with that slide? That was pretty wimpy.”
“Yeah, I agree.”
Then came the really good question.
“Why didn’t he knock over the catcher? They’re allowed to do that, right?”
“That’s a really good question. I was wondering the same thing.”
“They are allowed to do that, right?”
“It used to happen all the time.”
“When there was a play at the plate.”
“No, I mean when did it happen all the time?”
“I’m not sure. Some players would have run over the catcher.”
“Yeah, I can see that. So why didn’t Burrell run over the catcher?”
“Is he a wimp?
POST SCRIPT: My wife pointed out that she was also not-so fleet afoot. In fact, she pointed out, she was often the slowest player on her sporting teams.
"I once hit a ball to deep center and was thrown out at first base," she admitted.
Sadly, she's not making that up.
The Nationals are one of those teams that always seems to give the Phillies fits no matter where they are in the standings. But noting where the Phillies are in the standings and the fact that the Nats have won nine of their last 13 games, it should be an interesting three games at good ol’ RFK this week.
Perhaps more questions about the Phillies will be answered... or asked.