With Relief Room, a fan pays tribute to the Phillies relievers

HATBORO, Pa. — It’s the start of the ninth inning at Citizens Bank Park, and the Philadelphia Phillies relievers are up to the task again. They have already lost a lead, Jeurys Familia and Seranthony Domínguez giving up homers in the seventh. Now, after a comeback, the game has collapsed with Corey Knebel closer on the mound.

The Miami Marlins won, 11-9, and from the couch in his suburban living room here, Matt Edwards sighs.

“Celebrating some of these guys is really hard,” he said.

Indeed, it is: the Phillies are the only National League team not to have made the playoffs in the last 10 years, and their bullpen is an annual affair. Nostalgia can be a tantalizing escape (beer helps, too), and no one celebrates the past quite like Edwards, a 45-year-old telecommunications salesman with a wife, Cheryl, two young sons, a Great Dane — and a shrine in his rez. bathroom downstairs to the retired Phillies’ relief pitchers.

“We’re very aware that we weren’t one of the five starters or one of the guys on the field,” said Chad Durbin, who spent four seasons as a Phillies reliever. “But, you know, we had our moments. So when we are remembered, we embrace it.

Durbin recorded 225 games for the Phillies, playoffs included, with a 4.07 ERA. He pitched for five other teams, but as far as he knows, none of their fans have his picture in their bathroom. As you might guess, Durbin is also not in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “But I do it in the emergency room.”

The emergency room is what Edwards calls his bathroom, because that’s where we go to relieve ourselves. That’s the joke.

Edwards played third base in Little League and left field in men’s softball. His sons are not pitchers. His favorite active player is Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins. But like a comedian who finds endless material by staying engaged, Edwards has created a brand around players who get no respect, no respect at all.

“I remember opening packs of cards, and you’d see a mustache and think, ‘Oh, that’s Mike Schmidt’ – and no, that’s Dan Schatzeder,” he said in his home office, which is full of artifacts that don’t quite fit. in the 3ft by 8ft museum around the corner.

“But that was the joy of going through the cards, trying to find this guy. Well, now I don’t want the Mike Schmidts or the Bryce Harpers. I want to defend guys like Schatzeder, Andy Carter and Amalio Carreño, because no one does. Celebrating the little guy no one remembers is more memorable than talking about the stars, because everyone knows them.

“Nobody knows Tyson Brummett. He’s one of the coffee cup guys. That’s why this was turned into a coffee cup – enjoy a cup of coffee with Erskine Thomason.

Edwards is looking for a bespoke mug with the black-and-white face of Thomason, who pitched the ninth inning of a loss Sept. 18, 1974, in his lone major league appearance. The definitive statistics website, Baseball Reference, uses a blank photo with a question mark next to Thomason’s name. It would be blasphemy for Edwards.

He knows that Thomason was the subject of an NFL Films documentary and that the filmmakers, who followed him all season, somehow missed his only game and had to piece together the footage. . He also knows Brummett pitched a game in 2012 and later died in a plane crash. He knows that Carter was ejected from his first major league game and Carreño from his last.

And, of course, he knows that Schatzeder spent many years as a high school physical education teacher in Illinois.

“If you look at this guy, you can totally imagine him in a tracksuit with a whistle around his neck,” Edwards said. “That’s great. Who’s going to sing their song from a mountain top? If not me, then who?”

For Edwards, there is sincerity in satire. He remembers when a high school classmate was drafted by the Mets, how exciting it was that a major league team wanted someone he knew. Less than 23,000 people have ever played a game in the majors; you could put them all in the old veterans’ stadium, with more than 40,000 seats available.

They all have stories, if they happen to have pitched in relief for the Phillies, Edwards considers it his mission to tell them. An English major at the University of New Hampshire, Edwards reads a lot about his subjects, picking fun facts about each and organizing them by date on his computer. He sends several tweets a day to a modest group of followers with some famous names – famous for Edwards, at least.

“He loves Tom Hume,” said Scott Eyre, a left-handed specialist from the late 2000s, referring to a bespectacled right-hander from the 1980s. “He would probably pass out if Tom Hume went into the emergency room. “

Eyre did, in early 2020, after an autograph appearance nearby. (Edwards wore his Hume t-shirt for the occasion.) Eyre, who only knew Edwards from Twitter, became the first reliever to actually relieve himself in the relief room. It was only natural, since he hung out with Edwards for hours, well past 1 a.m., drinking beers, opening old packs of cards and telling stories about Chuck McElroy, Dan Plesac and other award winners. he knew.

A pilgrimage to see a Phillies fan’s bathroom, it’s safe to say, is nothing Eyre expected to do. A California native now living in North Carolina, Eyre once had a no-trade clause with Philadelphia. When the Cubs sent him there in 2008, he asked Jon Lieber, a teammate who had played for the Phillies, what to expect.

“He’s going, ‘Man, you’re gonna love it there, and they’re gonna love you,'” Eyre said. “I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, “You’re a stand up guy and you are who you are.” And that was exactly it. If you go out, do your job, and own up to the mistakes you make, they will always love you. They just want to yell at you for a little while, and that’s fine.

Eyre came to understand the essence of Philadelphia fans: they always expect to win, no matter the circumstances, and they also want to be heard. Failure then feels like a personal affront and gives fans the right to boo. But they embrace players who make no apologies and genuinely show they care.

Take Mitch Williams, the only living man to give up a home run to lose the World Series, to Toronto’s Joe Carter in 1993. Williams, known as the Wild Thing, is a folk hero to Phillies fans and duly honored in the Relief Chamber.

“On an easy level, it’s mullet and headband and stuff like that, but he broke it every time there,” Edwards said. “His bravado, his machismo, his way of strutting. You could tell he didn’t want to walk with anyone, he just wanted to do some shots and get everyone out. But he was responsible, and that’s huge.

Williams is one of the few well-known relievers in Edwards’ gallery. Most had less of an impact, like Kyle Abbott, Josh Lindblom and Wally Ritchie, all of whom follow Edwards on Twitter. They are among some 300 faces that line the bathroom walls, most in baseball cards but dozens in larger photos, like the one of Renie Martin above the mirror.

“There’s something new in that,” Edwards’ mother, Joann, told him when she noticed him. “He looks me straight in the eye and I don’t like his face.”

Martin only pitched briefly for the Phillies, but Edwards likes that he appeared for Kansas City in the 1980 World Series clincher, when Tug McGraw closed out the Phillies’ first championship. After the second, in 2008, Edwards’ father Jim hung two photos above the toilet: one of McGraw and the other of Brad Lidge, both celebrating in October.

Edwards bought the house from his father a few years later, kept the photos of McGraw and Lidge, and added everything else — the bar of soap depicting Sparky Lyle, the commemorative Ron Reed soda can, the four-sided Kleenex dispenser with Porfi Altamirano, Warren Brusstar, Tom Hilgendorf and Barry Jones.

The cabinet handle is the barrel of a broken Don Carman bat; a retired gardener from the Phillies sent it to Edwards. Greg Harris, an ambidextrous reliever, wrote his photo: “Using both hands in the rescue room.” Artist Dick Perez, once an official Hall of Fame artist, donated an original portrait of Hilgendorf – an Edwards hero for saving a drowning boy from a swimming pool.

“And then the whole ’10 cent beer night’ thing in Cleveland,” Edwards said. “He’s brains out with a chair, spurting blood – and the next game he faces six batters and gets six out!”

If you need some time in the emergency room, there’s a basket with vintage magazine issues like ‘Phillies Today’, featuring Steve Bedrosian and Jeff Parrett in firefighter gear on the front. There’s a collection of McGraw comics from the 1970s and a Guess-The-Mustache flip book. (Failure to recognize Altamirano results in the automatic loss of a full letter grade.)

There are tentative plans for the emergency room expansion, Edwards said, if he and Cheryl can move the washer-dryer out of the adjacent locker room. For now, though, Edwards needs a place for his new treasure: the game-worn cleats of Toby Borland, a svelte 1990s sidearmer. His pals, Brain and Mike Carroll, bought them for $30. on eBay.

The cleats could easily fit the wall above the toilet, which is mostly empty space. But that section is sacred, Edwards said, strictly for relievers on championship teams. The Phillies have improved lately but are still recovering from a slow start. They might need to summon the spirit of McGraw to make this their year.

“Cheryl is like, ‘There’s so much space there, do something else with it,'” Edwards said. “I’m waiting. That’s the goal. That’s the optimist in me: I’ll fill that wall.

nytimes sport

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