ARCHIVE: April, 2009.
Listen to the national media and you’ll hear that the fans in Philadelphia are a vicious lot. Apparently, Santa Claus is still sending out press releases about how he was wronged by snow balls. You won’t hear them talk about Pat Burrell, though.
Burrell, who has returned Citizen’s Bank Park three times in the last week, has been the recipient of some awe inspiring adulation. On Friday (April 3rd), the Phillies showed class by airing clips of Burrell’s career in Philly before an exhibition game. On Saturday (4th), before another exhibition game, Burrell hit a home run off of one of the city’s most popular athletes in Cole Hamel and instead of being disappointed in the pitcher known as Hollywood, they cheered the guy in the opposing uniform. On Wednesday (8th), he stopped back to pick up his World Series ring and received yet another deafening ovation.
You don’t have to look too far back to find another athlete who has made an equally popular exit. Brian Dawkins recently left town after all.
Dawkins and Burrell have gained their popularity in different ways. Dawkin’s path to immortality was always clear. Playing football at a potentially Hall of Fame caliber in front of sold out crowds will do that for a player.
What has made Burrell’s ride so different is that it appeared for a while that, he too, might have that kind of career. He was drafted first overall and quickly made his way through the minor leagues. Once he was in the Show, he didn’t show signs of slowing. In 2000, his first year, he showed the ability to hit in the clutch while going 9 for 11 with the bases loaded with two home runs. Stats are always better when denigrating the Met’s so try this one on for size. In his first three at bats against New York’s closer Armando Benitez he hit three home runs. He seemed destined for stardom.
All these years later, he has left the city without having participated in even a single All Star game. In 2003, he hit a dismal .209. Many a player would have left town or folded under the weight of those unmet expectations.
So what explains Philadelphia’s love for Burrell? What makes him so special? Sure, he was an important right handed bat, but he was probably only the fourth most important batter in the 2009 lineup overall behind Rollins, Utley, and Howard.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder? Not if you ask Adam Eaton who was booed when he returned for his ring.
There certainly something to be said about going out on top. You could do worse than hitting one of the most important balls in the World Series deciding game. It’s more than that, though. It’s genuine affection.
It didn’t hurt that he bought a half page in the March 13th in the Inquirer and Daily News calling it “An open letter to the great Philly fans and a great sports franchise,” acknowledging …while at times there were struggles, I realize it was well worth it…”
Still, the answer might be as simple as he figured out the city. Maybe it was because his Center City residence helped him keep his finger on the pulse of the area. While Jimmy Rollins called the city front runners, Burrell was telling people he loved the city and didn’t want to leave. As Donovan McNabb perpetually put his foot in his mouth, Burrell would just tell people he loved the city and didn’t want to leave.
Philadelphia is not a complex town. Like us and hit a double when you can.
In the end, maybe Pat the Bat and Philly get along so well because they could relate. Having not won a championship since 1983, Philadelphians understood how hard it was to actually win. It was fitting then that Burrell, with his extended slumps, was never one to make the game look easy.