Spring Training;, I don’t know how many years ago, but Mike Lieberthal and Alex Arias were there. I was shoving a $3 baseball with a Phillies logo on it at the players as they stormed by, knowing they were preparing for an undoubtedly mediocre-at-best season.
At the end of the day, I had several winners–Harry Kalas and Larry Andersen made it all worth it–and my grandfather inspected my day’s work.
“Ah,” he said, pointing at young Pat Burrell’s name. ”He’s the one I wanted you to get. He’s going to go places.”
When he said “places,” I’m sure my grandfather, an unkillable Korean War Vet who went to church on Sundays, was not referring to after hours bars in Philly or some of our city’s more flagrant crotches.
I think my instinctive hostility toward Pat stems from the fact that he reminds me of every locker room douche I ever avoided in high school. He’s got that “fuck-you-just-because” smirk down real well and prefers to use it instead of speaking on a lot of occassions.
But to be fair, I have obviously never met the guy, and having him on our side for so long made my gut reaction to his natural smarminess suppressible. Then he went to the Giants amd was part of that… whole… thing. And I lashed out. And I got what I deserved.
Its somewhat difficult to describe the relationship we had with Pat. Yes, I know… “What are you talking about? He underperformed because he was hungover, and we yelled at him for it. The end.” But that’s not at all it. Pat never really broke through in the way a first round draft pick was supposed to, but his longevity in a Phillies uniform and the cartoonish, hyperbolic brohemian personality we assigned to him made him somewhat endearing, when it wasn’t endlessly frustrating.
He was our $11 million boy, and we could shout at him as much as we wanted, but we only did it because we wanted to see him do well. We knew we were stuck with him at least for a while and as the team improved around him, and he drifted between effective and ineffective quite seamlessly, it was cool to have somebody in which we could hope for improvement–to root for and not just cheer for. Not that everybody else was perfect, but Pat was a long term project.
And that’s the reaction I think we can universally assign to Burrell: ”Oh, Pat.” It has to be accompanied by a chuckle or a friendly roll of the eyes. He never had his MVP season, but he was a part of some of our best years. He contributed, he had a funny dog, and never genuinely attacked the fans, though he probably had a right to at times. And he ended his tenure in Philly on what will probably be our best memory of him.
If this truly is it for Pat, and his career ends on an injured foot, then I wouldn’t call him a waste or a bust or a jerk. I’m sure he doesn’t really care what we call him anyway, and he shouldn’t. He was that big brother who was often away, but showed up to do something just when we needed him, sometimes.
Other times he didn’t show up as well. But we just won’t remember those times.