ST PETERSBURG // Philadelphia's four major pro sports teams have gone a combined 98 full seasons since winning a major championship. The last Philadelphia champions were the NBA's 76ers in 1983. "We owe it to ourselves, but I kind of feel like I owe it to the city," the Phillies Game 2 starting pitcher Brett Myers said. "It would be huge for the city, for that city especially because it is so long since they've had a championship.
"Some cities got spoiled over it, and the fans quit coming to games. Our fans are there for us. We're going to try to bring it home for them." The Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel agreed. "I definitely feel that way," he said. "I feel like they're a part of it. They come out to the ballpark. Our personalities and our attitude when we play definitely helps brings fans to our ballpark." The Phillies won their only World Series title in 1980, but they are chasing their second against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Before Game 1 of the World Series, the umpires' room attendant Todd Negoshian sat for 45 minutes and applied mud from the Delaware River mixed with water on eight dozen brand new balls that would be used in the opening game. The mud is applied to take the shine off the new balls, and can help pitchers get a better grip. The muck is a special brand - Lena Blackburne Rubbing Mud, taken from along the river and has been used to prepare major league balls for more than 60 years.
The company won't reveal the secret location it comes from, or any special ingredients that might be added to the mix. It's been that way since it was discovered by Blackburne, a former coach for the Philadelphia Athletics in the 1930s. "You take care one at a time," Negoshian said. "Treat each one as an individual, and you put them back together and they're on the playing field as a team." Many fans find the process interesting. Even members of The Backstreet Boys, who had just finished practising the national anthem, stopped by to put mud on a ball.
This World Series also is a father-son affair for Negoshian, who is employed by the Rays. His dad, Dave Huppert, is manager of the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs - Philadelphia's top minor league affiliate - and on the Phillies' support staff for the World Series. The Rays manager Joe Maddon had one major surprise in his line up for Game 1, starting Ben Zobrist in right field, batting eighth. Maddon liked the match up of Zobrist and Willy Aybar, who was the designated hitter, against Philadelphia's left-hand pitcher Cole Hamels. Zobrist made just one regular-season start in right.
He also played a few innings during a spring training game against the Phillies. Maddon recently told Zobrist to be prepared. "Just be ready to go in. That was it," Zobrist said. "I was hoping to see my name in the line up today and I got my wish." The first thing Zobrist did when walked into the clubhouse and saw his name in the line up was to text his wife. "Hey, I'm starting," was his message. The Phillies professional scouting director Chuck LaMar helped build the American League champion Rays during his tenure as the Tampa Bay general manager from 1995-2005.
Many of this season's key players - Carl Crawford and the Game 2 starter James Shields - were developed over that period. Still, LaMar is 100 percent behind his new team in the World Series. "I'm for the Philadelphia Phillies," LaMar said. "I was blessed for 10 years here [at Tampa Bay]. The Phillies organisation gave the me the opportunity to come aboard. It's one of the finest organisations in baseball."
LaMar has high regard for the new Rays' ownership group and baseball operations officials, including the manager Maddon and the executive vice-president of baseball operations, Andrew Friedman. "They are going to get all the accolades they deserve this off season," LaMar said. "It's one thing to sign a group of young players. It's one thing to start an organisation from scratch. It's another thing to get a team to World Series."
Rocco Baldelli is the designate hitter for Tampa Bay against left-handed pitchers, but will likely start in the outfield in Game 2 against the Phillies pitcher Brett Myers. Baldelli's career was in jeopardy during spring training due to a mitochondrial order, which causes chronic muscle fatigue. "Isn't this great?" Baldelli asked about being in the World Series. * AP