The youngster made his professional debut in Camden as a shortstop for the Riversharks. He got booed.
Then later when he came to Philly as the shortstop for the Arizona Diamondbacks, he really got booed. The reason? He's kin to J.D., arguably the most scorned player in Phillies history — no offense to Del Ennis or Dick Allen. Being the brother to the most scornful gives you automatic membership in The Club.
With the Faithful, nothing gets unnoticed.
There are those who shunned the Faithful. They elect for whatever reason — money usually, but not always — to play elsewhere, like every player has the God granted responsibility to — once in Philly stay in Philly. Getting traded is okay, but leave on your own and it's Club membership. Then on the return to Philly — Jayson Werth and Scott Rolen notwithstanding — they hear that rumble that starts low and soft and escalates to high and loud, just about the time Dan Baker kicks into his introduction: "Now batting for the Washington Nationals, number..."
But Dan's voice gets blocked out. Booooooooooooooo, booooooooooo, booooooooo. It's the Philly National Anthem. Automatic membership in The Club.
There is room in The Club for those who don't play with 'Pete Rose Philadelphia fire' — or even to appear it. Appear it? Yes, to appear cool as a cucumber whether you strike out or go yard. It's the appearance that's sometimes important, even for the Hall of Famer Michael Jack Schmidt, who often heard the Philly Anthem because "it appeared" he wasn't playing hard or didn't care. Throw Bobby Abreu into this mix, Lance Parrish, and many others.
But perhaps the highest level of scornfulness is reserved for those who show no effort. Like failing to run out a dribbler; or, after you hit a pop-fly over second, walk back to the dugout WHILE THE BALL IS STILL IN THE AIR. Or, not blocking the plate with a freight train coming down the third base line.
Take Rod Barajas, for example. The former Philly catcher and Mexcian-American looks like a guy you wouldn't mind having on your side in a fight at Chickie & Petes. The backstop, who ended his career with the Pirates in 2012, caught for the Phillies in 2007, sharing time with fan favorite Chris Coste.
In a game against the Marlins, with Hanley Ramirez on second, Aaron Boone hit a single in front of right fielder Jayson Werth. With Ramirez galloping toward the plate, Barajas took Werth's throw and stood up, allowing Ramirez to slide between his legs. It's the worse mistake a catcher can make and one that the Faithful quickly picked up on. Even the mention of Barajas's name draws the Philly Anthem. When Barajas returned to Philly years later with other teams, he heard it again and again.
The Faithful never forgets — even a single play.
Do you want to see how that play is supposed to be made? Look at the video top right side of this website. Cameron Rupp takes the throw at about the same time the runner makes a guest appearance at the plate. If you look closely, Rupp takes the perfect throw from outfielder Tyler Goeddel, squats, closes the gap between his legs by bringing his right knee over, and blocks the plate. The video can be shown in high school locker rooms as how a catcher prevents a run from scoring. Or, in Rod Barajas's case, how a catcher stays out of The Club.
Which brings me to Phillies outfielder Nick Williams.
Nick is one of the promising young guns percolating at Lehigh Valley and soon — most assuredly this season because his numbers are good — will be at Citizens Bank Park. He was acquired in the Cole Hamels deal with Texas. I met Nick at a Phillies event before the start of the season; fine young man. That's him on the left in the photo beneath the Rupp video with yours truly and Jake Thompson. How about that smile, huh? Nice. Hopefully, Nick will have a long, long career in Philly.
But here's the problem.
A story in the Inquirer this week reported that Nick Williams was benched for lackadaisical play. In other words, he broke not only the cardinal rule, but the Philly rule: First, he failed to run out a grounder to the pitcher in an earlier game; and second, failed to run out a popup which the infielder dropped. Rightly so, he was benched after both incidents.
Here's what Nick was quoted as saying after the second benching: "I've never cared what people think about me. If their last name isn't Williams and they don't pay me, put food on my table and a roof over my head, then I could care less."
Whoa, where have we heard that one before? Maybe from a guy who hit monstrous home runs over the left field roof and practiced writing in the dirt around first?
Nick, you're coming into a special place to play ball. They watch everything, and if they don't like what they see, you'll get the Philly National Anthem so fast it will make your head spin. If they like what they see, you'll get thunderous ovations for your play. Ask Chase Utley, who's now with the Dodgers. You can commit grand larceny, arson, push old ladies to the ground, don't finish your cheesestake at Pat's wit or witout, spit in your girl's beer...
But don't ever, ever, not run a ball out.
As a life long member of the Faithful, I've seen it all. Much of it I didn't like. At the age of 16 I hated it when they booed my favorite Phillie player of all time, Dick Allen. I didn't understand it then, but today I do. Or Pat Burell, Schmidty, and Jason Werth. But that's just me. What you don't want to do is join The Club chaired by Rod Barajas and J.D. Drew. You're not even here yet, and already you're on their radar.
And don't go telling the Faithful what they should care about or what they should see when you play.
They will tell YOU that. And Nick, trust me on this, the Faithful can be mean and ugly.
When you get here, Nick, you want to start out on the right foot, and become a Phillie revered by the Faithful, like Utley, Rollins, Kruck, Morandini, Samuel, Hollins, Callison, Roberts, Ashburn, Schmidt — yes, you can get back once scorned — Rowand, Trillo, Rose, the Bull, Thome, Bowa, Coste, Shake and Bake, and the list goes on and on.
But whatever you do, play the game with hustle and drive.