By creating Relief Room, a fan pays tribute to the Phyllis rescuers

HATBORO, Pennsylvania. – It’s the top of the ninth inning at Citizens Bank Park, and the Philadelphia Phillies are back in action. They had already missed one lead, with Jeris Familia and Serantoni Dominguez giving up homers in the seventh. Now, after the comeback, the game has fallen apart, with Corey Knebel closer to the mound.

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

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

It’s true: The Phillies are the only National League team that hasn’t made the playoffs in the past 10 years, and their bullpen is an annual adventure. Nostalgia can be a tempting escape (beer helps, too), and no one celebrates the past quite like Edwards, a 45-year-old telecoms salesman with wife, Cheryl, two young sons, a Great Dane – and a ground-floor shrine. bathroom for retired Phillies pitchers.

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

Durbin played 225 games for the Phillies, including the postseason, with an earned average of 4.07. He has played for five other teams, but as far as he knows, none of their fans have a picture of him in the bathroom. As you might guess, Durbin is also not inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “But I do it in the Help Room.”

The help room is what Edwards calls his bathroom, because that’s where people go to relieve themselves. It’s a joke.

Edwards played third base in Little League and left the field in men’s softball. His sons are not pitchers. His favorite current player is first baseman, Rhys Hoskins of the Phillies. But like a comedian who finds endless material while remaining dedicated, Edwards has built a brand around players who get no respect, no respect at all.

“I remember opening decks of cards and you saw the mustache and thought, ‘Oh, that’s Mike Schmidt’ — and no, that’s Dan Schatzeder,” he said in his home office, which is littered with artifacts that don’t quite fit together. . in a museum measuring 3 by 8 feet around the corner.

“But it was a joy to go through the cards trying to find this guy. Well, now I don’t want Mike Schmidt or Bryce Harper. I want to defend guys like Shatzeder, Andy Carter and Amalio Carreno because no one does. Honoring the little guy no one remembers is more memorable than talking about the stars because everyone knows about them.

“No one knows about Tyson Brummet. He is one of the coffee lovers. That’s why it was made into a cup of coffee – enjoy your cup of coffee with Erskine Thomason.”

Edwards reaches for a custom-made mug with a black-and-white image of Thomason, who lost the ninth inning in September. October 18, 1974, in his only major league appearance. Ultimate Statistical Website, Baseball Handbook, uses a blank headshot with a question mark next to Thomason’s name. That would be blasphemy for Edwards.

He knows that Thomason was the subject of an NFL Films documentary and that the filmmakers, who have been following him all season, somehow missed his only game and were forced to rearrange the footage. He also knows that Brammett introduced one game in 2012 and later died in a plane crash. He knows that Carter was expelled from his first major league game and Carreño from his last.

And, of course, he knows that Shatzeder worked for many years as a high school gym instructor in Illinois.

“If you look at this guy, you can imagine him in a tracksuit with a whistle around his neck,” Edwards said. “It’s amazing. Who will sing their song from the top of the mountain? If not me, then who?”

For Edwards, there is sincerity in satire. He remembers how his classmate was drafted by the Mets, how exciting it was that a major league team wanted someone he knew. Fewer than 23,000 people have ever played major games; You could fit them all in the old veterans’ stadium with over 40,000 seats left.

They all have stories, and if they are lucky enough to help the Phyllis, Edwards makes it his mission to tell them. Edwards, who majored in English at the University of New Hampshire, reads extensively in his subjects, collecting fun facts about each and arranging them by date on his computer. He sends several tweets a day humble group of followers with several well-known names – at least known to Edwards.

“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 to the help room.”

Air did so in early 2020 after an autograph appeared nearby. (For the occasion, Edwards donned his Hume T-shirt.) Eyre, who only knew Edwards from Twitter, became the first reliever to actually pee in the Care Room. It was natural, as he hung out with Edwards for hours, well after 1:00 a.m., drinking beer, opening old decks of cards, and telling stories about Chuck McElroy, Dan Plesack, and other honorees he knew.

It’s safe to say that Eyre never expected to make the pilgrimage to the bathroom of a Phyllis fan. 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 John Lieber, a teammate who played for the Phillies, what to expect.

“He says, ‘Dude, you’ll love it there and they’ll love you,'” Eyre said. “I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, “You are a real guy and you are who you are.” And it was absolutely right. If you go and do your job and admit your mistakes, they will still love you. They just want to yell at you a little, and that’s okay.”

Eyre has come to understand the essence of the Philadelphia fans: they always expect to win, no matter the circumstances, and they also want to be heard. Failure is taken as a personal affront and gives fans the right to boo. But they accept players who don’t look for excuses and sincerely show that they care.

Take, for example, Mitch Williams, the only man alive to turn down an out-of-control homer and lose the World Series to Toronto’s Joe Carter in 1993. Cream.

“On a simple level, it’s a mullet and a headband and things like that, but he broke it every time,” Edwards said. “His bravado, his masculinity, his demeanor. One could say that he did not want to kick anyone out, he just wanted to strike and take everyone out. But he was in charge, and that’s huge.”

Williams is one of the few notable pitchers in the Edwards gallery. Most have had less impact, such as Kyle Abbott, Josh Lindblom and Wally Ritchie who follow Edwards on Twitter. They are among the 300 or so faces lining the bathroom walls, mostly in baseball cards, but dozens in larger photographs, such as Renee Martin over a mirror.

“There’s something new in there,” Edwards’ mother, Joanne, told him when she noticed it. “He’s looking straight at me and I don’t like his face.”

Martin had a brief spell with the Phillies, but Edwards enjoyed having him show up for Kansas City in the 1980 World Series decider when Thug McGraw ended the Phillies’ inaugural championship. After the second, in 2008, Edwards’ father, Jim, hung two photos over the toilet, one with McGraw and one with Brad Lidge, both celebrated in October.

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

The handle on the cabinet is the barrel of Don Karman’s broken bat; Phyllis’ former gardener sent it to Edwards. Greg Harris feeding with both hands captioned his photo: “Two hands in the help room.” Artist Dick Perez, once an official Hall of Fame artist, donated an original portrait of Hilgendorf, Edwards’ hero who once saved a drowning boy from a swimming pool.

“And then this whole evening of 10-cent beer in Cleveland,” Edwards said. “He’s brains with a chair, gushing blood – and in the next game he will meet with six batters and get six outs!”

If you need some time in the Help Room, there’s a bin of vintage magazines like Phillies Today, with Steve Bedrosian and Jeff Parrett in firefighting gear in the foreground. There is a collection of McGraw comics from the 1970s and a “Guess the Mustache” flip book. (Failure to recognize Altamirano results in automatic loss of full letter grade.)

Edwards said there are tentative plans to expand the Help Room if he and Cheryl can move the washer-dryer out of the adjacent hallway. In the meantime, Edwards needs a place for his new treasure: Toby Borland’s worn boots, a slim pistol from the 1990s. His buddies, Brain and Mike Carroll, bought them for $30 on eBay.

The spikes will easily fit on the wall above the toilet, which is basically empty space. But this section is sacred, Edwards said, reserved exclusively for pitchers on championship teams. The Phillies have improved lately but are still recovering from a slow start. They may have to invoke McGraw’s spirit to make this year theirs.

“Cheryl said, ‘There’s so much space, do something else with it,'” Edwards said. “I’m waiting. That’s the point. It’s the optimist in me: I’m going to fill that wall.”