The Phillies player has the benefit of experience.
With 30 minutes to go before game time, Jamie Moyer strolls through the empty Phillies dugout and steps into the bright, midday sun. The only player on the field, he catches the fans off guard.
“How you guys doing?” he calmly asks a group of preteens who stretch over the first base railing, thrusting baseballs, pennants and photographs at the hometown hero. Parents and older fans shout names of friends of friends who have some distant connection to Moyer, who was raised just north in Souderton, Pa.
“We’re from Sellersville!” a woman offers frantically.
“Where from?” Moyer responds with sincerity, swallowing his Rs in a way that makes him sound humble. He converses, signs dozens of autographs and poses for numerous pictures, right up until the first pitch of the game, pausing only for the national anthem. It’s just part of his regular, pregame ritual during home games when he’s not starting.
“It’s a way to give somebody a positive experience,” he says. “And it’s not always giving somebody something physical. Sometimes, it can just be a wave or a smile.”
There’s karma in baseball. The guy who makes the crucial, inning-ending play often winds up leading off the next inning. The legendary voice of the team passes away in the press box with his notes for the upcoming game sitting by his microphone. The local boy—Jamie Moyer—makes his major league debut pitching against his boyhood idol, Steve Carlton.
Twenty years later, Moyer returns to play for the home squad after achieving success on the West Coast. Then the Phillies win the World Series. Karma.
Few people appreciate that magic more than Moyer, the soft-tossing 46-year-old who led the team in wins during the 2008 championship season and stands one frustrating game away from his milestone 250th career victory.
“Where I am in my life, I know how special this all is,” says Moyer. “I know I’m getting closer to the end so I really cherish everything.”
While Jimmy Rollins may represent the character of the current team and Ryan Howard its potential, Moyer remains its steadfast conscience. With his red socks stretched above his calves—old-school style—he quietly reminds everyone to respect the game.
“You really don’t know when it’s going to start, how long it’s going to go or when it’s going to stop,” he says. “So I’ve tried to appreciate all of it.”
When Moyer arrived in the Major Leagues in 1986, he hit peaks and valleys. He bested Carlton in his big league debut, but in his next outing, Moyer was shelled for six runs and pulled in the third inning. That was also against the Phillies, at Veteran’s Stadium.
“I got humbled a little bit,” he says.
Two weeks later, he gave up five runs and was yanked in the first inning against the Dodgers. He led the league in earned runs surrendered during his second season. After his third year—in which he lost 15 games for the second straight year—he was traded from the Cubs to the Rangers. He spent most of 1991 to 1993 in the minors.
“Sometimes you get knocked off your feet,” Moyer says. “It’s how you get back up—and the outlook that you put on it—that matters.”
Having his dream taken from him grounded and inspired him. He was 30 by the time he returned to the big leagues. Since then, he’s won 215 games. But it’s more than just the victories that count, he says. He savors experience in a way many younger players don’t.
“When you’re young, playing baseball is like having a new girlfriend,” says Phillies broadcaster Larry Andersen, a former pitcher who once held the title of second oldest player in the National League. “Twenty years down the road, you still have the love but it’s not that wild, teenage love. It’s a maturity, an appreciation.”
The question now is whether that maturity is enough to prolong Moyer’s 25 years as a professional player.
When Moyer was a kid, he roamed the old picnic area at the Vet, pleading for players to sign something before games. Maybe once or twice, he says, he scored an autograph. He remembers sitting in the 700-level afterward, staring at that autograph during the entire game. “Wow,” he recalls thinking. “This is really cool.”