Jim Salisbury of the Philadelphia Inquirer had a chat with Mets closer/2006 NLCS ummm…non-hero Billy Wagner in which Country Time pays respect to the Phillies squad while repeating his standard exaggerations about Phillies fans.
To hear Billy Wagner tell it, the Phillies’ biggest hurdle this season won’t be the Mets, Braves or Marlins.
It will be you – the fans.
“The Phillies have the best team,” Wagner said at Mets camp the other day. “But there’s a lot of pressure playing in Philly.
“It’s just a tough environment. Nothing is close. That team’s biggest challenge will be playing at home. Their personnel is great, but it’s a tough city to play in. They can’t get off to a bad start.”
The implication seemed clear: Wagner believes fans will bury the Phillies if they get off to a bad start. Either that or he’s playing some mind games on his old team.
“It’s easy to come in there as a visiting player when you’re only there for three days,” Wagner said. “But 81 days, that’s different.
“People there expect you to perform, and when you do perform, they’re still on your ass. In Philly, you can’t have a good enough year. It’s different in other places. In Philly, you should never give up a run or you should hit a home run every time up.
“When you’re booing Mike Schmidt – come on.”
Home was not kind to the Phillies last year. They finished just a game over .500 at Citizens Bank Park and needed to go 5-2 on their final homestand just to pull that off.
But does that have anything to do with the fans, or the pressure they can put on players, as Wagner contends?
“Nah,” pitcher Brett Myers said. “I think it’s a great place to play. If you screw up, the fans will put you back in line. It’s like tough love.
“Billy might think it’s a tough place to play. Me? When someone tells me I [stink], I try to show them I don’t. It fuels me.
“The way I look at it, fans are allowed to tell us we stink. When I was a kid and I stunk my dad would tell me on the ride home, so it kind of brings back memories.”
Playing in New York isn’t exactly stress-free, but Wagner says Shea Stadium is a much easier to place to play than Citizens Bank Park. Part of his dislike for Philadelphia’s park is the coziness and proximity of the fans. The guy has acute eardrums and hears everything. It’s more difficult to pick out individual insults in New York.
“You can’t pay attention to it,” Myers said. “That’s why Billy couldn’t make it here. He could have been a superstar in Philly. The fans loved him because he threw 100. But he chose to focus on the negative part instead of the positive: The fans are the way they are because they care.”