Matt Stairs – one of my all-time favorite baseball players – retired last week (or was it two weeks ago? I’m on vacation and my internal clock is all screwed up.) What’s that? You say you’ve never heard of Matt Stairs before? Clearly, you weren’t a Philadelphia Phillies fan back in 2008. Please allow this Matt Stairs groupie to elaborate.
I had certainly heard of Stairs before 2008, but he wasn’t someone who entered my baseball consciousness until the Phillies traded for him at the end of August of that year. Frankly, I thought he had retired several years previously. Acquiring him for a journeyman minor league pitcher, I’d venture to guess that most Phils fans thought even that was too much once they got their first glimpse at Stairs. Balding, portly (ok…fat), short, mustachioed, and Canadian, the 40-year old Stairs looked more like a stand-in for Gimli the dwarf from the Lord of the Rings movies than a major league baseball player. The Phillies were busy trying to win their first World Series since 1980 and their second championship since…well…ever. What the heck were they thinking?
Ah, but here’s the thing; the Phillies were not looking for star players who could put the team on their back and carry them to a pennant. No, they were looking for players who could fill very specific niches that the team had. In Stairs’s case, the team was looking for a left-handed bat off the bench, preferably one that could hit fastballs. The left-handed Stairs didn’t have much left in the tank, but there was still one thing left that he could do:
Matt Stairs ate fastballs for breakfast.
With only a month left in the season, Stairs was a non-factor until the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Through the first three games of the series, Stairs never left the bench. Then in Game 4 in Los Angeles, with the momentum of the series starting to swing in the Dodgers favor, the Dodgers flame-throwing closer Jonathan Broxton on the mound with a tie score and one runner on base, Phils manager Charlie Manuel brought in Stairs to pinch-hit. Hearts of Phillies fans across the Delaware Valley sunk. The most important at-bat for a Phillies player in 20 years and it was left to Matt Stairs? That’s the best we have to offer? Really?
Broxton, throwing in the upper-90’s, fell behind in the count 3-1. Everyone in the stadium, everyone of the millions of viewers, knew that Broxton was going to come with a fastball. Stairs knew it, too. And as always, Stairs swung as hard as he possibly could. This was the result:
Just an awesome AWESOME moment for long-suffering Phillies fans, made even more fantastic by the unexpectedness of it. The Phils went on to win the game, the series, and the World Series. There were a lot of memorable moments during the Phils playoff run, but that home run by Matt Stairs is the one that will always stay with me.
I have been accused of having a “man-crush” on Stairs, to which I willingly plead guilty. The next year, 2009, he continued in his limited role with the Phils, belting 5 pinch-hit homers and solidifying my man-crush.
What I most appreciated about Stairs was that he found his niche, accepted his limited role, did it well, and didn’t complain. You never heard him grumble about not playing in the field. You never heard him whining about getting more at-bats. He knew his strengths, admitted his weaknesses, was comfortable with who he was, waited for his moments, and made the most of them.
I hope that’s what people say about me some day, that I found my niche and did it well. I have no desire to be famous or well-known; I just want to find my role and make the most of my moments. Whether that’s in CME, social media, or something entirely different, I don’t know, but I’m going to keep trying. I’m going to find my fastball…
…and eat it for breakfast.