Dutch gets his due

Dutch The easy part is making the jokes.

A favorite is the one that was the most obvious, like how Darren Daulton must be pleased that he was elected into the Phillies’ Wall of Fame now instead of a couple years down the road. Considering that the ex-catcher has claimed that certain folks will “ascend” into space at the conclusion of the Mayan calendar on Dec. 21, 2012 at precisely 11:11 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time, it’s good that Daulton got his due now.

His post-baseball life has also been rife with tabloid fodder, too. There have been DUI charges, he’s had his license suspended, been arrested for domestic abuse, and he spent two months in jail for contempt of court after refusing to abide by the terms of a legal agreement related to the divorce from his second wife.

And to think, he was thisclose to becoming the Phillies’ manager instead of Larry Bowa. Imagine how those teams could have turned out.

These days, though, Daulton appears to be past all of that. Reasonably fit for a 48-year old man who spent most of his adult life strapped into catcher’s gear and had nearly a dozen different knee surgeries, Daulton mane of hair that fell out of his batting helmet is beginning to thin out. To compensate, he has a neat beard outlining his jaw line and a tan that would put George Hamilton to shame.

His skin is like rich, luxurious Corinthian leather.

“I’ve been driving with the top down,” Daulton said about his deep, sun-enhanced hue.

There was plenty of talk about the past with Daulton on Tuesday afternoon at the Bank where he was officially welcomed into the club’s Wall of Fame. The ceremony in which a plaque bearing his likeness will be tacked to the wall in Ashburn Alley will take place on Aug. 6.

Chalk up Daulton’s election as one where intangibles like leadership and hard work trumped all.

“I never saw anyone work harder during a rehab,” team general partner David Montgomery recalled about the winter of 1986 and 1987 when Daulton worked out at the Vet in an attempt to return from one of those knee surgeries.

Essentially, that was the essence of Daulton… he always had to work and it never looked easy. Though he went to the All-Star Game three times and was the fourth catcher to lead the National League in RBIs during the 1992 season, effort was paramount. Injuries robbed him of some good years and certainly some bad choices were made along the way, but when it all came together it was pretty sweet.

Look at that 1993 season where Daulton was the straw that stirred the drink. That season where the Phillies won the NL East and got to the World Series to face the Blue Jays, Daulton finished seventh in the MVP voting despite the fact that a teammate finished second in the voting and he batted just .257 with 24 homers.

The number that slips through the cracks is that Daulton caught 146 games that season. Yeah, no wonder he was always having surgery. Daulton caught 141 games in 1992, too, which eventually led to him not being able to catch at all after the 1995 season.

“There was one thing I could always eliminate, and that was if I worked my tail off I wouldn't have to look back if I didn't make it and second-guess myself,” Daulton said. “After hurting my knee early in my career, that was a moment I had to make a decision on whether I was going to play major-league baseball or not. The things I felt I had control of I tried to accomplish that.”

Control when it came to baseball was the one thing Daulton had. However, like everything else that didn’t come easy, either. As Daulton explains, it took a slight by his manager and another soul-searching decision for him to take over the role he became most known for.

“I remember (manager Jim Fregosi) pinch-hitting for me in the ninth inning in Pittsburgh with Ricky Jordan [in 1991] and I got a little peeved,” Daulton said. “I went in and said ‘Fregos, I thought I was your everyday catcher,’ and he said, ‘Dutch, until you can prove to me you can hit left-handed pitching in the big-leagues, I'm going to pinch-hit for you late in the game.’ He said, ‘You've been here the longest, they’ve turned the club over — Schmitty is no longer here, Lefty’s gone, so you’re the guy who needs to step up and be the leader of the ballclub.’

“From that point on, I decided that’s my job, and he kind of reiterated we need a leader and I was obviously the guy running the show behind the plate, so that was probably the first night it dawned on me, if I was going to remain here, I was going to have to be the club leader … and also learn to hit left-handed pitching.”

Daulton never really hit lefties all that well during his career (just .233), though by the end of his career there was no discernment in the statistics against either handed pitcher. Moreover, though he was no longer the catcher, Daulton was the leader the Florida Marlins needed when they made the mad dash to the World Series victory in 1997.

Simply put, prior to the current run by the franchise, Daulton may have been one of the most important players to ever wear the team’s uniform. For the time and the place there were not too many players who had an impact like Dutch. Of course, importance of a player belies simple things such as numbers on a page and in that regard Daulton is both simple and complex.

Kind of like the man himself.

End of the road

headWASHINGTON – So far this weekend’s trip to The District has been pretty eventful for everyone in the Phillies’ travelling party. A few of the players were given a private tour of the White House and were even granted an audience with the President in the Oval Office.

Another got to show off his superhero poses, while a few teammates were given the chance to show off a softer, more feminine side in formal evening wear.

But the best part of the last road trip of the season that ends tomorrow with the final Major League Baseball game at RFK Stadium hasn’t been the quiet time spent away from media mass at Citizens Bank Park, nor the special perks granted to the gentry athlete class.

Instead, the Phillies have simply taken pride in their work.

“Nothing beats winning,” manager Charlie Manuel.

That certainly has been the case for the Phillies, who enter Sunday’s game with an 8-1 record during the 10-game road trip. Actually, it has been on this trip that the Phillies went from sitting on the edge of oblivion, to a team with an incredibly legitimate chance at winning the division OR the wild card.

To think, when the Phillies left for New York after the victory over the Rockies on Sept. 13 they were a distant 6½ games behind the Mets in the NL East. But when the team returns home to host the Braves on Tuesday night, they very well could be tied for first place.

Then again, in a worst-case scenario, they could be four games back, too.

The District
As far as northeastern cities go, Washington, D.C. provides the perfect urban experience. The city has an extensive public transportation system, an incredible system of trails and parks for the recreationally and fitness inclined, every type of cuisine or entertainment offering imaginable, and of course, all of those free museums

Yes, Washington, D.C. has culture coming out the wazoo.

Need an example of how D.C. is unique? Check this out:

During Friday morning’s run I meandered through the Northwest quadrant of the city’s confusing grid, passing by such notable places as JFK’s last residence before he was elected president, Bob Woodward’s towering Q Street crib and, of course, the childhood home of the legendary iconoclast, Ian MacKaye, until I filtered back toward the Key Bridge and the C&O Canal Tow Path. This part of the run took nearly 30-minutes at a modest clip where I made sure I ran hard up the inclines on Q Street and Observation Place. After all, D.C. was built on top of a swamp, which (I assume) are relatively flat. So when one arrives at the base of a hill during a run, they should take it with some pace.

Anyway, I hit the tow path, which is the ultimate urban biking/running trail in these United States. Instead of a modest nine-mile loop around the Schuylkill River like Philly’s Kelly Drive, the C&O goes from the Key Bridge (just off Georgetown’s main thoroughfare) through the western edge of the city along the Potomac River, into the Maryland suburbs and onto the countryside for nearly 200 miles.

One runner, named Scott Douglas, ran the entire trail during a seven-day stretch.

ANYWAY, the towpath…

George HamiltonNeedless to say I wasn’t about to run the length of the entire path. After all, the weather in D.C. has been hot and sticky and the main reason I wanted to run on the riverside, tree-shrouded trail was to get out of the sun. Besides, if I bake beneath those ultraviolet rays any more than I already do, I’m going to have the complexion of George Hamilton.

C’mon, who wants to dress in a tuxedo all the time even if it does give Georgie’s epidermis the hue of rich, Corinthian leather?

The plan was to run for 13 miles, which takes about 86-to-90 minutes. Or, if I felt good I would run for an hour and then weave my way back through Georgetown. But I didn’t feel good because it was hot, and, truth be told, since the birth of our son, I have only been able to run about 70 to 80 miles per week. My fitness level is a little lacking these days, so 90 minutes in the heat and humidity would be fine enough.

And it was. On the way up the trail I enjoyed the shade, the sweeping river views into Northern Virginia and the quietness of the day where the only audible noise was the cadence of my feet pounding on the hard, packed dirt. I just couldn’t believe that I was in Washington, D.C.

But as the run progressed I really could not believe that I was in one of the biggest cities in the country.

At first glance I thought it was a dog…

After getting good and tired and deciding that approximately four miles on the trail was plenty, I made a u-turn and retraced my steps. I also decided to ease off a bit after doing half-mile intervals at lactate threshold pace. However, upon noticing some hikers and what I thought was some type of amber-colored dog, I figured I could put on the pace one more time before knocking off and cruising in to the finish.

It was hot, though. I was also thirsty and the combination of the heat and dehydration narrowed the focus of my vision causing me to weave ever-so slightly on the path as I attempted to run down the hikers.

That’s when I brushed up against what I originally thought was a dog… only it was a white-tailed deer.

Yeah, that’s right. A white-tailed deer. I rubbed shoulders — quite literally — with a freaking white-tailed deer a little more than a mile from M St. You know, where the Barnes & Noble, Banana Republic, Dean & Deluca and Starbucks are mixed in amongst all of those tourist-trap bars and restaurants. In Washington, D.C. …

A white-tailed freaking deer.

Needless to say, my brush with Bambi straightened me right the hell up. For the next half mile I ran as hard as the heat and my legs would allow for fear that I somehow angered the deer and he was hot on my rear in attempt to chase me down and give me a beating like that scene in Tommy Boy.

As if I could out-run a deer…

robo deerAnyway, I suppose robo-deer remained in the brush to munch on some leaves and shrubs while I settled down, finally eased up on the pace, and cruised on toward the end of the path. But there, again, in the last copse of woods before nature gave way to the giant cylinders of concrete that supported the bridge and menaced the landscape as cars sped to and from Northern Virginia, another white-tailed deer stood as it picked away at the brush from the left side of the trail. This one was even closer to all of the action of G’town, yet really didn’t seem to mind when the walkers, runners and bike riders passed by just inches away.

Perhaps this proved that political animals are not the only species that inhabit Washington.

Though the deer might be less frightening.

Anyway, that’s some of the highlights from the trip. We’ll have more from the equally deer-laden tranquility of The Lanc tomorrow.