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With Relief Room, a Fan Pays Tribute to Phillies Relievers

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HATBORO, Pa. — It’s the highest of the ninth inning at Residents Bank Park, and the Philadelphia Phillies’ relievers are at it again. They’ve already blown one lead, with Jeurys Familia and Seranthony Domínguez giving up homers within the seventh. Now after a comeback, the sport has unraveled with closer Corey Knebel on the mound.

The Miami Marlins win it, 11-9, and from his front room couch within the suburbs here, Matt Edwards sighs.

“Celebrating a few of these guys is admittedly hard,” he said.

Indeed it’s: The Phillies are the one National League team and not using a playoff appearance within the last 10 years, and their bullpen is an annual adventure. Nostalgia will be an attractive escape (beer helps, too), and no one celebrates the past quite like Edwards, a 45-year-old telecommunications salesman with a wife, Cheryl, two young sons, a Great Dane — and a shrine in his downstairs bathroom to retired Phillies relief pitchers.

“We’re highly aware that we weren’t one among the five starters or any of the blokes on the sphere,” said Chad Durbin, who spent 4 seasons as a Phillies reliever. “But, you already know, we had our moments. So once we’re remembered, we embrace it.”

Durbin logged 225 games for the Phillies, postseason included, with a 4.07 earned run average. He pitched for five other teams, but so far as he knows, none of their fans have his picture of their bathroom. As you would possibly guess, Durbin doesn’t have a presence on the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., either.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “But I do within the Relief Room.”

The Relief Room is what Edwards calls his bathroom, because that’s where one goes to alleviate oneself. That’s the joke.

Edwards played third base in Little League and left field in men’s softball. His sons are usually not pitchers. His favorite lively player is a primary baseman, the Phillies’ Rhys Hoskins. But like a comedian who finds countless material by staying committed to the bit, Edwards has crafted a brand around players who get no respect, no respect in any respect.

“I remember opening packs of cards, and also you’d see a mustache and think, ‘Oh, that’s Mike Schmidt’ — and no, it’s Dan Schatzeder,” he said in his home office, which overflows with artifacts that don’t quite fit within the 3 feet by 8 feet museum across the corner.

“But that was the enjoyment of going through cards, trying to seek out that guy. Well, now I don’t want the Mike Schmidts or the Bryce Harpers. I need to champion the blokes like Schatzeder and Andy Carter and Amalio Carreño, because no one does. Celebrating the little guy that no one remembers is more memorable than talking in regards to the stars, because everybody knows about them.

“Chill out, all right? Don’t attempt to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they’re fascist. Throw some ground balls, it’s more democratic.”

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“No one knows about Tyson Brummett. He’s one among the cup-of-coffee guys. That’s why this was made right into a cup of coffee — enjoy a cup of coffee with Erskine Thomason.”

Edwards reaches for a custom-made mug with the black-and-white visage of Thomason, who pitched the ninth inning of a loss on Sept. 18, 1974, in his only major league appearance. The definitive statistical website, Baseball Reference, uses a blank headshot with a matter mark next to Thomason’s name. That may be blasphemy to Edwards.

He knows that Thomason was the topic of an NFL Movies documentary and that the filmmakers, who followed him all season, by some means missed his only game and needed to restage the footage. He also knows that Brummett pitched one game in 2012 and later died in a plane crash. He knows that Carter was ejected from his first major league game, and Carreño from his last.

And, in fact, he knows that Schatzeder spent a few years as a highschool physical education instructor in Illinois.

“If you happen to have a look at that guy, you may totally envision him in a sweatsuit with a whistle around his neck,” Edwards said. “That’s awesome. Who’s going to sing his song from the highest of a mountain? If not me, then who?”

For Edwards, there may be sincerity within the satire. He remembers when a highschool classmate got drafted by the Mets, how thrilling it was that a serious league team wanted someone he knew. Fewer than 23,000 people have ever played a game within the majors; you might put all of them into old Veterans Stadium, with greater than 40,000 seats to spare.

All of them have stories, in the event that they happened to have pitched in relief for the Phillies, Edwards considers it’s his mission to inform them. An English major on the University of Latest Hampshire, Edwards reads widely on his subjects, plucking fun facts on each and organizing them by date on his computer. He sends several tweets a day to a modest group of followers with just a few famous names — famous to Edwards, no less than.

“He loves Tom Hume,” said Scott Eyre, a lefty specialist from the late 2000s, referring to a bespectacled righty of the Nineteen Eighties. “He would probably pass out if Tom Hume went to the Relief Room.”

Eyre did, in early 2020, after an autograph appearance nearby. (Edwards wore his Hume T-shirt for the occasion.) Eyre, who only knew Edwards from Twitter, became the primary reliever to truly relieve himself within the Relief Room. That was natural, since he frolicked with Edwards for hours, well past 1 a.m., drinking beers, opening old packs of cards and telling tales of Chuck McElroy, Dan Plesac and other honorees he knew.

A pilgrimage to see a Phillies fan’s bathroom, it’s protected to say, is nothing Eyre ever expected to do. A California native now living in North Carolina, Eyre once had a no-trade clause to Philadelphia. When the Cubs sent him there in 2008, he asked Jon Lieber, a teammate who had played for the Phillies, what to anticipate.

“He goes, ‘Dude, you’ll adore it there, and so they’ll love you,’” Eyre said. “I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘You’re a stand-up guy and you’re who you’re.’ And that was exactly right. If you happen to exit and do your job and come clean with the mistakes you make, they’ll still love you. They only wish to yell at you for slightly bit, and that’s positive.”

Eyre got here to know the essence of the Philadelphia fans: They all the time expect to win, regardless of the circumstances, and additionally they wish to be heard. Failure then appears like a private affront and offers the fans license to boo. But they embrace players who make no excuses and genuinely show that they care.

Take Mitch Williams, the one man alive to provide up a walk-off homer to lose the World Series, to Toronto’s Joe Carter in 1993. Williams, often called the Wild Thing, is a folk hero to Phillies fans and duly honored within the Relief Room.

“On a simple level, it’s the mullet and the headscarf and stuff like that, but he busted it each trip there,” Edwards said. “His bravado, his machismo, the best way he strutted around. You would tell he didn’t wish to walk anybody, he wanted to only fire strikes and get everybody out. But he was accountable, and that’s huge.”

Williams is among the many few well-known relievers in Edwards’s gallery. Most made a smaller impact, like Kyle Abbott, Josh Lindblom and Wally Ritchie, who all follow Edwards on Twitter. They’re among the many 300 or so faces lining the partitions of the lavatory, totally on baseball cards but dozens on larger photos, just like the one among Renie Martin above the mirror.

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

Martin pitched only briefly for the Phillies, but Edwards loves that he appeared for Kansas City within the clincher of the 1980 World Series, when Tug McGraw closed out the Phillies’ first championship. After the second, in 2008, Edwards’s father, Jim, hung two photos above the bathroom: one among McGraw and the opposite of Brad Lidge, each celebrating in October.

Edwards bought the home from his father just a few years later, kept the McGraw and Lidge photos and added all the things else — the bar of soap depicting Sparky Lyle, the commemorative Ron Reed soda can, the four-sided Kleenex dispenser with Porfi Altamirano, Warren Brusstar, Tom Hilgendorf and Barry Jones.

The handle on the cupboard is the barrel of a Don Carman broken bat; a retired Phillies groundskeeper sent it to Edwards. Greg Harris, an ambidextrous reliever, inscribed his photo: “Using each hands within the Relief Room.” The artist Dick Perez, once the official artist of the Hall of Fame, donated an original portrait of Hilgendorf — a hero of Edwards’s for once saving a drowning boy from a swimming pool.

“After which that whole ‘10 cent beer night’ thing in Cleveland,” Edwards said. “He’s brained with a chair, gushing blood — and the following game, he faces six batters and gets six outs!”

If you happen to need a while within the Relief Room, there’s a basket with problems with vintage magazines like “Phillies Today,” with Steve Bedrosian and Jeff Parrett in firefighter gear on the front. There’s a group of McGraw’s comic strips from the Seventies and a Guess-The-Mustache flip book. (Failure to acknowledge Altamirano leads to the automated lack of a full letter grade.)

There are tentative plans for Relief Room expansion, Edwards said, if he and Cheryl can move the washer-dryer out of the adjoining mudroom. For now, though, Edwards needs a spot for his newest treasure: the game-worn cleats of Toby Borland, a slender sidearmer from the Nineties. His buddies, Brain and Mike Carroll, bought them for $30 on eBay.

The cleats could fit easily on the wall above the bathroom, which is generally blank space. But that section is sacred, Edwards said, reserved strictly for relievers from the championship teams. The Phillies have improved currently but are still recovering from a slow start. They could must summon the spirit of McGraw to make this their yr.

“Cheryl’s like, ‘There’s a lot space there, do something else with it,’” Edwards said. “I’m waiting. That’s the purpose. That’s the optimist in me: I’m going to fill this wall.”

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