Mike Schmidt is walking through a set of double doors, wearing a sports coat and slacks and an assistant of some sort, and all around him are milling short little 20-something-people wearing solid black and headsets and looks that say "I am important; do not get in my way." It is somewhere around 8 p.m., Greenwich Village time, when at the end of the hallway opposite from the greatest third baseman who ever lived, a door swings open, and in walks a stream of even more important-looking people, and at the end of them the most important-looking of them hall, his physically-impossible ooze of hair looking even more surreal in person than it does on television, and his physically-impossible foreign-born wife looking likewise.
For a brief second, as the paths of the two men cross, a rare look of deference - insecurity, even - crosses the face of Michael Jack Schmidt. It is the look of a man who isn't sure if he will be remembered, or recognized, or even acknowledged.
Then, Donald Trump speaks.
"The greatest third baseman who ever lived," the Donald says. "They were calling you that on television the other day."
He does not wait for a reply.
"How's your golf game? We should play down in Florida. You should take my number."
Problem is, the Donald keeps walking, and does not offer his number (surely, he has people who offer his number for him).. And so Mike Schmidt keeps walking, off toward stage left, off toward his spot in the audience at New York University's Skirball Center for the Performing Arts.
Bob Costas is not a big man. In fact, from the naked eye, he could share a growth chart with an Olympic gymnast. Which is an interesting observation, because there were a couple of Olympic gymnasts in the house last night at the year-end episode of the HBO Talk Show Costas. Now, along with a who's who of athletes from across the country, athletes that included Phillies short stop Jimmy Rollins and first baseman Ryan Howard, and, of course, Mr. Schmidt. What he lacks for stature, Costas - and HBO - make up for in their reach.
Joining Rollins and Howard and Schmidt at NYU last night were superstars like Michael Phelps and Dara Torres and Michael Strahan and Charles Barkley and John McEnroe. It was an interesting dynamic, watching a couple of players who are used to being kings of their domain relegated to mere faces in the crowd of a healthy contingent of this nation's athletic elite.
I decided I would attend the taping because A) It seemed like an excuse to get out of Philadelphia, B) It seemed like more fun than checking the MLB Trade Rumors web site 50 times over the course of the afternoon and C) The last time Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard appeared on a significant nationally-televised sports talk show, the Legend of the Front-runner was born.
In fact, when the segment featuring Rollins and Howard began, I suddenly had a flashback to the duo's Best Damn Sports Show appearance in August, when host John Salley and the gang got the MVP short stop to share his true - although unfortunately worded - feelings about the Philadelphia faithful. Costas - that little S.O.B. - rolled up his diminuitive sleeves early, wording his first question something along the lines of, "Are the Philadelphia fans abusive or just demanding". This, of course, caused Rollins and Howard to exchange a knowing look, one that said "How much is honesty really worth?"
"You know," Rollins joked to his counterpart, "that they are going to hear this back in Philly."
Howard, to his credit, did an excellent job of navigating a question more loaded than Plaxico Burress' glock. The first baseman - whose brother Corey was also in attendance - likened the relationship between the city's fans and athletes to the relationship between two father's sons.
"You are going to have fights with your brother," Howard said, "but at the end of the day, you still love your brother."
Or, as audience member Charles Barkely put it later: "Philadelphia is the greatest place to play when you are winning. It just sucks when you are losing."
A bit of news did come out of last night. It looks like Rollins is a sure-bet to make the United States squad for the World Baseball Classic. Also, Schmidt will be coaching third base for old friend and USA manager Davey Johnson.
Rollins told the Daily News last night that he still has to make the "final cut," but with Alex Rodriguez suiting up for the Dominican Republic and Rollins coming off consecutive seasons in which he won an NL MVP trophy and a World Series ring, he is an obvious choice. Schmidt said Rollins was already on the team.
Cole Hamels and Brad Lidge will not participate, for obvious reasons. Playoffs included, Hamels threw nearly 100 more innings than his previous career-high last season. And Lidge's wife recently gave birth to the couple's second child.