Inside the Phillies: Phillies' Cliff Lee appears at the auto show

Cliff Lee entertained fans at a Q&A session at the Auto Show Wednesday night. (Ron Tarver/Staff Photographer)

Cliff Lee's appearance at the Philadelphia Auto Show Wednesday night was billed as a question-and-answer session.

In truth, it was more of a gush-and-blush gathering celebrating the lefthander's return to the Phillies' starting rotation.

The crowd gushed, standing in unison to applaud Lee when he walked into an overflowing room at the Convention Center.

The unassuming Lee blushed and politely returned the applause as he looked out at the adoring audience.

"It's like he's a rock star," one face in the crowd said as Lee settled into his center-stage seat.

Lee did not have an electric guitar, but he kept hitting all the high notes while playing the crowd like a violin. Nobody seemed interested in the automobiles on display at this show because the Porsche of lefthanded pitchers was in the house.

"There are 30 major-league teams, and I'm in Philadelphia because I feel like this is the best team," Lee said.

Cue the applause.

"I knew if I ever had an opportunity to come back and be part of this again, I would take advantage of it," Lee said. "I felt like that team at that time [in 2009] was the best I had ever played on, and I feel like from then until now, the team got even better without me on it with the additions of Roy Halladay, [Roy] Oswalt, Placido Polanco. I'm hoping we can go back [to the World Series] two, three, four more times while I'm here."

More applause.

Lee did not have to field many difficult questions, although early on he was asked if the Phillies were going to win the World Series. All he would guarantee was an honest, all-out effort.

"I know we have the talent to do it," he said. "Health is the number one thing. If everyone stays healthy and we go out and prepare every day and play the game the way it is supposed to be played, I think we have as good a chance as anyone, but I'm not going to sit up here and tell you guys we're going to win the World Series or make any bold predictions. A lot of times those things backfire."

Lee did offer some enlightening answers after first being introduced to a child in the crowd, Emilee, who was born Oct. 28, 2009, the day the lefthander shut down the New York Yankees in Game 1 of the World Series.

One young fan wanted to know if Lee liked the Phillies better than the Yankees because the team from New York does the same thing as a vacuum.

Lee politely pointed out that the Yankees do not do the same thing as a vacuum.

"The Yankees do not [stink]," Lee said. "The Yankees, as a matter of fact, have won more championships than anyone. They don't [stink]. I came here because I like the National League, my family enjoyed it here, and I really think it's a better team than the Yankees. I think the Yankees are always going to be a good team, but at this point in time I felt like the Phillies are a better team."

Yes, of course, that answer drew applause, too.

Reporters in attendance were not permitted to ask questions, although Lu Ann Cahn from NBC10 sneaked in an invitation to her morning show and tried to find out what the lefty likes to do in his spare time.

Turns out Lee loves to sleep, eat, and go to the ballpark.

That's the kind of answer that makes him a true man of the people.

Lee also loves a ballpark with some atmosphere.

"I like playing in Boston, I like playing in New York, I like playing in Philly, I like playing in cities where they understand what's going on, and they don't need a screen to stand up and cheer," Lee said. "I don't care whether I'm on the home side or the visiting side. I just like that extra energy. It feels just as good to silence it as a visitor as it does when you're in Philly and you have the crowd behind you."

The Q-and-A narrator said Lee had just come in from Arkansas and added that he'd like to believe the journey to Philadelphia was a trip home for the most secretive and shocking free-agent addition in franchise history.

Lee spurned more money from the Yankees and Texas Rangers to sign with the Phillies, so obviously he had some sort of cosmic connection during his previous stop in Philadelphia.

Now, he's in the embryonic stage of a celebrated reunion tour that's sure to continue when the Phillies begin their spring-training workouts on Valentine's Day in Clearwater, Fla.


Contact staff writer Bob Brookover

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