Gonzo: Sweeter than Sweet

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After this home run Sunday against the Padres, Mike Sweeney hugged all his teammates in the dugout. (AP Photo / Denis Poroy)

Philadelphians have opened their arms to Mike Sweeney. He couldn't be happier about that.

If you didn't get a hug from Sweeney on Sunday, you were one of the few. Before the Phils finished off a three-game sweep of the Padres in San Diego, the Fightin's favorite waiver-wire acquisition hit his first home run since late May. He was excited and so were his teammates. After Sweeney rounded the bases in the seventh inning and returned to the visitors' dugout, a spontaneous free love fest broke out - and quickly spread all the way back to the East Coast.

Out in California, everyone from Domonic Brown to Jimmy Rollins felt Sweeney's sweet embrace. If the Gatorade cooler had limbs, Sweeney almost certainly would have made the inanimate object hug it out and bring it in for the real thing.

"I'm just embracing being [with the Phillies]," Sweeney told The Inquirer. No word on whether he then hugged the baseball beat writers who made the trip to the Left Coast.

Back here in Philly, all sorts of people - warm and fuzzy from watching Sweeney - texted and tweeted about joining the open displays of affection. On Monday, the subhead on Philly.com's sports page said "wants a hug from Sweeney."

It shouldn't be surprising that the town has taken to Sweeney. Around here, it happens with guys like him all the time. Philadelphia has a reputation for being populated by surly, unwelcoming natives who can't wait to fire verbal darts at athletes using personalized blowguns. But when it comes to fringe players who produce a little bit or hustle or connect with the city's sensibility in any way, the locals can't wait to throw open their doors and invite them to stay awhile. It's counterintuitive but true.

Koy Detmer was a third-string quarterback without much talent, but he endeared himself to some by taking out an imaginary belt and pretending to whip the Packers sideline during a clash in 1998. The Eagles lost that game, but Detmer and his neck beard won over quite a few fans.

Sal Fasano didn't play here for very long. He had a small batting average but a big bushy mustache, which was good enough for two fan clubs.

Matt Stairs hit a monster home run during the 2008 NLCS but didn't do much else during his time as a Phillie. He hasn't performed since leaving town (through Monday, he was hitting .211 with just three home runs for the Padres), but now and then an e-mail will pop into the Page 2 inbox asking why the Fightin's ever let him go. I'm not sure if Stairs drinks, but if he does he should move back to Philly when his career is over and let people buy him beers until the big umpire in the sky ejects him from the game of life.

The list goes on: Pete Incaviglia, Scott Brooks, Riley Cote, Dan Carcillo, Kyle Korver, Bubby Brister - none of them were top-flight players capable of delivering a championship to Philadelphia but all, at one time or another, had weird cult followings.

The most intense love affair in recent memory had to be with Jeff Garcia. In 2006, while Donovan McNabb was injured, Garcia started eight games for the Eagles and won six of them - including a Christmas Day victory over the Cowboys. Impressive. Not so impressive: He completed just 50 percent of his passes in the team's playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints that season. To some, that didn't matter - not then or now. The McNabb haters openly lobbied for Garcia to unseat Five as the Birds starting quarterback, and when Garcia returned to town for just one week last year his fans swooned. No one seemed to care that Garcia was an average-at-best NFL quarterback (58-58 as a starter), a guy who, like McNabb, never won the big game and wasn't terribly accurate.

It's all so odd and random - watching which marginal or unproven players Philly decides to support and which it decides to stiff arm. The only constant here is that there always seems to be a fan favorite that gets adopted as the town's unofficial mascot. Riley Cooper looks like he's on deck for that job. For now, the gig belongs to Sweeney.

Before Ryan Howard returned from the disabled list, I went to a Phils-Mets game with some friends. We sat in right field. Early on, one of the not-so-Amazin's popped a foul ball down the first-base line. It wasn't far from the position Sweeney had taken up near the bag. He rumbled after it and made an attempt to dive. Either that or he tripped. He didn't catch the ball. Didn't come close.

If Howard had done that, he might have heard some laughs from the crowd. But Howard didn't do that. Sweeney did. The people in my section cheered.

 


Contact columnist John Gonzalez at 215-854-2813 or gonzalez@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/gonzophilly.