Phils' Werth has emerged as a star (cont.)
When he was 11 and competing in a national tournament, his team's catcher got sick with a migraine before the semifinals. Facing an elimination game without a catcher -- the team didn't have a backup catcher because, as Werth says, "we were 11 years old, he caught every game" -- Werth volunteered despite never having done it before. In the semifinal victory he threw out a few runners trying to steal bases and blocked some balls in the dirt.
"My stepfather came up as a catcher in the minor leagues and said, 'You're a natural,' " says Werth. "From then on, I was a catcher until Double-A, when I made the move to the outfield."
He became Glenwood High's starting catcher as a sophomore, and as old high school coach, Pat Moomey, remembers it, he didn't call another pitch for three years.
"We let him call his own game," Moomey says. "He had a great understanding of pitching to hitters and how to get the most of pitchers."
As a junior, Werth led Glenwood to its only state championship in school history, and as a senior he batted .652 with 15 home runs in 31 games.
"It's such a tough thing for high school kids, when you're at a small field somewhere, and 15 scouts are standing behind home plate watching every move you make," Moomey says. "I've seen a lot of kids in that situation really let that get to them their senior year. He was just the opposite. I felt nervous as a coach with all the scouts there, I can't imagine what he felt like as a player."
During one of the Phillies' first spring training meetings of this year, Davey Lopes, the first-base and outfield coach, proclaimed that Jayson Werth would be a 30-30 player soon in his career. Werth had just assembled a 24-homer, 20-steal campaign in '08.
"You're looking at a really tremendous athlete," Lopes says. "All phases of the game he plays very well. He has plus speed, plus arm, plus defense and plus-plus power."
Werth was nine when Jose Canseco went 40-40 in 1988, but he remembers pledging at the time, "One day, I'm going to go 40-40." He went 36-20 this year, though Lopes says Werth was slowed early in the season by a "hernia-type pull, kind of similar to what Raul had." Werth will need to be more aggressive in attempting steals, but at least 30-30 is not unreasonable.
"At that time I hadn't really had someone like that back me," Werth says of Lopes' spring training proclamation, "and for him to have the confidence in my ability to put that out there was big."
At 6-foot-5, 212 pounds, Werth has practical strength, developed from constant repetition in the nearly two-dozen years since his stepfather built that batting cage. Werth stands tall in the box, with an especially upright torso over gently bent knees, cocking his arms back as the pitch approaches. Dobbs compared his long stance to that of a former teammate.
"He reminds me a lot of Richie Sexson, whom I played with in Seattle," Dobbs said of Werth. "They're able to create extreme leverage on the ball, and that's why the balls they hit just take off and fly."
To Frank Coppenbarger, the Phillies' director of travel and clubhouse services and a native of Decatur, Ill., Werth resembles someone else.
"He thinks it's funny that I'm a tall, skinny fellow from Springfield," says Werth.
So as a gift from the traveling secretary, a large doll of Abe Lincoln sits in Werth's locker in Citizens Bank Park. When Werth returned to his hometown this offseason, it was under very different circumstances than in 2006. Rather than killing time adrift on a lake, Werth lent his own newfound fame as a world champion to support Springfield's most famous son, promoting the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum's annual fund-raising efforts. And so, at long last, Werth received a hero's welcome upon his hometown return.
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