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THERE'S A Jamie Moyer in your bowling league, right? Some guy, 46 years old, not quite six feet, a buck-eighty-five, toppling pins with little finger flicks. Except this guy pitches in the National League. Twenty-three years after his first major league win, over Steve Carlton, Jamie Moyer is still at it, throwing tissue paper. On Sunday night, curtain up on the new season, Moyer was back in uniform, at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, taking in the packed house, playing catch, charting Atlanta's big young bats: catcher Brian McCann, 25; first baseman Casey Kotchman, 26; rightfielder Jeff Francoeur, 25. ¶ But Grandpa (as shortstop Jimmy Rollins calls Moyer) is a wily operator. Yes, there will be nights this year when guys light him up and the Phillies lose. But there will be more nights when Moyer's 82-mph fastball, his speed-limit changeup, his what-was-that? curveball, many of them off the plate but irresistible, will leave batters feeling as if they got beat by a lefthanded gnat. Young, aggressive swingers, especially, are often confused by him, looking "fastball" inside, and getting way out in front of an outside changeup. Moyer thinks—and outguesses—hitters as well as any pitcher in baseball. He has to. Watching him work into the sixth or seventh inning makes you think that anything's possible.
He started the new season seven wins short of Hall of Famer Carl Hubbell's 253. Carl Hubbell, star of the '34 All-Star Game. Moyer knew him, talked pitching with him. That's how Moyer got to the majors, by talking and listening, watching, working, stretching. He'll tell you: "You gotta stretch."
What another Hall of Famer, Nolan Ryan, gave Moyer, he's giving to the Phillies' young ace, Cole Hamels. (Moyer on Ryan's mental toughness: "We're both with Texas, and we're at Fenway. Guy in the stands hits Nolan with a full cup of beer as he's walking in from the mound. He never breaks stride, and he never looks up. He just goes to the dugout and sits there, all wet.") What Moyer's father gave him—the game itself—Jamie's giving to his two baseball-playing sons.
Moyer was sharp in 6 1/3 innings as the Game 3 starter in last year's World Series, despite a virulent case of diarrhea. (Philly blew a three-run lead, then won it in the ninth.) When the Phillies won the Series two games later, Moyer celebrated by digging the pitching rubber out of the cold dirt of The Bank's mound. The homeboy—Moyer is a proud son of Souderton, Pa., the outer limit of where you can still get a legitimate Philadelphia cheesesteak—saw his quiet and unassuming 77-year-old father, Jim, a retired glass installer and former fast-pitch softball pitcher, in the beer-soaked clubhouse and said to him, "This makes all those backyard games of pepper worth it." A poignant father-son moment. Norman Rockwell could have painted it.
O.K., so that's just part of the story. Moyer has been shaped, like a lot of us, by a lifetime of baseball movies (his favorite is The Natural) and the familiar halftime spiels of old-timey coaches (his father-in-law is Digger Phelps, the ESPN analyst and former Notre Dame basketball coach). The truth is, Moyer would have loved those father-son late '60s backyard pepper games even if they hadn't led to anything more than the bell for supper.
But that's not the point. The point is that even after tours with seven major league teams, Moyer has never forgotten working-class Souderton. Yes, he's in the first year of a two-year, $14 million contract, and the new house in Bradenton, Fla., has a climate-controlled, 4,000-bottle wine cellar. But in the creases of Moyer's face you see the back-and-forth routes from the majors to the minor leagues, through Winston-Salem and Pittsfield and Toledo and Rochester.
HE HAS always looked more like us than them. Do you think any big-time college baseball coaches—forget about professional scouts—found their way to Souderton Area High in the spring of 1981 to watch a short-legged, 145-pound, 5'9" senior pitcher with a batting-practice fastball and mediocre grades? They did not. So Moyer enrolled in night school at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia, getting his grades up so he could try out for the baseball team, which was coached by a high school science teacher. By day Moyer worked for the borough of Souderton, painting crosswalks, collecting leaves, mowing bumpy municipal ball fields. He'd pack a sandwich at breakfast and eat it while making the hourlong drive to school in his parents' baby-blue Pinto. "Bologna on white, mustard between the meat," Moyer recalled cheerfully during a recent all-day interview. (The man's a Hall of Fame talker.) "If you put the mustard right on the bread, the sandwich gets all mushy."
For the first couple of months of the season Moyer will live alone in a stately Philadelphia town house while the rest of the Moyer Nine (wife Karen, seven kids) will finish the school year in Bradenton, about 80 minutes in traffic from Clearwater, where the Phillies conduct spring training. (Karen and Jamie met in 1986, when he was a rookie with the Chicago Cubs and she, then a rising senior at Notre Dame, had a summer TV job, fetching stats and coffee for broadcasters Harry Caray and Steve Stone. In '92, after the Cubs released Moyer, Phelps said to his son-in-law, "Maybe it's time for you to get a real job." That was a motivator.)
The move to a treeless development in Bradenton, from Seattle (where Moyer spent the most time in his pro career, 1997 until August 2006), was not for the convenience of Karen, who runs a children's charity and owns an indoor cycle studio there.
The Moyers didn't relocate to Bradenton for the Irish twins, McCabe, a five-year-old boy, and Grady, a four-year-old girl, who share a bedroom and act like an old married couple. They didn't make the move for the baby in the family, two-year-old Yenifer, adopted as an infant from a Guatemalan orphanage. They didn't make the move for the two older girls, 13-year-old Timoney or 11-year-old Duffy. (All the kids, except the baby, have given names that are surnames on the Phelps side of the family.)