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O'er the land of the freeeeeeee ...
Chooch's thoughts light on his own two sons, one an infant and the other just a little older than he was when he lost his father—the boy who loves to race around the house whenever Chooch homers, whether on TV or on his MLB video game, and mimic the famed Hispanic baseball broadcaster Ernesto Jerez hollering, "A lo profundoooooooo y no no no no no no no no!"
Chooch smiles, blesses himself and emerges gingerly from the bullpen bathroom. Hamels, when his warmup sessions disgusted him, sometimes reared back and fired the ball right into the john, screaming it off the inside wall, and Chooch would go right to reminding him how splendid a hurler he is and how meaningless are warmup pitches. But all's calm tonight. Chooch rubs his pitcher's back and pounds his sternum, a mother ladling out equal portions of love and challenge, and the bullpen gate opens.
Cole Chooch Hamels begins the long walk in, a brown hand resting on his shoulder.
Ooooooh. Look at Chooch! Chooch has new shoes!! Chooch has new batting gloves! Look, with his number on them! It's 6 p.m. Another night. Another ace. Chooch is a superstar now! Chooch has a commercial! Chooch has gone big time! They tease him about everything, and the loudest one laughing at him ... is him. Rather than defend himself, he'll gyrate and turn the pop hit Like a G6 into "Like a cheese steak! Like a cheese steak!" or pull on all his gear, even his mask, and sit in front of his locker punching a fist into his glove, shouting, "Let's go!" ... an hour before game time. "It's the catcher's job," he says, "to bring energy and happiness to the game."
No tomfoolery tonight. Doc's on the slab, the one guy Chooch won't impersonate. The Tailor grows more quiet and attentive than ever, watching from the corner of his eye as Roy Halladay sits as still as a stone in front of his locker and studies the thick notebooks he keeps on hitters. Waiting for Doc to nod to him, even walking past the pitcher in silence now and then just to give him that opening, so not a second will be lost once Doc's ready to meet and formulate their game plan.
It still awes Chooch. He's catching the best pitcher in the game. The first day they got to know each other well—in March 2010, when Chooch found himself opening his car door to drive Doc to Tampa to pitch against a team of Yankees minor leaguers—he froze. What would a poor boy from Panama say to a living legend? Sure, he'd picked the mind of Phils pitcher Jamie Moyer for 3½ years—in clubhouses, in dugouts and on flights—and learned the art of pitch sequence, the divination of batters' body language, the conviction he had to convey in his pitch selections rather than the timid suggestions they were in his first two years in the bigs, becoming so adept that his staff had learned only to nod and launch ... but how could he tell the master which pitches to throw? The silence gathered as they drove. "How many kids do you have?" Chooch finally squeaked.
"Do they like baseball?"
"Oh, yeah," said Doc, and they were rolling.