|Burrell isn't ready to say goodbye to Philly|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 18 February 2008 23:30|
He says he loves the City of Brotherly Love and playing for the Phillies.
``I don't know anything else,'' the slugger said Monday. ``In Philly, when it's good, there's no better place. There's something different about the Northeast when it comes to baseball where they can't wait to jump on that team with support when the team is playing well.''
A year ago, it would've been a stretch to think that Burrell could be with the team after his contract expired at the end of this season. The Phillies badly wanted to trade the left fielder last offseason, but the combination of his hefty salary and the no-trade clause in his contract made that impossible.
Burrell had become a whipping boy for fans because he hadn't lived up to the $50 million, six-year deal he signed after a breakout season in 2002. It got so nasty that Burrell was booed during pregame introductions on opening day in April.
Then he struggled for the first couple months, and it got uglier. It reached a point where Burrell would get booed every at-bat. Still, he never lashed out at the fans or asked for a trade.
``Is it realistic to get cheered every time? No,'' Burrell said. ``Who lives in a perfect world? I don't. Do you want to do well and have the fans behind you? Absolutely, but I never felt that they were on me if I was doing the job.''
Burrell silenced the critics with his bat and helped the Phillies win the NL East title for the first time since 1993. He finished with a .256 average, 30 homers and 97 RBIs. Considering that he batted just .215 with 11 homers and 37 RBIs before the All-Star break, that was quite a turnaround.
Burrell hit .435 in July and .290 in August with 16 homers and 47 RBIs in those two months. He nearly carried the offense when Chase Utley missed 28 games with a broken hand.
``It was two seasons in one,'' Burrell said. ``I started off bad. I got to the point where I wasn't playing. Something just took over right around the All-Star break. I really started to feel I was building on something and I was able to carry on.''
Burrell, who will make $14 million this season, can become a free agent for the first time in his career in November. But the 31-year-old newlywed says he would rather get a contract extension than test the open market.
``I'd love to come back,'' he said. ``There's no secrets. If it's something the Phillies are interested in, 100 percent.''
Burrell might have to wait a little longer to have those discussions, but the possibility of him returning next year doesn't seem remote anymore. Still, it's too early to consider whether he'd re-sign with the Phillies for less than fair value.
``I haven't even gotten that far,'' he said. ``It has to be the right decision.''
If the Phillies decide they don't want Burrell back, he'll have a tough time saying goodbye to his teammates. There's a lot of camaraderie and a loose, fun atmosphere in the clubhouse - and no one is immune from a prank, not even a veteran like Burrell.
Before Kyle Kendrick was duped into thinking that he had been traded to Japan, Burrell arrived to find those ``Man or Machine'' T-shirts featuring his bare-chested picture hanging in everyone's locker.
Asked if he'd like to burn them, Burrell said: ``Yeah, I would, but there's a lot of people who want them, I know that.''
The first overall pick in the 1998 amateur draft, Burrell was hyped up from the start following an outstanding career at the University of Miami that earned him induction into the school's Hall of Fame last week.
Burrell came up in 2000 and quickly showed he deserved his ``Pat the Bat'' nickname. He had 27 homers and 89 RBIs in his second season and followed up with a .282 average, 37 homers and 116 RBIs in 2002. That earned him the big contract that seemed like a good deal for the Phillies at the time.
But Burrell slumped in '03, batting just .209 with 21 homers and 64 RBIs. After a wrist injury hindered him in '04, Burrell rebounded with a .281 average, 32 homers and 117 RBIs in 2005. His numbers the next year - .258, 29, 95 - were solid. However, he was booed heavily down the stretch because he batted .222 with runners in scoring position and struck out looking 63 times to lead the majors.
General manager Pat Gillick tried to sign free-agent Alfonso Soriano to replace Burrell, but he ended up going to the Chicago Cubs. If the Phillies ended up with Soriano, they probably would've been stuck with Burrell because no team wanted to pay him more than $27 million for the final two years of his contract and he likely would've vetoed a trade.
None of that seems to matter now.
``The aspect of being a baseball player, you want to be on a competitive team,'' Burrell said. ``The foundation and the transformation here, this is something you want to be a part of.''
Normally a laid-back guy, Burrell got caught up in the Phillies' thrilling chase in September. When they clinched the division championship on the final day of the season, Burrell was the first one to run out of the dugout and tackle pitcher Brett Myers. He almost cried after the game when he talked about devoting the season to longtime coach John Vukovich, who died last spring.
That's the kind of emotion Philly fans love from their players. Maybe this year Burrell will get a standing ovation on opening day.