"Here's the honest-to-God truth," Brogna said. "When I got traded here, [then-Mets general manager] Joe McIlvaine all but apologized for trading me to a team with turf, because he knew of my arthritic condition. And the first thing I thought of was how is my body going to respond to that.
"But the opposite happened."
Limited to only 55 games in his last season with the Mets, Brogna played in 148 games in 1997 and 153 games last year. Much of that was due to a change in how he was treating the disease. But some of it, he thinks, has to do with the consistency of Veterans Stadium.
"It's only a guess," he said. "But the fact that I've been able to play 81 games on turf, my body's adjusted to it, so it's not a shock to my system. When I had to play at Shea for two weeks and go somewhere else where there was grass and then I had to play a week on turf, that's when it hurt. I never had a chance to have my body get used to it. But now that I play on it every day, I really think it's allowed my body to adjust to the surface."
In fact, Brogna says he's never felt better, as long as he gets treated with the appropriate dose of medicine and physical therapy - even when playing day games after night games.
Brogna was missing from his locker before yesterday's game.
"I'm sure he was very sore," Francona said. "It's a lot for him to prepare for a game like this. He was in that training room a long time today."
And at times he looked like Jack LaLanne on the field too, twisting his body in between batters constantly, moving his legs in place. But if it was noticeable in the stands, it wasn't to him.
"I don't spend a lot of time thinking about it," he said.
To anyone watching him, it's hard not to. Brogna is not only managing his disease, he has become one of the league's premier defensive first baseman despite it. Francona calls him "conscientious," and said at one point that what sometimes appears to be quickness in the man is simply his knowledge of the game.
But there were times yesterday, as on most days, where he seemed to display ample amounts of both. In the second inning, for example, with two outs and two Florida runners in scoring position, Brogna contorted to catch a low throw from second baseman Marlon Anderson, keeping his foot just barely on the bag at first. With two on and two outs in the fifth inning, Brogna, lefthanded, swept in to field a slow roller, spun around toward the infield and led pitcher Chad Ogea with a 10-yard pass that would have made Joe Montana proud.
He drove in a run, his 54th of the season, and scored a run. He also hit the carpet hard diving in vain for a double in that fifth inning, and rose slowly, as if just getting up from bed. But he claimed he was fine afterward.
"Since two years ago, I've been amazed how my body has been able to respond and bounce back," he said. "Each year that I've been here, I've been able to play a little more and a little more.
"After a couple of years with the Mets, when I had to sit out from time to time, I kind of thought that was going to be the way it's always going to be."
Instead, Brogna has gone from a player keeping first base warm for Pat Burrell to a guy forcing the Phillies' prospect to learn a new position. Maybe that gets Brogna a contract that lasts more than a year this time around, maybe it doesn't. But it's clear the team values him almost as much as he values remaining here.
"Rico likes it here, we love him here," Francona said. "We're not trying to run Rico out of here.
"If he starts running out, I might even tackle him."