The day they kept clapping for Kruk While still fighting cancer, he came up big at bat.

Posted: September 27, 2003

It is generally agreed that when Tug McGraw struck out the Kansas City Royals' Willie Wilson in 1980 and gave the Phillies their only World Series championship, it was the most emotional moment in the franchise's history - and easily the highlight of the club's tenure at Veterans Stadium.

For sheer inspiration, however, it is difficult to surpass the developments of April 11, 1994.

That's the day John Kruk, cancer patient, underwent radiation treatment in the morning, then started at first base in the Phillies' home opener and ripped a double in his first at-bat of the season. He thus began a 3-for-5 afternoon on which he became the National League leader in standing ovations received.

The first standing ovation started before the national anthem, before the U.S. Navy Leap Frogs had parachuted out of the sky.

As the defending NL champs were introduced before the game and received their league championship rings at the sold-out Vet, there were loud cheers for Darren Daulton, Lenny Dykstra, Curt Schilling and the rest.

Fittingly, the bearded and beer-bellied Kruk was introduced last, and the standing ovation he received rocked the Vet, the decibels reaching the levels of Oct. 21, 1980, the night McGraw threw his "Peggy Lee" fastball ("Is that all there is?") past Wilson.

"That was really nice, and I really appreciated it," Kruk said after his three-hit performance, which came just hours after he had undergone the 16th of his 18 radiation treatments for testicular cancer.

"But it made me kind of nervous. I just didn't want to trip going out there. That would have been embarrassing, you know. But, fortunately, I made it."

Never mind that the Phils dropped an 8-7 decision to the Colorado Rockies that afternoon. Kruk's appearance, which came five weeks after he had been found to have cancer, remains one of the most remarkable events in the Vet's 33-season history.

As Kruk sheepishly stood near his teammates after his pregame introduction, with the ovation growing louder, he seemed to get antsy. He worked his way up the first-base line, slapping palms with just about every Phillie in sight.

A few days earlier, Kruk had been getting rid of the cobwebs in a stint at double-A Reading. And the morning of the Phils' home opener, he had sat in Jim Fregosi's office and convinced the manager - along with general manager Lee Thomas and team physician Phillip Marone - that he should be in the starting lineup.

When the meeting ended, Kruk was batting No. 3.

In the first inning, after a 25-second standing ovation, Kruk doubled in the tying run in his first at-bat of the year, slamming a 3-1 fastball into right-center. The ovation for that lasted 40 seconds.

"I didn't know what to do after that one," Kruk said. "I didn't know whether to tip my hat or just stand there and look stupid. So I opted for just standing there and looking stupid."

"Heck, I told him before the game I expected him to get four [hits]," Daulton cracked when the game was over. "I'm a little disappointed he only got three."

"His presence means so much to us," rightfielder Jim Eisenreich added after the loss that dropped the Phils to 3-4. "He's one of the guys we rely on to come through for us. And he did - three times. We were hoping for a fourth time, too. In fact, we were begging for a fourth time."

Kruk was 3 for 4 when he limped to the plate in the ninth inning, looking for one more hit. But with Dykstra on second and one out, the Hollywood script ended: Rockies closer Darren Holmes struck out Kruk on a nasty breaking ball to help protect his team's one-run lead.

"It might not have ended the way we wanted," Eisenreich said, "but this was still John Kruk's day. It's just too bad the rest of us weren't up to the same level he was."

"I told him it was nice to have him back," Rockies catcher Joe Girardi said. "Besides being a great player, he's an important character in the game. A lot of people in this world are built just like him and love what he does."

Today, they love him for his candor and his dry, Ashburn-esque humor as a part-time Phillies announcer - though the memory of that courageous 1994 performance will never be far from their minds.

Contact staff writer Sam Carchidi at 215-854-5181 or scarchidi@phillynews.com.

2 Games Left at the Vet

Today's events

* Game time: 1:25 p.m. Gates open at 11:05 a.m.

* The U.S. Navy Leap Frogs will parachute into the Vet, making their sixth and final appearance there.

* The Phillies' all-Veterans Stadium team will be introduced before the game. Oversize (6x10-foot) Fleer baseball cards will be part of the presentation.

* All fans will receive Philadelphia Phil and Phillis dual bobblehead dolls, courtesy of M.A.B. Paints and Tastykake.

* Ceremonial first balls: The person who gained the honor on Fan Appreciation Day will give balls to former Phils pitchers John Denny and Steve Bedrosian. The two former Cy Young Award winners will throw them to former Phils catchers Darren Daulton and Mike Ryan.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|