Jim Salisbury | A new beginning for Phils' Myers

Posted: April 02, 2007

Brett Myers hopes to make 35 starts for himself, his teammates and the Phillies' organization this season.

But this one is for you.

Myers gets the honor of being the Phils' opening-day starter today. Nine months ago, of course, this would have been unthinkable.

"At one point, I thought I'd be traded," the 26-year-old pitcher said last week in Florida. "I didn't know how the fans would react.

"They could have run me out of town. I'm sure there are still people who don't want me here, and I understand that. I let people down. But the fans who gave me a second chance, I can't tell you how much I respect them.

"I feel like the ones who stood behind me are family. That's what family does. They say, 'You made a mistake, learn from it.' "

Myers made a big mistake, and he knows it.

In June, during a road trip to Boston, he was charged with assaulting his wife, Kim, as a night on the town wound down. The charges were dropped in October, but the incident still impacts his life.

Some of it is good. With the assistance of the Phillies, Myers and his wife went through a counseling program, and the service is still available whenever they need it. Myers says the program has made him a better person, a better husband and a better father.

"Me and my wife are best friends," he said.

But the incident still haunts him in ways he wishes it wouldn't.

Being named opening-day starter 10 days ago was a high point in his career. He couldn't wait to tell his wife and parents. The next day, he experienced the agony of reading the good news.

"I worked my tail off to get this honor," he said. "But every story said, 'Brett Myers, the guy who beat up his wife.' "

Myers shrugged. He understands that the events of June 23 are now part of his life's resume.

"It was the worst day of my life," he said. "I totally regret it."

Myers spoke about the confusion he felt in the aftermath of the incident, how he and his wife weren't sure which way to turn. He remembers sitting in a Boston hotel room, with his wife at his side. He trembled as he met with team officials. Since he was a youngster, pitching had brought so much meaning to his life. On the worst day of his life, all he wanted was to know that he could still pitch. With emotions careening, the Phillies made the decision to let Myers continue pitching. He started against Boston the next day and was booed like an enemy of the people.

Back home in Philadelphia, the ball club was excoriated for letting Myers pitch. The public perception was that the team was insensitive to domestic violence.

Two days later, clearly reacting to public pressure, the club announced that Myers would take a leave from the team.

Myers admits that the club's decision to put him on leave confused him at first.

"But as it turned out, they were right," he said. "I needed time with my family."

He spent nearly three weeks at home and returned to the team in San Francisco after the all-star break.

During that time, team officials privately wondered if Myers could have a long-term future in Philadelphia. Domestic violence is a serious societal issue, and if the people who paid the bills (the fans) didn't want Myers around, the Phillies would have had to react.

Myers' first start at home after the incident was a referendum on his future in Philadelphia. He heard boos, and he deserved them. But in time, he heard the sound of a town willing to give him a second chance.

"I won't need a third," he says now.

Over the winter, the Phillies extended their relationship with Myers, signing him to a three-year contract extension worth $27.75 million.

Because of Myers, the club has struck up a relationship that transcends baseball. It helped sponsor an annual summit by the Pennsylvania Coalition of Domestic Violence this winter. As part of a pledge the team made to the group, all Phillies players took part in a 90-minute seminar dealing with gender violence during spring training.

Myers knew his mistake prompted the meeting, and he sat through every minute of it.

"It brought back some feelings," he said. "Domestic violence is a serious issue. I know that."

Maturity has never been Myers' strong suit. He doesn't always think before he speaks. He can be, well, a knucklehead, a wise guy.

That night nine months ago has changed him, though. He thinks more. He says where once he might have gotten huffy, he now talks things over whenever there's a conflict in his life. At the ballpark, he will step into the batter's box and hear someone shout, "Hit it harder than you hit your wife." He takes his medicine and moves on.

"I signed more autographs this spring than ever before," Myers said. "I just wanted to do something for the fans."

Ah, but he's still a wise guy.

"There was this one guy with a Yankees hat on," he said. "I told him, 'As soon as you get a Phillies hat, I'll sign your ball.' "

Today, Myers' family will be in the stands when he makes his first opening-day start. His wife, young daughter and young son will be there. His parents and in-laws will be there.

And so will the fans who really made it all possible.

"I hope they make it the loudest place on earth," Myers said. "I want to get chills when I walk out there. I owe these fans. I'll bust my rear end for them. I can't think of a better way to thank them for their support."


Contact staff writer Jim Salisbury at 215-854-4983 or jsalisbury@phillynews.com.

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