Can we handle an All-American boy?

Posted: July 05, 2007

HOUSTON - Philadelphia is a city that infamously threw snowballs at Santa Claus and venerates Ben Franklin. That never really warmed to Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt while embracing the fictional Rocky as a symbol of its gritty spirit.

But what will the city of cheesesteaks and scrapple make of Captain America?

Captain America is the gee-whiz, red-white-and-blue comic-book hero who stands for all that's good and right. It's also what people who have been around Joe Savery call the 21-year-old lefthanded pitcher who was the Phillies' No. 1 draft choice out of Rice University.

"He's the All-American kid," said Rice baseball sports information director John Sullivan. "It's not some kind of act or trying to look the part. He is the real deal."

He does look the part, though. Square-jawed. Good-looking. Clean-cut.

He's also bright enough to understand that when someone appears too good to be true, there will be those who will go out of their way to discover the flaws.

"That can carry some negative connotations with it but, you know, I love my family. I believe in doing the right thing, I believe in accountability, I believe in putting others before you when you have to. And the rest of it will take care of itself," Savery, a Houston native, said during the Phillies-Astros series that ended yesterday.

"So I take that, when people say it, as a compliment. It makes me feel good. I really do strive to be a well-rounded person and somebody people can look to."

Savery has a poise that goes beyond his relative youth and inexperience. He has lived most of his life within a small radius - the small, tight-knit Rice campus is only a few blocks from where he grew up - yet has traveled the world playing baseball.

He has always been the star athlete - in high school he was the quarterback, of course - and has the kind of personality that people naturally gravitate to. Yet he doesn't place himself above others. Even though he was the star pitcher [and leading hitter] on a nationally ranked baseball team, it wasn't unusual to see him sitting under the scorching sun watching the women's soccer team play on a Sunday afternoon, or being on hand to cheer on the swim team.

He had a whirlwind day on Tuesday, being introduced around the Phillies' clubhouse at Minute Maid Park before the game, fielding a swarm of interviewers and hanging around the batting cage without ever seeming to lose his cool.

Legendary Rice baseball coach Wayne Gallagher got teary-eyed for one of the few times in his life when he heard that the Phillies had taken Savery with the 19th overall pick.

But, psssst, no. He's not perfect. For one thing, he has a pretty good temper.

"It's one of those things," he said. "It's kind of a fine line. You've got to keep that edge. It good sometimes. Maybe not in public and not in front of your teammates. But if you're not getting angry with yourself and you're not frustrated with your performance, you're not going to push yourself and you're probably not going to reach your potential.

"I've had to learn how to limit that, but I think you have to have that drive inside you, too."

He's getting better, though. At the College World Series in 2006, during a game against Oregon State, he was caught on camera banging his helmet repeatedly against the bat rack.

At Omaha this year, in his last at-bat ever for Rice, he was called out on a pitch that wasn't even in the same ZIP code as the strike zone. This time he didn't lose his cool, even while addressing the media after the Owls were eliminated.

He's tough, too. As a freshman, he broke his non-pitching hand in the first game of the Super Regional. He still pitched the next day, even though he grimaced in pain each time he took the throw back from the catcher . . . and threw six shutout innings against top-ranked Tulane.

Savery says he hopes to sign soon and be pitching professionally, most likely at Class A Lakewood, by the end of the month although negotiations at this level rarely go as smoothly as either side would like.

In all likelihood, the deal will get done shortly and Savery will begin the next challenge in his life. But he still plans to return to Rice in the offseason and finish his degree, even though he should have a bonus of somewhere around $1.5 million in the bank by then.

"I didn't work 3 years at that school not to get a degree," he said. "I'm a sports-management major, but I like to say I major in life. You can only have one major, but I took a lot of courses. Education. Religion. Economics. I've taken them all."

Captain America himself couldn't have said it better. *

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