Feeding the Phils

Team cook Joe Swanhart knows what the players like - and what's good for them.

Posted: October 23, 2008

Hey, if you're a Phillie, you never know what can make the difference in the postseason.

It might be a clutch home run by a 40-year-old guy with a gut. Or, you know, it might be a little honey on your tuna-fish sandwich.

That's what Ryan Howard eats on game day, according to team cook Joe Swanhart. "That's just the way he likes it," Swanhart says.

It might be peanut butter and jelly, the sandwich of champions for Chase Utley and So Taguchi.

"Smuckers strawberry is actually Chase's favorite," says Swanhart, who explains Utley's pregame preference as a combination of superstition and habit. Maybe dating back to his Little League days? But Taguchi? Do Little Leagers in Japan eat PB&J?

Perhaps it just might be that extremely popular cappucino machine the team purchased at the beginning of September that has made the difference. Fired up on espresso, the Phillies went on a late-season tear.

Swanhart, who is called "Swanny" by everyone in baseball but Joe everywhere else, is himself a young phenom. He rose from spring training batboy for St. Louis at age 12 to overseeing game-day meals for the Phillies at just 29.

Swanny oversees the team kitchen, which features a shockingly low-fat, low-junk, low-fried, egg-whites, almost-no-red-meat diet for players to the point of offering only baked potato chips, not regular.

This is definitely not 1993. Can you imagine John Kruk eating baked, no-trans-fat Lays?

In any case, Swanny has a dossier on every player's eating habits, a series of elaborate food rituals that may or may not have powered this team to its World Series berth. On game days, he's serving up three meals in the players' lounge: on arrival, post-batting practice, and postgame.

Naturally, closer Brad Lidge is the biggest pregame eater, which would make sense since Lidge knows he's got until the eighth or ninth inning to digest.

Swanhart says Lidge likes to lay on the hot sauce, logical given Lidge's ability to be cool in high-pressure situations. See, this is guy who can handle the heat.

Two seasons ago, the club hired a nutritionist to overhaul the team diet. Now, this might sound like a competitive advantage, except that Tampa Bay, where Swanny used to work, hired the same nutritionist, Cynthia Sass.

"We're all healthy now," says Swanhart. "Healthy-choice bacon, turkey-sausage links, egg whites. We don't do a lot of candy and fatty foods."

Which means Shane Victorino is off the Spam. His favorite food from Hawaii, Spam musubi, which is basically Spam sushi, is no longer available for breakfast at the clubhouse. Victorino is OK with that, says Swanhart, and now enjoys a soy-milk strawberry smoothie.

The team's guiding principle is 80 percent/20 percent, which would be a heckuva rule if it referred to, say, on-base percentage. Eighty percent healthy foods, 20 percent the things you crave, but still with an eye toward health. "Instead of a regular candy bar, we'd have a special dark chocolate bar."

For day games, Swanny's main meal is breakfast, pregame. He's making egg-white sandwiches to order, then serving up a limited light meal after batting practice ends, typically chicken or fish with rice. And there's a full entree afterward, when players are famished.

For night games, the players come into the clubhouse for a pregame spread of cold cuts for sandwiches and hoagies. "Sometimes, I grill the sandwich like a melt," Swanhart says.

A lot of teams are going the health route, he says. "Five years ago, there wasn't any team totally health-conscious. For the most part, it was greasy food and things they liked, comfort food."

For the last two seasons, the Phillies have even sent a letter to opposing teams requesting that they provide the Phils a healthful meal on the road. "We'll send out a letter notifying everybody around the league we're looking for certain foods, ask them to remove anything not as healthy, like potato chips, fried food."

For some guys, the big meal comes after the game, when the team also supplies a keg of Bud Light and Bud Select. "Jamie Moyer, he's a diehard hoagie guy. He really likes Italian hoagies."

Moyer gets one specially made from Planet Hoagie for the postgame meal after he pitches. Aww.

Jimmy Rollins merely asks that whatever Swanhart makes for him "has hits in it."

"I'll make him a nice turkey sausage, eggs and cheese, and make sure I put some hits in it," says the ever-accommodating Swanhart. "Brett Myers is a big waffle guy."

Chris Coste wants chocolate in his coffee and "is a big ham, eggs and cheese-wrap guy."

Matt Stairs hasn't been around long enough to make any kind of impression, foodwise, Swanhart says. He just goes with the program, eats what's offered, and hits a home run when needed. No honey required.

Milt Melt (named after Phillies batting coach Milt Thompson)

Makes 1 serving

3 slices of bacon (use a healthy choice with no nitrates and no nitrites on the label)

Light Butter

Extra virgin olive oil

2 eggs

2 slices of cheddar cheese

1. Cook the bacon on a griddle or in a frying pan on medium heat, until crisp. Place cooked bacon on a paper towel to cool and drain any grease. With your fingers, tear bacon into pieces (no larger than an inch) and set aside.

2. Butter one side of both pieces of bread and place buttered side down in the frying pan or griddle on medium heat to toast.

3. In a separate frying pan on medium heat, add one tablespoon of olive oil to coat pan. Add two eggs to the coated pan to fry, breaking the yolks with a spatula. Add bacon pieces to the pan with the eggs and flip when the egg whites have cooked around the edges. Place the cheese on the eggs while in the pan and turn off your stove.

4. Check the bread for a golden brown hue and slide the eggs onto one piece of the bread (the side that is not buttered). With a spatula, top your sandwich with the other piece of bread and slice in half on the diagonal. If your timing is right, then you will have a perfect Milt Melt.

- From Phillies clubhouse cook Joe SwanhartPer serving: 596 calories, 26 grams protein, 25 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams sugar, 43 grams fat, 465 milligrams cholesterol, 836 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.

Shane Victorino Strawberry Smoothie

Makes 1-2 servings

1 cup of ice

6 to 10 frozen strawberries

1 fruit on the bottom strawberry yogurt

1. In a blender, combine the ice, frozen strawberries, yogurt and 2 cups of soy milk and blend on low.

2. While blending, remove the center lid and add the sugar and honey. Replace the lid and increase the blender setting to medium-high. Depending on the size of the strawberries, you may need to add more soy milk to get a thinner consistency.

3. Pour into a glass and top with whipped cream.

- From Phillies clubhouse cook Joe SwanhartPer serving (based on 2): 364 calories, 10 grams protein, 73 grams carbohydrates, 61 grams sugar, 4 grams fat, 5 milligrams cholesterol, 142 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.

Contact Inquirer staff writer Amy S. Rosenberg at 215-854-2681 or arosenberg@phillynews.com.

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