"You control what you can control," he says. "Your effort. Your preparation. You try to do it right and get good results.
"If I could control the results, I'd get two hits every game."
"Two?" he is asked. "Not four?"
"You've got to let other people eat, too, you know," he says, laughing. "Pitchers need to eat, too."
We are outside the Phillies' clubhouse on this rain-drenched day, and save a clubhouse guard, we are alone. Most of his teammates have hit in the cage, received their treatment, done their work and gone. Polanco is still here, dressed as if there is still work to be done. There is. "I have to come here and take care of all the stuff that aches," he says. Again with a smile.
There are a few fresh stories on this year's Phillies team, a few guys who were not here in 2008, who don't own one of those huge, gaudy rings and wish they did. Raul Ibanez was in Seattle back then, losing 101 games. Mike Sweeney was in the 14th year of his 16-year odyssey to find the postseason.
Polanco was in Detroit. He made the postseason there in 2006, of course, was the American League Championship Series Most Valuable Player as the Tigers swept the A's. He reached base 12 times in that series, batted .529. Then he went to the World Series, his team lost in five games to the team that drafted him, the Cardinals, and he didn't get a hit.
"What can I do about it now?" he says, and he's right. But the truth is Polanco's career has mirrored this, whether he was denied a batting title in 2005 because he didn't have enough at-bats with the Tigers after being traded by the Phillies, or even whether he was denied the chance to remain in St. Louis and then Philadelphia because a higher-profile player was in his way.
"Truth is, I didn't want to trade Polanco in the first place," Charlie Manuel has said. A guarantee to David Bell that he would play every day at third base forced it, to a great extent.
"Sometimes it's out of your control, and there's nothing you can do about it," Polanco says. He has learned this. He is not what his name implies, no matter how calm he presents himself nowadays.
He was 31 when he went to the World Series. Even then, he was far from healthy. Polanco separated his shoulder on Aug. 15 that season, diving for a ball. He missed more than a month and the Tigers lost 22 of their next 35 games without him. Somewhere toward the end of that run, as he tried to get back on the field, Polanco stormed from the Tigers' locker room convinced he was finished.
He was given a cortisone shot.
His first of many.
Polanco has been given four this season, the last on the final weekend of the season. He also took a shot in his balky back the day before Game 1 of the NLDS, when he had to be scratched. It was the second time he missed playing behind Roy Halladay as he threw a no-hitter.
"That day that I didn't start, I'm, like, 'You're here for 8 months, playing every day, battling to make it to here and then now I'm not able to play?' " he says. "Not even because of the elbow but because of something else? It was frustrating."
There was no storming out of the clubhouse. It worked the other way. He has lived there this season, rain or shine, going through all the things deemed necessary to make him last another couple of weeks, to make him a contributor.
"I know how hard it is to make the playoffs," he says. "So now I just try to enjoy the moment. Get the most out of it. You don't know what's next. Mike Sweeney - what a great career he's had. But this is his first playoff. So you don't know . . .
"You don't know."
He twisted his neck and produced a couple of cracks.
Thirty-five years old. Four cortisone shots already.
Carpe diem, indeed.
"I'm a grown man, two kids, a family," he says. "And I've learned that life goes that way sometimes. Sometimes it goes your way. Sometimes it doesn't go your way. What can you do about it? There's nothing you can do about it. Except try your best."
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