Jonathan Storm: Mitch Williams pitches in on a Phillie fan-cave makeover for 'House Crashers'

The building crew takes a quick breather during filming in the backyard of the McDonalds' rowhouse in Center City. They're using seating salvaged from Veterans Stadium, placed in front of the new 80-inch outdoor television.
The building crew takes a quick breather during filming in the backyard of the McDonalds' rowhouse in Center City. They're using seating salvaged from Veterans Stadium, placed in front of the new 80-inch outdoor television. (GREGORY THOMAS)
Posted: July 07, 2011

With his Lugz work boots and T-shirt with the sleeves cut off, Mitch Williams looked like a construction guy. Turns out he is. "My father taught me, you never pay someone to do something you can do yourself," the legendary Phillies closer said.

Hard to believe, but one of the living symbols of Philadelphia sports history was only a small part of the package when cable's DIY channel came to town to shoot an episode of House Crashers that will be seen in the fall.

As crazy construction and reality television swirled all around last week, Wild Thing was anything but. He lent a hand wherever needed, working to transform part of the home of Johnny McDonald, whom the show had decided was one of the world's biggest Phillies fans, into the ultimate baseball spectator environment.

Mitch moved furniture. He helped install a 10-square-foot photo of Citizens Bank Park over a sectional couch in McDonald's new man-fan cave, with the Phillies barstool and a load of baseballs mounted under Plexiglas on the bar. He wielded a 10-pound hammer to knock out a brick wall.

As he often has, the Phillie Phanatic one-upped the ballplayer, doing similar work with a Louisville Slugger, then hanging around to chat, his giant head set aside to reveal Tom Burgoyne inside. "I don't know how he got in the house," McDonald said (the Phanatic appears to be much wider than the doorways), "but he was just chilling on the couch in his suit with no hat on. It was awesome."

House Crashers redid a non-descript office on the first level of McDonald's Center City rowhouse. In the creepy sub-basement, it installed a beer-keg refrigeration unit and tubing for an eight-tap dispenser on the floor above. It refurbished the tiny backyard, complete with six-burner gas grill, nine seats (on wheels) from long-gone Veterans Stadium, and real turf from Citizens Bank Park. Decorations included a Phillies jersey worn and signed by the team's greatest player during McDonald's lifetime (and his favorite), Mike Schmidt.

Indoor and outdoor TV sets almost completed the package, a garden-variety 50-inch flat-screen in the fan cave and a goliath 80-inch rear-projection unit in the garden.

The most intriguing touch? A custom-built welded-frame Keg-O-Vator, designed and built by Frank Cloud of FC Weldfab in Mount Laurel. McDonald's wife, Tiffany, would kill herself toting those 60-pound torpedo kegs down the trapdoor-and-ladder rig that had led for at least 100 years to the dank and windowless sub-basement, worthy of the worst X-Files villain. Now she can ride up and down electrically.

East Coast Construction Team, based in Kensington, did most of the work. Owner Ryan Young said they had worked with House Crashers before, after seeing a notice on Craigslist.

The show is one of a stable of DIY (it stands for "do-it-yourself") shows in which personable experts parachute in on the lives of ordinary people and fix their places up, providing helpful tips to viewers along the way. It stars the handsome and talented (He's a licensed contractor!, all the promotion blares) Josh Temple.

Temple and his merry band descend upon unsuspecting weekend shoppers at a big-box store, select a few likely candidates, and dispatch scouts on the spot to see what project possibilities await at home. A house gets picked, and a three-day project ensues. McDonald was selected at a store in South Philly.

Once a year, DIY teams up with the MLB Network to do a baseball-themed project. In 2009, former Seattle second baseman Harold Reynolds helped out on Man Caves. In 2010, it was well-traveled lefty Dan Plesac, who closed out his career with the Phillies, working on Turf Wars. Both are MLB commentators, along with Williams, who has worked on all three DIY projects.

"Now you need to come to my house," he told a show producer, offering his opinion that MLB and DIY used him because he knew his way around construction and didn't mind getting dirty.

"You can put earrings on a pig, and it's still a pig," he said. "That's what they do at MLB Network. They put me in a suit, but I'm still a pig."

The shows are rife with product placement, but McDonald was less impressed with the Citizens Bank Park Grass Seed Mix by Scotts than he was with the actual chunk of Citizens Bank Park turf the show installed in his back yard.

And he was less impressed with that than he was with his visit to the playing field itself, all filmed for the show. "It was a big boyhood dream," he said. "I knelt down and kissed the turf."

"Johnny," said Williams, "he's Philadelphia in a nutshell. I love the honesty in this city."

Williams will forever be remembered for ending the enchanted 1993 Phillies run at the World Championship by giving up a home run to Toronto's Joe Carter. But he also saved 43 games that year to get the Phillies to the series, despite hurling his speedball all over the lot.

"I got booed on a pitch-to-pitch basis," he said, "but I didn't mind. When I was good, I loved me. When I was bad, I hated me."

There will be no hate in McDonaldville. Mighty Mitch and the swarm of workers have created a fan's paradise in what threatens to be the best season in Philllies' history.

"When we have the parade," McDonald said, "I'm going to hitch those nine Vet Stadium seats to a riding mower and drive them down Broad Street."

Until then, turn on the TVs, fire up the grill, and pour another beer.


Jonathan Storm:

To see video of the man-cave remodeling, go to www.philly.com/

housecrashers


Contact television critic Jonathan Storm at 215-854-5618 or jstorm@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/jonathanstorm.

 

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