PHILADELPHIA - Jayson Werth popped out of the visitor's clubhouse for the first time at Citizens Bank Park this afternoon, and immediately, it was clear they had been waiting for him in Philadelphia. A gaggle of reporters crowded around Werth in the third-base dugout on Tuesday afternoon, forming a gallery that went three deep in some spots.
Told Phillies fans have had his return to Philadelphia on their calendar since he left the team, signing a seven-year, $126 million contract with the Nationals, Werth said, "Is that right? I can respect that."
It would be a stretch to say Werth has been awaiting his first game in Philadelphia with great anticipation, but it also wouldn't be true to say he hasn't been thinking about it. He went from a late bloomer to an All-Star with the Phillies, winning a World Series in 2008 and becoming a fan favorite. The Nationals stunned the baseball world with the contract they gave him last December, but it was clear by early fall that Werth's future probably wasn't with the Phillies.
He wouldn't entertain a question about whether he would like to be with the Phillies in a perfect world - "There's a lot of considerations that have to be met before you can comment on that," he said - but did toss the fans something of an olive branch.
"There's been a lot of emotions had here in this stadium with this team, and a lot of unbelievable moments, things that I'll always remember," Werth said. "Hopefully, the fans will remember the good times, even if it's just for one at-bat, and we'll go from there."
In that moment, Werth sounded like he's hopeful Phillies fans will cheer him tonight. If his first matchup with his former team last month in Washington is an accurate barometer, though, he probably won't get his wish. Phillies fans in Nationals Park booed him for three days during that series.
He's spent enough time in Philadelphia to be prepared for a similar reaction here. Werth hasn't completely distanced himself from his Phillies memories, and he probably won't - it's where his career took off, and he said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel "was like a father figure to me." But he also has left, and he's trying to build something similar in Washington to what the Phillies have had here. By nature, that would mean the Nationals taking down the Phillies - and if there's one thing Werth knows, it's how fans here receive those they consider to be enemies.
"I really am looking forward to playing here, for better or for worse. You can't take away from me - you can't take away from us, what we had," Werth said. "It was a special time in sports history, let alone Philadelphia sports history. Hopefully I'll be remembered for the good times, and after that, I understand. I understand all bets are off. Where this team is, and where their fans are at, I mean, I get it. I'm only one man."