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Step into The Relief Room

In this bullpen, it’s not the dugout calling. It’s nature.

Matt Edwards

There are rules.

  • It is not a “bathroom.” It is not a “restroom.” It is called “The Relief Room” because that is what it is.
  • Candidates can be banned. If their names are Jonathan Papelbon, Billy Wagner, Ricky Bottalico, J.C. Romero, or Rheal Cormier, they already are. It doesn’t matter why. In some cases, you can probably guess.
  • No active players will be inducted. This is known as “The Durbin Rule,” and it exists for a reason. 2008 Phillies alum Chad Durbin was reacquired by the team in 2013. In their excitement, the Relief Room Management was gifted a Durbin-signed ball, the addition of which to the collection—memorabilia featuring a player still in the league—was the first of its kind. Sixteen innings and a 9.00 ERA later, the Durbin signing was considered a disaster and the ball was removed from the premises. The “Durbin Rule” was instituted immediately: Only retired players qualify for membership.

Other than that, relax and have fun. You’re probably in there for a reason, and you probably won’t be in there that long. But while you are, take in your surroundings. You may never have used a toilet while 170 former Phillies relief pitchers look at you. You may never get to again.

And you may be wondering why this is happening to you at all.

You have entered The Relief Room, a powder room in the home of Hatboro’s Matt Edwards; that has been transformed into a Phillies bullpen across space and time, in which there is also a toilet. Pictured in baseball cards, 8 x 10 photographs, bobbleheads, and various other souvenirs, they wait not for the phone to ring, but for the flick of the light switch and the rush of water against porcelain.

Some stare forward from deep in the past; others, from just a year or two ago. They cheese for the camera, hands on their hips; they stare with menace and malice, as though conjuring a heater from sheer force of will; they stand one-legged, at the start of their wind-up, lips pursed in exertion; they lurch forward, their expression now rippled by physics; they point at the sky, thanking whatever god they believe in for putting the tail on the slider that ended the game.

They range from Michael Stutes’ flowing locks in a summer ballpark breeze, to the withered off-camera glance of Jack Hamilton, at what could have been a squirrel in the dugout or his rookie season walk total (107—he led the league).

They come from different eras, different ballparks, and different bullpens; from John Quinn’s cadre of spare arms to, one day, Gabe Kapler’s legion of match-up pieces.

There is pure ecstasy on these walls, as Brad Lidge shrieks for joy at the heavens and Tug McGraw hops toward them; and there is bloody violence within them: Tom Hilgendorf is said to have bashed a monkey’s head clean off with a bat while playing in South America, and Ugueth Urbina is lurking over the doorway when you walk in.

Most are far from Cooperstown, but they’re all welcome in The Relief Room.

It’s more than you’d ever expect—or if you’re not a Phillies fan, possibly ever want—from a bathroom.

But that’s okay. Because that’s not what it is.

***

We all know where we were when it happened: jumping up and down in an Old City bar, grasping the hands of loved ones in your parents’ living room, screaming in the 400 level, from which Brad Lidge and Eric Hinske were specks in the rain, kicking over a potted plant on Broad Street for some reason, or being ushered into the back of a paddy wagon by exhausted police officers.

Wherever we were, we wanted it—the citywide jubilation, the collective release, the outbreak of small fires—to last forever. And in some cases, perhaps it has, thanks to a cell phone video that you’ve had to explain during every job interview for the last ten years. But for Matt Edwards and his father, there was a far more lawful commemoration of the 2008 World Series.

“My dad and I have the stereotypical baseball relationship,” Edwards explains. “It’s the glue. We go to spring training, we go to ball games all the time. We were all fired up after we won the World Series in ‘08 and so my dad printed out a picture of Brad Lidge down on his knees after striking out Hinske, and he said, ‘I just need to see this every day. I’m going to hang it up somewhere. Mom’s not letting me hang this anywhere else, I’m putting it here in the bathroom.’”

“Then he’s like, ‘He’s so lonely here, let me put Tugger up next to him, jumping off the mound.’ So it started with Tug McGraw and Brad Lidge, just those two pictures, right behind the head.”

Matt Edwards

Two years later, Edwards bought the house from his parents and moved in with his wife and two kids. Lidge and Tugger remained in their spots, but Edwards eyed all of the remaining wall space and began forming bigger plans.

“I said to my wife, ‘Look, hon. This is too funny to not continue. So I’m just going to take this room, you can have the rest of the house. I’m going to make this The Relief Room and just line it with Phillies pitchers.’”

With the support of management, and over a century of relief pitchers to honor, Edwards began compiling inductees immediately. He started with his own childhood baseball card collection, raiding binders and shoe boxes for potential bathroom decor. This is the Phillies we’re talking about, so feeble attempts at pitching were plentiful, especially during certain eras.

“I’m 41 years old,” Edwards explains. “So I was collecting stuff in the mid-eighties to early nineties. And that’s just terrible Phillies baseball right there, the ‘93 team excluded. So I had a whole mess of these guys that I dug through. But my dad collected cards too, so I went and raided some of his, from 1963, ‘64, ‘65, ‘66.”

Once others heard of his intentions, the donations started pouring in. Friends and relatives have mailed memorabilia for inclusion in The Relief Room, igniting a rapid sequence of inductions over the years.

One Christmas, Edwards received a gift from a friend who demanded he open it on a video call so his reaction could be gauged. “He made a book for me where he took all kinds of movie posters and superimposed relief pitchers onto them.”

Antonio Alfonseca in The Princess Bride
Matt Edwards
Ugueth Urbina in [*shudder*] Machete
Matt Edwards

“I still dabble with baseball card collecting, so I’ll still go to some card shows here or there, Edwards says. “It started as, ‘oh, here’s a funny picture of this guy,’ and it’s become, ‘I have a list and I’m seeking out a card of this guy from the ‘85 season.’”

History presents a challenge. The Phillies have had relievers since their inception in 1883, before the dawn of the baseball card. But Edwards is undeterred. “I can go back as far as I can,” Edwards says. The oldest documentation currently in The Relief Room is a button Edwards holds with a picture of 1929-34 Phillies pitcher Phil Collins on it. “If I can find quirky stuff like that, I’m all about it.”

But baseball has changed in the decades spanning the existence of Phillies relievers, and with it, institutions like The Relief Room must adapt. For Edwards, that means keeping pace with bullpens of greater size and fluidity. Pitchers are dropped and added to rosters and enter and exit games at a faster pace than ever. A modern manager focused on match-ups and unafraid to put a position player on the mound like Gabe Kapler has no doubt intensified the work of The Relief Room in the years to come.

“In the last 15 years or so, the relief role has changed,” Edwards agrees. “There’s a lot more guys going, whereas before, when Robin Roberts was going to pitch every other game, he was going to come on in relief in the games he didn’t pitch. But [The Relief Room] is living and breathing and it can go on forever, because there’s always going to be relief pitchers.”

“Always” and “forever” are unsettling words for a tiny powder room/hall of honor already holding upwards of 200 members.

“My wife asked if we were going to have to make some renovations, because that’s not in the budget,” Edwards says. “She’s on board with it. But there’s times when she’ll ask me where something is, and I’ll say, ‘It’s in The Relief Room.’ And she’ll say, ‘Oh, it’s in the bathroom.’ And I’ll be like, ‘The what room?’”

Matt Edwards

***

Edwards has never been a pitcher. He’s never played on a field beyond high school level. In college, he was an English major, not a star athlete. But sometimes, an idea is just too good to let it die.

“I fancy myself a word dork, and I thought ‘The Relief Room’ was too clever to pass up,” he says. “This is where you relieve yourself, and why not line it with relief pitchers?”

Mitch Williams, Kent Tekulve, and Al Holland were the next three inductees after Lidge and McGraw, and based on the angles one takes during a typical visit, you see some faces more than others. And in some cases, it feels like they see you, too.

“They’re like the original class of the Hall of Fame,” Edwards fondly recalls. “Those three stand out, Al Holland especially—He’s just got a perfect face for a bathroom. He looks like he just smelled a fart. When you’re standing there, relieving yourself, Al Holland’s face is right over your right shoulder.”

A big image of Gene Garber in an oval maroon frame—“It kind of looks like one of those family photos you’d see on your grandma’s wall going up the stairs,” Edwards explains—also got a prime spot upon induction. “When you’re standing there, and you look to the right, I got Gene Garber looking right back at you.”

On the opposite side lives Warren Brusstar, intensely mustachioed and chest hair refusing to be tamed, flanked by a glamour shot of Veterans Stadium. Like a lot of his fellow honorees, Brusstar seems happy to be there.

“He’s smiling at you,” Edwards proclaims.

Position players are welcome in The Relief Room as well, as long as they’ve thrown a pitch. Wilson Valdez, Tomas Perez, Jimmie Foxx, Greg Gross, Glenn Wilson, and Jeff Francoeur are all inductees. Francoeur is aware of his status, having interacted with Edwards, and he isn’t the only one to do so. World Series champion Scott Eyre gave Edwards a shout-out during the 2008 Alumni weekend held by the Phillies this past season.

“I’ve had good conversations with Josh Lindblom,” Edwards says. “He’s playing over in Korea right now. He even apologized to me, ‘Hey I’m sorry it took so long to get back to you, the time difference here is so bad.’ I said something to him about him being inducted and he said, ‘So do I need to pay for my plaque, or is that something that you send me...?’”

The Relief Room, of course, sprang into action. One of Edwards’ friends, an artist of some skill, carved 2012 Phillies reliever Josh Lindblom an official Relief Room plaque which hangs in its hallowed halls to this day.

Upon receiving a picture of his nameplate, Lindblom was thrilled. “He said, ‘I love it. When I get back to the States, remind me and I’ll send you a bunch of Phillies swag I have and I’ll sign a thing for you.’”

“I couldn’t wait to tell my wife,” Edwards says. “I was like, ‘Josh Lindblom! Josh Lindblom!’ She was like, ‘... great.’ She doesn’t know who that is.”

As for the banned players, management has logged formal reasons for each case:

  • Jonathan Papelbon: “I’d push that guy down the steps if I ever met him.”
  • Billy Wagner: “My friend told me he would burn The Relief Room to the ground if he ever saw Billy Wagner in there.”
  • Ricky Bottalico: “Don’t like him. Didn’t like him as a player, thought he was a smug jerk. He’s confirmed that as a broadcaster. I’ve interacted with him at different corporate events, he’s a bag.”
  • J.C. Romero: “My dad just hated him. I know he’s got the two wins in the Series, I know he was really good for us when he came over from the Red Sox, but my dad can’t stand him, so he’s out.”
  • Rheal Cormier: “If there’s ever one I flip-flop on, it’ll be this one. He had a real bad stretch when he was terrible, and I think I scared him one night from booing him so hard at a Phillies game. It became a joke with my buddies, ‘You created a thunder-boo to scare this guy out of his pants, you can never have him in your Relief Room.’”

The system is in place. The rules are established. Membership is fluid. And as for future plans, Edwards is thinking big.

“My goal is to have a reliever come use the Relief Room,” Edwards says. “That’d be a piss.”

As is the case with Cormier’s exile, Edwards admits to being open to bending the rules, specifically the one about current players. “Pat Neshek and Adam Morgan sent me cards back in the mail, and I got a Jake Diekman-autographed card from a buddy of mine. I got them and I was giddy, and I was like, ‘I’m putting them in!’ But I’m adhering to it from here on out,” he assures the public.

This past season, Edwards attended the Phillies Phestival and met all of the Phillies’ current relievers, which anyone who has watched a game in September with expanded rosters will tell you is no brief task. He got their autographs on some memorabilia, but per Relief Room mandates, they will not be inducted until their careers have ended.

“You won’t see Seranthony or Happy Hector or any of those guys in there yet,” he confirms.

Or Aaron Loup. Or Hoby Milner. Or Zac Curtis. Or Scott Kingery. Or any of the other forgettable names or performances that have entered a Phillies game through the bullpen gate this season.

But in the Relief Room, no one gets flushed away.

Matt Edwards

***

There must be others.

Across the Delaware Valley, dens, basements, and garages converted into bunkers in which Phillies fandom can survive the lean years; refuges from the eras in which the Phillies have asked you to buy a ticket, only to have Billy Brewer, Jeff Parrett, or Brian Sanches take the mound. Some, so ornate in their details that they include a tribute to Comcast; others, built with more love than skill.

The difference is, unlike most of its inductees, The Relief Room has a reputation.

“Anybody who knows me knows about it,” Edwards says. “If there’s a cousin with a new girlfriend, I’ll have to explain it. But people know. If they don’t, they come out of there and go, ‘So you like baseball, huh?’ And I say, ‘Well, let me explain it to you.’”

Edwards attended a corporate event in which Phillies radio broadcasters Larry Andersen and Scott Franzke were present. He struck up a conversation with both of them, and each time, unavoidably brought up the bathroom in his house.

“I started off by saying, ‘Hey Larry, I’ve got a signed 8 x 10 of you hanging in my bathroom.’ And he said, ‘Well, that’s the best spot for it.’”

Later, Franzke was emceeing the Q&A session at the 400-person event, and Edwards stood up to ask a question.

“Oh man, are you gonna ask something about your bathroom?” Franzke asked.

“The what room, Scott?” Edwards replied.

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