Gary Smith | Sports Illustrated | July 2011
It’s 6:15 p.m. The locusts with pens and microphones have been swept from the Phillies’ clubhouse. It’s their living room again. Creeping to the center of the room, like a seven-year-old in Dad’s pajamas, is their stumpy catcher lost inside their massive first baseman’s uniform and cleats. A half foot of Ryan Howard’s pant legs droop from Carlos Ruiz’s feet. That alone has the clubhouse cackling … but Chooch has more. He has made a career by watching everyone in silence, recording everything. This one’s easy meat.
He lowers his backside like an emperor settling onto an invisible throne, imitating Howard’s setup in the batter’s box, then points the end of Howard’s bat at an imaginary pitcher, sighting on his prey like Howie does. Only now Chooch begins tilting his head and squinting, trying to see around Howard’s big black war club, then yelps, “Hey! Where ees the peetcher? I can’t see him!” and the whole squad’s howling.
Chooch! comes a request. Do Sammy! That’s coach Juan Samuel’s nickname. Chooch flashes those big white teeth, those imp eyes and that mierda-eating grin that make every impersonation double delicious, and nails Sammy’s slowwww, cool-disco-dude signals from the third base box. The boys roar. Chooch winks. Chooch, do Charlie! He takes a few shambling steps and sends his head bobbing and rolling from shoulder to shoulder, just like Manuel when the Phillies’ manager is pissed and heading to the mound to separate the ball from his pitcher’s hand, then drops the cherry on top: Charlie’s Southern drawl strained through Chooch’s Panamanian accent. Chooch, do Shane when Kuroda threw at his head in the playoffs! … Chooch, do Cliff!
Writer bio: Hands off, Gary Smith is ours. We claim Smith, a four-time winner of the National Magazine Award, as our own. He grew up in Delaware, graduated from LaSalle University and covered the Eagles for the Philadelphia Daily News before spreading his wings at Sports Illustrated. He is one of the most celebrated narrative journalists of our time. And he’s ours.