Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Nobody gets this much love, except of course for
Sal "The Big Ragu" Fasano.
This article was published in The NY Daily News on May 28


Who wants to be an MVP?
Phillies role player has one thing A-Rod doesn't: Respect
BY JESSE SPECTORDAILY NEWS SPORTS WRITER
Sal Fasano (above) has been able to connect with Philly fans, a task that has so far eluded A-Rod (below).
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-->Sal Fasano was drafted in the 37th round in 1993 out of the University of Evansville, a school better known for once having sleeves on its basketball jerseys than for cranking out baseball talent like 1993 All-Star Andy Benes and Rockies infielder Jamey Carroll.
Fasano, the Phillies' catcher, is on his sixth major league team since debuting with the Royals in 1996. He's never had more than 216 at-bats in a season.
Just one time in his career has Fasano ranked in the top 10 in any category - he was second in the American League when he was hit by a pitch 16 times in 1998.
But with regular backstop Mike Lieberthal on the disabled list with a slight fracture in his left knee, the 34-year-old Fasano is getting a chance to play regularly for a contender. And in a city where sports Web site "The 700 Level" bills itself as "Booing since 1776," the fans are having a most unlikely love affair with a career .223 hitter.
"The fans in Philadelphia are very loyal to their players," Fasano says. "They're very passionate. That's why they have so many boos, that's why they have so many cheers. If you're well-liked there, heck, to me, that feels greater than anything else, it's almost an honor...I guess they recognize guys who bust their tail."
The first thing they recognized, though, was the mustache.
"When we saw his appearance in spring training, my friends Joe (Wickersham) and Brett (Casne) immediately thought of the idea for 'Sal's Pals,' then Brett and I went to work on the sign," says Tom Dudzic, one of the charter members of the Philadelphia fan group that attends games with painted-on Fu Manchus in honor of their new hero.
Sal's Pals formed for the mustache, but stay loyal because Fasano has proven himself worthy of their adulation.
"It is kinda fun when it's not the most talented player on the field you are cheering for," Dudzic says. "Not to mention if we had a fan group for a regular player, that would be kind of expensive to make every game. Sal is Philadelphia and that is why it's easy to cheer for him."
While there have been several other player-specific fan groups in Philadelphia, most notably the Wolf Pack for Randy Wolf, Fasano has a special bond with Sal's Pals. He's sent free pizza to their section, had T-shirts made up and even got the group tickets to the Phillies' sold-out game against the Red Sox.
"People show that they care about me, so I try to show that I care about them as well," Fasano says.
Fasano is a self-described "throwback" who says of himself, "you can't be the most talented guy in the league and you can't have the best ability, but you can try the hardest, and there's something to be said for that."
That seems even more true in light of Alex Rodriguez's spiel on Tuesday, when he said after hitting a three-run homer in the Yankees' win at Fenway Park, "I've done a lot of special things in this game. For none of that to be considered clutch is an injustice."
Of course, A-Rod can't win for trying. When he criticizes himself, he's painted as a phony. When he sticks up for himself, he comes off as egotistical. If he ever sent 20 pizzas to fans in the stands, people would ask why he didn't send more, or bash it as a way to make himself look better.
Rodriguez is a lot like "Titanic" - the movie, that is - a big-budget award winner with millions of supporters, but seemingly just as many detractors. Fasano's Philadelphia story would be more like "Office Space," a cult hit that nobody could have expected - not to mention his striking resemblance to Diedrich Bader's character in that film.
"Fans can relate to a guy who looks like your local bartender much more than a guy who appears on the cover of GQ," says Enrico Campitelli of The 700 Level. "I think salary is also a factor. When a player makes A-Rod money, fans can't relate to that world. Sal signed with the Phillies as a cheap role player and A-Rod was dealt to the Yankees as the most expensive hired gun in all of sports. There was no way he could ever live up to his paycheck."
"The expectations that he has doesn't even compare to what I have," Fasano says. "I make just above the minimum. He makes a quarter of a billion dollars. What are you getting for your money? You're getting a guy who should be the best in baseball, and he is. I'm really just a backup. I believe I can play every day, but I could never put up A-Rod numbers."
What Fasano can do, though, and what he has done, in making a connection with the fans of his city, is something that A-Rod might give up millions to be able to do. Originally published on May 28, 2006

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