The greater St. Louis area is spread far and wide, and it’s common custom in this city to ask not where a person is from – they’re all likely to say St. Louis — but to ask what high school he or she attended. For David Phelps, the answer is Hazelwood West, which means he’s from roughly 20 miles northwest of Busch Stadium. Today he’ll pitch against his hometown Cardinals for the first time.
“I’m going to try not to make it (a big deal),” Phelps said. “You know, my first big league start was in Kansas City. I had a lot of friends and family there, and I got a little too worked up for that. Hopefully I can learn from that, go out and have some fun.”
Through his first four turns as a replacement starter, Phelps has done his part to keep the Yankees rotation from falling apart. He’s allowed his share of base runners, but he’s limited the damage to the tune of a 2.82 ERA since moving from the bullpen to the rotation.
And if Phelps keeps that pace against the Cardinals, he expects his friends and family to cheer.
“I told them,” Phelps said. “I said, ‘Hey, even when I come out of the game, you’ve still got to root for the Yankees.’ A lot of my friends were like, ‘Hey, I’m a Yankee fan for the six, seven innings you’re in there, and then I stop.’ I’m like, ‘You can’t do that!’ My brother said last night, ‘I told my friends there’s three games a year I can’t root for the Cardinals, and this is three of them.’ They’re good about it. Obviously blood’s going to come before Cardinal red, which is tough for them, but I’d hope that would be the case.”
Phelps understands the torn allegiances. He grew up a Cardinals fan coming to five or six games a year despite playing so much baseball that he was rarely free to see games in the summer.
“When I look back, Ron Gant was kind of my guy,” Phelps said. “When I was in the backyard playing Wiffle Ball or whatever, that’s who I was trying to be. Obviously we all loved (Mark) McGwire. I was a huge Matt Morris fan. And (Albert) Pujols, that’s a no-brainer. I was a die-hard Cardinals fan from the time I could walk.”
This is Phelps’ third season in the big leagues, so some of those early nerves he felt during that Kansas City debut should be gone by now, and he got some of those St. Louis chills out of the way while shagging fly balls and taking batting practice on Monday.
“You walk out there, you see The Arch,” Phelps said. “It’s little things like that that make it (special). … There’s a lot of emotions that go into it. Driving into the stadium (on Monday) I couldn’t help but smile. At the end of the day, if you try and make too much of it, it’s going to get the best of you. You have to go out and stick to your routine and not let it get the best of you.”
Cell phone photo and Associated Press photo