CD's Connect the Dots... Will A Rose Grow In Moss?

Few people ever think about the beauty of moss. It sort of grows, smells bad, then dies without ever really distinguishing itself as anything other than, well, moss! But on a rare occasion, if you look closely enough, you will notice tiny little flowers blooming in the moss, not vast enough to take hoe and plant a garden with, but ample enough to give you hope that moss, unlike weeds, can sometimes become not only useful, but exquisite.

I found this analogy somewhat timely after perusing this week's Phillies amateur draft of college and high school players. Seems the Phils, who did not have a first or second round pick, plucked not one, or two, but three potential lead off hitter types with their top three picks. Of particular interest to me was their top pick, second baseman Tim Moss, a Collegiate All-American of some repute from that baseball power house, the University of Texas. The Phils have made no doubt of the fact that Moss was drafted because of his leadoff potential. He was an outstanding leadoff hitter in college, with emphasis to his sophomore year when he hit a robust .371 and stole 40 bases. His junior year numbers were somewhat off, but rumors of injury may have some validity. At any rate, regardless of whether or not I did double back flips at the announcement of Moss's name as a Phillie draftee - and no, I did not - my feeling has become, now that we have a Moss in the yard, hopeful - for this Moss to grow into a beautiful Rose.

As in Pete Rose! Oh, I do not expect the Hall of Fame numbers of a Pete Rose, those numbers come along about as often as a Pete Rose plays.... which is once! However, a Phillie fan often starved for any kind of hope to hang onto, can at least dream of a Moss turning into a Rose, and witness the way this would enhance a somewhat moribund offense. Maybe not this year, no, not even in 2005.... but, if Moss can turn his college numbers into a Pete Rose type lead off hitter for the Phillies, our probable three-four-five hitters, Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell and Jim Thome may yet approach the near astronomical numbers that we Phils fans projected as we mentally assembled this Phils lineup. In the musical Camelot, Merlin the Magician, tells King Arthur to think back...think back to better times in the past. Arthur reacts and illumines in his mind wonderful images of good times past.

Lets play the same game and think back.... think back to lead off hitters past, lead off hitters deluxe if you will. Think first of the greatest lead off hitter in Phillies history, the majestic Richie Ashburn. Think of Ashburn's grace and skill at turning a single into a double, or a double into a triple. Think of Ashburn leading off a game with a hit, and the opponent already fearing the worst.... for to a Phillie opponent Ashburn on base was the worst possible news. Ah, isn't the image breath taking?

Now think back, think back to a blur, albeit a blur that often tumbled and fell rounding third base. Lonnie Smith wasn't around long, and when he was he always seemed to create as much havoc for the Phils as the opponents. But Smith was a leadoff hitter par excellence, with the speed to steal 33 bases as a rookie and the ability to hit .339 and .324 in his two years as a Phillie. Smith was one of the fastest players ever to bat leadoff for the Phils, and one of the most talented.

Now, again, think back, think back to a guy who may have had for one season the greatest year a Phillie leadoff hitter ever had. Think of a dirty uniform, and a wad of tobacco chew in his mouth. Picture leadoff home runs and chaos on the bases. Can you see those images of a .305 average, an incredible 143 runs scored, 19 HR and 37 stolen bases? For one single season, 1993, a season players would trade a career to have, Lenny Dykstra was the quintessential leadoff hitter, a man who could, and did, do it all for the Phillies.

Like Arthur, your mind surely is a potpourri of radiant colors right now - no doubt with Phillie rich red, splashed with the green of baseball diamonds, pulsating with the yellow of a warm painted sun, as 40,000 fanatic Phillie fans cheered their lead off hitter deluxe on to glory. On Ashburn, on Dykstra, now Samuel and McBride, on Taylor, and Rojas, then Smith...what a ride! But the most famous leadoff hitter of all was named Rose.

Pete Rose. The name spelled leadership, talent, pugnacious audacity, and hitter extraordinaire - all rolled into one. And not surprisingly, a leadoff hitter when the Phils captured their only World Series championship in 1980. Oh, you could quibble and argue that Lonnie Smith was part time leadoff hitter that year, and he was. But Rose spanned a lifetime of leadership memories during his five years as a Phillie from 1979-84, including two World Series appearances and two plus .300 seasons. Most of all, the ability to try when every sinew in your body said, give it up, its over. Just like 1980 when the Phils trailed Houston and Nolan Ryan 5-2 with but six outs to go.

A seemingly beaten Phillie team trudged into the dugout, only to hear Rose holler that this game was not over and that the Phils would win. If ever a player willed a team to victory that day, it was Rose, a day he would not let the Phils lose.....and lose, they did not! It was Rose - with the walk, Rose - with the steal, Rose - getting hit by a pitch, Rose - crashing into the catcher, Rose - catching a dropped Bob Boone pop up. Yes, it was Pete Rose who was the "Man Who Would be King" of Phillie leadoff laurels. Of this - heroes are made. And of this - draft picks are chosen. Draft picks - like Tim Moss.

One can only speculate what type of career Moss will have. It might be long and stellar, like Ashburn's. It might be short and mercurial - like Lonnie Smith's. It might be a one-year dynamo like Lenny Dykstra. Or it might be none of the above. But, if Tim Moss has his very own Merlin the Magician, and he could - instead of looking back - ask to look forward, chances are he would ask for one exquisite thing... that out of the Moss would grow another Rose.

Columnist's Note: Mail, I get mail, and it is always appreciated. If you have a comment, question or suggestion for a topic, kindly e-mail me at connectthedots@earthlink.net and I will respond!


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