Tough Time for Sal
Here today and gone tomorrow. In real life, we all face that possibility.
For professional athletes, it is more of a way of life. Someone is always after your job. Injuries can alter a career.
Sal Fasano is a veteran catcher, a fellow who turns 35 next month. He has a wife and two sons. He arrived here as a free agent last December and became a folk hero with his Fu Manchu mustache and long black hair. He quickly became the first 2006 fan club, Sal’s Pals. Early in the season, Fasano sent pizzas to the upper right field stands where Sal’s Pals camped out when he played.
The Phillies were his 17th professional team since he broke in in 1993. He seemed to have found a home. Then, he came down with a knee injury on July 2 and placed on the disabled list two days later. Nearly three weeks on the DL and rehab assignments at Clearwater and Reading were in store before he rejoined the Phillies on Friday, the start of a 12-game homestand.
Like all Phillies, he arrived at Citizens Bank Park early in the afternoon on Saturday. There was a 4 o’clock game preceded by Photo Day, in which the players would parade around the field to allow fans to get close up photos. That was scheduled for 2:15 p.m. for 30 minutes.
Sal was still on the DL although eligible to be activated. When he was going to be reinstated, someone had to go and the most likely candidates were catcher Chris Coste and reliever Geoff Geary, both of whom had minor league options.
Around 1:45 p.m., Fasano was called into manager Charlie Manuel’s office. Joining Charlie were Pat Gillick and Ruben Amaro. The message was a very difficult one, Sal was being designated for assignment, meaning the Phillies have until July 31 to trade or release him. He wasn’t being activated; he was the one to go. Basically, he got caught in a numbers game which happens often in baseball.
Despite a career in which he has been traded, released and signed numerous times, it still came as a shock and disappointment to Sal. He knew it was the business side of baseball but he wasn’t happy.
While his teammates prepared for Photo Day, Sal went to his locker and began packing. Wearing a red t-shirt and blue workout shorts, he cleared out his locker: uniforms, belts, undergarments, bats, shoes, catching gloves, batting gloves, a football and elastic knee braces. He stuffed a large duffle bag and three cardboard boxes.
It was a slow process. Once the players came back from Photo Day, one-by-one they shook his hand and hugged him. Several sat down and consoled him. There’s a bond among baseball players that those of us who aren’t players can’t experience. For seven-plus months, they live and go to war on the field together. They become friends for life.
Three lockers away was Coste, the man who made Sal expendable. It was in the same clubhouse after the final spring training game in early April when Coste was angry and emotional after he was told he was going to Scranton. He had never been in the big leagues in 11 years of professional baseball and at age 33, time was running out.
Nearly four months later, there was a similar scene. This time Coste stayed.
Three’s a tendency to view professional athletes as special people, people to idolize, people that appears to be non-human. Seeing Sal pack and the affection he received from his former teammates brought the reality that baseball players are human beings, very human.