By John Knebels
Special to The CS&T
The moment will forever be frozen in the minds of long-suffering Philadelphia Phillies fans.
Make that previously long-suffering Philadelphia Phillies fans.
Pitcher Brad Lidge strikes out overmatched and befuddled slugger Eric Hinske, leaps in the air, drops to his knees, spreads his arms and looks to the heavens. Catcher Carlos Ruiz sprints to the mound to embrace the seemingly automatic closer, a man who had just joined the prestigious ranks of Tug McGraw and Bobby Clarke and Julius Erving, icons who have provided Philadelphians with the rare allowance to celebrate a national championship over the past three decades.
Rewind the gleeful reaction and keep your eyes focused on the kneeling Lidge. If you read his lips, he acknowledges God, Jesus and his family before Ruiz, Ryan Howard and the rest of his jubilant teammates pile on top of him while fireworks fill the sky, fans hug friends and strangers alike, and the Liberty Bell replica clangs loudly in center field.
The Philadelphia Phillies had just won the 2008 World Series, and Lidge, a Catholic, had taken the freeze-frame experience one step further by immediately maintaining his priorities in the moment of truth.
When the 31-year-old was asked earlier in the season about his days as an altar server at St. Thomas More Parish in Denver, Colo., he smiled.
“It was a very positive experience for me,” Lidge said. “Faith was a very important part of our family. We talked about it and recognized that we had a lot to be thankful for.”
Now that he has a child and another baby on the way with wife Lindsay, not to mention a World Series ring and gratitude from generations of Phillies fans who will forever be indebted to him, Lidge remains “incredibly thankful” for his copious gifts.
“I’ve been blessed in so many ways,” he said. “I’ve had great opportunities. I’ve had so many caring teachers and coaches along the way. The love and support of my family, my wife and now our children … it’s almost overwhelming.”
According to his family, he never misses an opportunity to acknowledge his faith in both victory and defeat. No wonder his father, Ralph Lidge, was so proud of his only son.
“Brad is not someone who tries to push his faith on someone,” said Lidge, speaking by phone from his Denver home. “He’s always been a person of faith, but he respects everyone else’s views. He is a searcher. He loves to read, loves to write. He’s a very well-rounded inspanidual.”
However, Lidge acknowledges that watching his son nail down his 48th consecutive save of the season on the most glorified stage in Major League Baseball, while being an almost surreal achievement, pales in comparison to Brad’s immediate reaction.
In fact, a short time after watching the nail-biting, 4-3 Phillies win and post-game interviews in his living room, the elder Lidge sent Brad a text message.
“You could not have represented yourself and your team any better,” Lidge said, reading the text verbatim. “I am very proud of you. Love, Dad.”
Lidge later received a text message from Brad that night and a phone call the next day.
Being an always-supportive parent who watched his son play Little League baseball and then two decades later witnessed him successfully save the clinching game of the World Series, Lidge admitted that his collective emotions were beyond description.
“Was I nervous?” Lidge laughed. “Yeah, I was nervous.”
It turns out that his son was nervous, too.
“When I came out of the bullpen and got to the mound, I had so much adrenaline,” said Brad Lidge. “I had to keep my emotions contained and just focus pitch by pitch. The crowd was letting us know they were behind us. You never want to let them down, but you don’t think that way.”
Ralph Lidge was not surprised that his son was able to concentrate and eventually calm his emotions despite being the center of attention in front of 45,940 screaming fans and a national television audience in the hundreds of millions.
Whether it was through education or sports in grade school, high school, or college at the University of Notre Dame, or whether it was father and son climbing a 14,720-foot mountain in 1987, Lidge’s parents, Ralph and Debbie, firmly believed in issuing doable challenges to Brad and his sister Catherine.
That was one of the reasons why Ralph Lidge encouraged Brad to be an altar server.
“It’s a great responsibility,” he said. “You are in a sacred place and you have certain things that need to be done. You are being depended on. It’s a terrific opportunity to grow in both faith and self-confidence.”
John Knebels can be reached at email@example.com.