02/28/09 5:58 PM EST
Burrell relishes reunion with Phillies
Now with Rays, ex-Phils left fielder greeted warmly in Clearwater
By Todd Zolecki / MLB.com
He has had months to grasp the fact that his Phillies career has ended, but even with an offseason to think about his new life with the Rays, he acknowledged Saturday at Bright House Field that it still felt very strange to look across the field and see his Phillies friends in another dugout.
They were the home team.
Burrell was just a visitor.
"It's a different side of the field, that's for sure," Burrell said.
Burrell, who signed a two-year, $16 million contract with the Rays after the Phillies signed Raul Ibanez to take his place in left field, went 1-for-2 with a double in a 12-5 loss to the Phillies. Burrell signed autographs before the game. He received a nice ovation from fans before his first at-bat. He received cheers when he doubled down the left-field line in the fourth inning.
"The response I got was very special," Burrell said. "It's something I won't forget."
The reminders of his Phillies past seem to be everywhere. Earlier this month, the Rays had a "Welcome to Charlotte County" parade to celebrate their new Spring Training home. Burrell sat in the back of a convertible, waving to scattered fans along the parade route. A few months earlier, millions of people cheered him as he led the World Series championship down Broad Street.
The woman who drove Burrell had no idea he had played for the Phillies last season.
"The last parade I was in was a little bit different," Burrell told her.
She didn't understand what he meant, so Burrell just laughed to himself.
But Saturday's fan reaction reinforced the fact that Burrell had transformed himself from whipping boy to fan favorite during the Phillies' championship run. His leadoff double in the seventh inning in Game 5 of the World Series led to the winning run.
"It meant everything to me," Burrell said, asked how the championship seemed to forever change his career. "We were getting awfully tired of hearing about '80 and '93 and all the decade reunions and this and that. It's good to celebrate everything, but we were watching that going, 'Why don't we try this?' So, I think it was special there because of the city and the fans and everything. It makes it a great place to play."
The Phillies talked informally with Burrell during the middle of last season about a contract extension, but the Phils said they realized they were too far apart. The club signed Ibanez to a three-year, $31.5 million contract, which officially ended Burrell's Philadelphia tenure. Burrell said it really sunk in that he wouldn't be back when he flew to St. Petersburg this winter to take his physical with the Rays.
"That's part of the business," Burrell said. "We signed up for that. I'm not saying that it's always easy, but that's part of it. Things happen for a reason. It is what it is and we move on. Fortunately the relationship is good. From the beginning, I have nothing but good things to say about the organization, the way I was treated, so I feel pretty fortunate in that regard. The time has passed."
Burrell will be back for the Phillies' ring ceremony on April 8 at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies play at 3:05 p.m. ET that day against the Braves, and the Rays play the Red Sox at Fenway Park that night. Burrell will show up for the ring ceremony and hop on a flight to Boston.
"Fortunately for me it worked out," Burrell said.
Life has been pretty good to the Rays' DH, and he seemed to realize that as he jogged off the field after doubling in Game 5.
"They pinch-ran for me, and I was running off the field thinking, 'Oh, man. You never know, so you might as well enjoy this,'" Burrell said. "I thought about it. Today is kind of like full circle. Like I said, I do feel very lucky and fortunate to have played there as long as I have."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.