CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Not to exaggerate things, as is often the spring training style ... but, how big was Matt Stairs this off-season?
Bigger than Santa Claus?
The jolly round fella outdrew the jolly fella with the white beard during a pre-Christmas appearance at the Fredericton Mall. The deal was that, if a fan made a donation to the Boys and Girls Club, Stairs would sign an autograph.
"We raised between $1,200 and $1,300," Stairs said yesterday. "I signed non-stop for two hours."
And what about in Philadelphia, where Stairs appeared in 16 games -- with 17 regular-season at-bats -- after being dealt there by the Blue Jays late last August?
Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley all received loud ovations when introduced at Citizen's Bank Park before Game 4 of the World Series.
The ex-Blue Jay was in the next wave when it came to fan appreciation. Same with the World Series parade which snaked down Broad St.
"Never thought it could take so long. Two hours to go eight blocks," said Stairs, sitting at his locker. "It was a sea of red with fans lined 40 to 50 deep on each side, plus the people hanging out windows."
When he struck out in Game 4 of the Series, Stairs received a standing ovation.
"Anyone who recognized me in Philly said the same thing: 'Thanks for getting us into the Series.' "
As usual, Stairs spent this winter coaching hockey at John Bapst Memorial High School in Bangor, Me.
"One day, I get a letter from the school. A Phillies fan donated money to thank me "for helping get the Phillies into the Series."
Did the money go to the hockey team?
"Didn't ask," said Stairs.
"Didn't ask," he said.
Stairs has swung from his back pockets since he played short for the Team Canada juniors in 1984. He will swing the same way as a right fielder when Canada plays Team USA at the Rogers Centre on March 7.
And he was hacking from the heels when he stepped in against Los Angeles Dodgers reliever Jonathon Broxton in Game 4, a man on first and the score tied in the eighth. Stairs turned around a Broxton fastball for a two-run homer into the right-field pavilion. That blow put the Phillies up 3-1 in the best-of-seven National League Championship Series.
As Philadelphia home runs go, it is amongst the top five in the history of the franchise, which dates to 1883.
There was Dick Sisler's 10th-inning homer off Don Newcombe putting the Phils into the 1950 Series; Mike Schmidt's blast against Stan Bahnsen in the 11th to wrap up the 1980 NL East in Montreal; Gary Maddox's homer off Baltimore Orioles' Scott McGregor in the eighth in Game 1 of the 1983 Series; and Lenny Dykstra's homer in the 10th off Atlanta Braves reliever Mark Wohlers in Game 5 of the 1993 NLCS.
Stairs arrived in camp this week, jumped into the cage and immediately launched balls over the wall.
"He told me it was the third time he had picked up a bat since the World Series," said batting coach Milt Thompson. "He said he signed two from fans on the way to the cage and the one in his hand."
Stairs is impressed with Team Canada's WBC batting order, but adds "usually, you only go as far as your pitching carries you. Hopefully, we'll get a surprise like Adam Loewen was in 2006."
"We're not as good as we were going to be," said Stairs about the depleted pitching ranks. "I saw Jeff Francis will miss the whole season."
Stairs does not have a problem with a healthy Ryan Dempster passing on the WBC.
"It's his choice. I don't hold a grudge," he said. "It's gutless of me if I rip him in the paper."
Stairs is second to only Larry Walker in home runs by a Canadian with 254 and, when he is done, he'd like to return to the Jays as a coach.
"J.P. Ricciardi treated me well," he said. "He gave me a two-year deal. I tip my cap to him."
Just the way Phillies fans do when they see Stairs, their post-season hero of 2008.