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May 02, 2019

How Cliff Lee almost missed Game 1 of 2009 World Series vs. Yankees

Thanks to longtime Phillies employee Frank Coppenbarger, manager Charlie Manuel had no idea his starting pitcher was missing

Sometimes, there are stories that just need to be told. And Frank Coppenbarger seems to have an endless number of such stories. 

From Lenny Dykstra stripping to rid himself of unlucky clothing to Roy Halladay delivering a paycheck to Ryan Howard via helicopter (sort of), the now-former Phillies clubhouse official has seen his fair share during his five decades in baseball, the last 30 of which was spent with Philly.

Over at NBC Sports Philadelphia, Jim Salisbury has a great piece on Coppenbarger, who retired on Wednesday. And some of them are truly unbelievable, like the one he tells about how John Vukovich used to hide Chris Wheeler's briefcase behind second base during batting practice so he'd have to dodge line drives to get it back. 

Or this one about Cliff Lee nearly missing Game 1 of the 2009 World Series at Yankees Stadium.

There was no laughing, however, when Cliff Lee decided to eschew the police-escorted team bus and take a taxi to Game 1 of the 2009 World Series at Yankee Stadium. Coppenbarger, everyone's problem-solver, got a call from Lee about two hours before the game, long after the team had arrived at the park.

"I was on the field for batting practice," Coppenbarger said. "I thought he was calling from the trainer's room and maybe there was a problem with tickets or something."

Lee was stuck in traffic. He hadn't moved in 20 minutes. He was worried about making the game on time.

"Find a police officer and tell him who you are," Coppenbarger suggested.  []

When that didn't work, Lee did the only thing he could — the Phillies starter jumped on the subway and followed the swarm of pinstripe-clad fans all the way to the Bronx. There was only one problem: the game was at the new Yankees Stadium, and Lee wasn't familiar with the layout, meaning he was unable to find the players' entrance. So he called Coppenbarger again.

"Wait by the McDonald's and we'll send someone up for you," he told the anxious pitcher.

Of course, Lee pitched nine walk-free innings and struck out 10 for the win that night. To this day, Coppenbarger is not sure what amazes him more, that feat, or the fact that he was able to keep all the pre-game anxiety from the skipper, Manuel, the man that he'd first crossed paths with back in 1967 as an 11-year-old batboy in the Midwest League.  []

That's right, Charlie Manuel had no idea any of this was happening, not that his pitcher's performance — or body language, for that matter — gave anything away.

And that probably isn't even the best story Coppenbarger shares with Salisbury — not to mention all the ones he'll take with him to the grave — but it just goes to show you how important he was to the team, and how trusted he was. After all, he was the one to take the World Series trophy home in 2008 following Game 5 and tasked with looking after it until the parade. 

If that doesn't tell you everything you need to know about Coppenbarger...

To read Salisbury's full story, head on over to NBC Sports Philadelphia.

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