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June 10, 2016

Jayson Werth couldn't care less what Phillies fans think of him

Jayson Werth doesn’t care what you think.

Don’t take it personally. With the exception of family, friends and teammates, Werth closes the door. The former Phillies All-Star, who is paid handsomely by the Washington Nationals, prefers to reside in his fortress of solitude.

The Nats' $126 million man, who arguably has the best athletic genes of anyone in Major League Baseball, craves notice about as much as he does a haircut.

Werth, 37, stands out in an attention-starved era since he would prefer to exist well below the radar. When Sports Illustrated calls most ballplayers, with a couple of exceptions, such as the Diamondbacks social anxiety riddled ace Zack Greinke, they comply, particularly after being prodded by agents, who seek out ink from high profile publications.

But Werth, who cares as much about sports scribes as fans, essentially spit in the face of Sports Illustrated’s Frank Lidz in 2010. When Lidz asked the bearded wonder for the number of his stepfather, former big leaguer Dennis Werth, the subject balked. “I’ve got his number in my cell, but I’m not giving it out ... I don’t see why he has to share his thoughts about me with the rest of the world.”

"People talk about special players and they mention guys like Albert Pujols," Manuel said. "But to me, special players are everyday players. Guys like Werth are special."

Werth is the son of a mother, Kim Schofield Werth, with world-class speed and the grandson and nephew of a pair of ball players, both named Dick Schofield, each of whom played at least 14 seasons in the big leagues and possess World Series rings. He gave Lidz little but grief. The most revelatory comment was inspired by how some ballplayers cater to the media. Werth couldn’t have been more incredulous when asked about his peers, who chase press.

“A lot of ballplayers invite sportswriters into their homes or out to dinner," Werth told Lidz. “I’m not one of them. I don’t even want to be written about. I’m happy to be ignored.”

That’s not easy for the gangly, hirsute ballplayer, particularly in Philadelphia, where he is booed with zest by the fans, who once cheered the five-tool athlete.

“I don’t worry about that,” Werth, whose Nationals host the Phillies in a three-game set this weekend, said. “I don’t think about it for a minute. Fans can boo as much as they want.”

Werth is a target every time he returns to Citizens Bank Park. He is well aware of that. When the Nationals formed a handshake line just off the pitcher’s mound each night during their recent three-game sweep in South Philadelphia, Werth eschewed the ritual. Each night he quietly scurried from the outfield to the dugout hitting the clubhouse before his teammates.

Werth has no problem wearing the black hat in Philadelphia.

“I don’t care about how people react to me here,” Werth said. “I love playing in Philadelphia. I always did.”

In 40 games at Citizens Bank Park as a National, Werth has slugged 10 homers, drove in 32 runs and is batting . 285 with a .370 on-base percentage and a .528 slugging percentage. Werth homered (May 30) off of Aaron Nola and he was serenaded with those familiar jeers.

Werth’s relationship with Phillies fans changed when J Dub accepted the beyond lucrative 7-year deal with the Nationals. Werth became public enemy number one after he was ticked off by Phillies fans, who verbally assailed him after he broke his wrist during a Phillies-Nationals game in DC four years ago. Werth penned a special message for the Phillie faithful after the injury.

“After walking off the field feeling nauseous knowing my wrist was broke and hearing Philly fans yelling, ‘You deserve it’ and 'that’s what you get' I am motivated to get back quickly and see to it personally those people never walk down Broad Street in celebration again.”

Werth’s communique was expressed when he was at his nadir. When told that the fans who kicked him when he was down and those who boo him, are the vocal minority, Werth smiled. “I’m aware of that,” Werth said. “I got a lot of letters from Phillies fans after I broke my wrist, who wished me well.”

But Werth doesn’t ordinarily talk about those fans, who appreciate what he did with the Phillies during their storied run. Werth isn’t much for the sentimental but when asked about what it meant to play for the loaded Phillies teams that won the World Series in 2008 and the NL pennant in 2009, Werth paused before waxing. “My greatest baseball memories happened right here,” Werth said. “I had the greatest time playing on those teams. Nobody can take that from me.”

Werth has a curmudgeonly image but the reality is that he’s a good dude. While covering the Phillies in 2009, the word was that J Dub is a music obsessive. While in the clubhouse, I slipped him a couple of CDs and it was akin to pulling the thorn out of the lion’s paw. Werth answered every question I had after that encounter and proved to be amusing, thoughtful and provocative.

In August of 2010, he told me what was up next for him. “I get to sign one big contract in my career and it’s not going to be here,” Werth revealed.

During the final presser of his illustrious Phillies career, Werth chastised a beat reporter he loathed for asking too many questions during his exit interview, among many other reasons. “I won’t have to see him much anymore,” Werth said afterward.

“He’s an awesome guy,” Nationals starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez said. “He’s a leader and a great player. Nobody has a bad word for him here. He’s an unbelievable person.”

When I visited Werth in the visiting clubhouse the following season, we were interrupted by a pair of Phillies beat reporters. “Can’t you see that I’m talking to someone,” Werth barked.

“I’m sorry,” the startled scribe said. “I just wanted to tell you where to get the best slice of pizza in DC.”

After a brief exchange, the reporters walked off with their tails between their legs.

“Do they really think that I’m going to go into a pizza place in DC and order a slice,” Werth asked as he picked up a bat just prior to batting practice.

“No, I said. “They think you’re going to buy the entire chain.”

Werth laughed. The conversations continued over the years. Werth compares notes when chatting about his sons and my sons, each of whom are the same age and heavily into sports. “When I’m not playing, I’m a chauffeur for them,” Werth said. “So I’m always busy.”

Werth isn’t used to spectating. “It’s a very different thing,” Werth said

And the chats often turn to music. Werth talks about playing some vinyl and just relaxing. Even though Phillies fans boo him relentlessly, Werth isn’t an ogre like Barry Bonds, who alienated fans, the media and even his own teammates.

“He’s an awesome guy,” Nationals starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez said. “He’s a leader and a great player. Nobody has a bad word for him here. He’s an unbelievable person.”

Virtually all of the bad words for Werth are uttered in Philadelphia. If Werth retires after his contract ends next season, perhaps he’ll accept an invitation to the 10-year reunion of the 2008 Phillies. “I hope I’m still playing,” Werth said. “But I have some great memories playing for that team. We won the whole thing. That’s what every player dreams of (achieving).”

Who knows how much the Phillies would have accomplished during that run if Charlie Manuel didn't end the Werth/Geoff Jenkins platoon in June of 2008? The Phillies former manager was reluctant to start Werth. He didn't think that Werth hit right-handed pitching well enough. Werth fought for the opportunity and when he finally had the chance, he seized the moment in August of 2007 by hitting .414 for the month. The following summer Werth proved that his time had come. He produced for Manuel, who he says is the best manager he ever played for during his 14-year big league career.

"People talk about special players and they mention guys like Albert Pujols," Manuel said. "But to me, special players are everyday players. Guys like Werth are special. It takes a lot to be a starter (in the majors). Guys like Werth are special. He wanted to be in that lineup and he earned it."