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April 13, 2016

South Jersey's Buchter makes South Philly debut with Padres

Maybe his allegiances were split, but, more than likely, they were not when Ryan Buchter attended his most recent game at Citizens Bank Park before this week.

It was Sept. 27, 2008. Brad Lidge’s perfect regular season was at risk again until Nationals leadoff hitter Anderson Hernandez was robbed of what would have been his fourth hit of the afternoon when Jimmy Rollins slid to his left, corralled the ground ball and flipped to Chase Utley for the game-ending, division-clinching double play.

The 21-year-old Buchter was among the 45,177 paid customers in the five-year-old ballpark that Saturday, as a Class A pitcher in the Washington Nationals system and lifelong Phillies fan. This week, he returned as a major league pitcher.

Buchter, born in Reading and raised in Blackwood, N.J., came back to Citizens Bank Park this week as a member of the San Diego Padres bullpen.

It was a long time coming for the lanky left-hander, who had spent the majority of the last 3 1/2 seasons at the Triple-A level with three different organizations: the Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs. He had one major league game on his resume – June 20, 2014 at Washington – before breaking camp with San Diego this spring.

“It’s what we play for,” Buchter said Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park. “Obviously everyone wants to be in the big leagues and start the year in the big leagues and stay there. It’s what we do it for.”

With a four-game series in South Philly, there stood a pretty good chance that Buchter would have the opportunity to pitch at Citizens Bank Park this week. The call came on Tuesday, with the Padres trailing the Phillies 1-0 in the seventh inning.

“It was a lot of fun,” said Buchter, a 33rd-round pick out of Gloucester County College in the 2005 MLB draft. “It would have been nice to be winning or come away with a win, but it was fun.”

It also could have been a bit surreal. The first two players out of the Phillies dugout and into the batter’s box to face Buchter? The only two players remaining from the ’08 World Series champs, Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz.

Buchter got both players out (Howard on an infield pop fly, Ruiz on a fly ball to right) and didn’t allow a hit or a walk in his inning of work.

“I faced them in spring training with Atlanta, so it’s kind of familiar,” Buchter said of getting Howard and Ruiz on Tuesday. “Before I went in we went over who was coming up. But playing in the International League, playing in spring training, I faced all of these guys throughout my career. That’s the fun part.”

Buchter still makes a home just 10 minutes away from Citizens Bank Park, in Deptford, N.J. He said he’s had a lot of friends and family drop in both at home and at the ballpark this week.

Sure, it’s a lot of work to check in with everyone and to try to keep family, friends, former teachers and coaches happy. But it was more than worth it for Buchter, who excelled at Triple-A last year ( 2-0 with a 1.78 ERA and 62 strikeouts against 25 walks in 43 total relief appearances) and may finally be getting the chance to stick in the big leagues at the age of 29 in 2016.

“It’s cool for all of my friends, too,” Buchter said. “A lot of people don’t know what goes into what we do, and the dedication. A lot of people think this is fun for us. I mean, there are perks. But it’s a job and it’s a lot of hard work.”

As for any butterflies pitching at Citizens Bank Park, Buchter said they went away shortly after watching the pregame ceremonies on Opening Day. After that, it became like any other game.

Besides, Citizens Bank Park only opened up during his junior year at Highland Regional High School. He spent a lot more time at its predecessor.

“I went to the Vet more than I came here. A lot cheaper, too,” he laughed.