World title changes Stairs’ life

Posted Nov. 26, 2008, at 9:57 p.m.

“It’s nice knowing you’re the World Series champions for 2008.” Bangor’s Matt Stairs

BANGOR, Maine — Matt Stairs is back in his role as assistant hockey coach at Bangor’s John Bapst High School.

But his life has changed since last year as he is now a World Series champion.

Stairs was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies by the Toronto Blue Jays on Aug. 30 and the reserve outfielder-first baseman hit .294 with two homers and five RBIs in 17 at-bats for the Phillies during the regular season.

But Phillies fans will always remember his monstrous, game-winning, two-run homer in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers that capped a four-run rally and gave the Phillies a 7-5 win and 3-1 series lead. They finished off the Dodgers in the next game before going on to beat the upstart Tampa Bay Rays in five games in the World Series for their first title since 1980.

“It was a blast. All those morning practices, staying late and doing all that extra hitting paid off after 20 years,” said Stairs after a Crusaders practice at Bangor’s Sawyer Arena. “To finally get a [World Series] ring, it’s a great honor.”

He said it hasn’t sunk in yet.

“I don’t think it really sinks in until the first day of spring training when you see all your buddies again and you get those rings,” said the 40-year-old Stairs. “It’s nice knowing you’re the World Series champions for 2008 and everyone is going out there to knock you off the throne.”

He said they don’t have a lot of time to enjoy the championship for the first two weeks after winning it “because you’re so busy” doing a variety of things like attending the parade and autograph sessions.

“But it’s nice saying you’re the world champions,” he added.

He said moving from the Blue Jays to the Phillies was an easy transition. The Phillies are his 11th team.

“The biggest thing is it is more of a wake-up call for some of the players who were struggling at the time,” said Stairs, who noted such a move can jumpstart the players who are struggling.

“Jayson Werth stepped up and hit two homers and had six RBIs in the first game I was there,” pointed out Stairs.

He said the Phillies were “very professional.

“They go about their business the right way. There’s no horseplay once the game starts. I’ve never seen guys get to the ballpark so early to prepare for games,” he said.

Philadelphia was a “very supportive city” according to Stairs.

“They were hungry for a championship. I came at a good time. We won something like 25 of our last 31 games, whatever it was,” said Stairs, whose Phillies won 28 of their last 39 including playoffs. “When you went to the ballpark, there was electricity. They were waving those white towels.

“If you don’t play well, they’ll be tough on you. It’s one of those things. But we played well at the right time,” said Stairs. “We never lost a game at home in the playoffs (7-0). Even if you’re tired, when you get in that batter’s box, you felt a surge of energy.”

He downplayed his dramatic homer off Dodgers reliever Jonathan Broxton.

“[Shane] Victorino hit a huge home run to tie it and Carlos [Ruiz] got a big base hit which forced them make a pitching change [and bring Broxton in],” said Stairs. “It was one of those things where if I face [Broxton] 10 times, he may have struck me out nine times. But I was able to square that one [fastball] up. It got the mo-mentum on our side.”

The following day, his daughter, Nicole, scored her first ever hat trick for the Bangor High School soccer team and called to tell him.

“It was a proud week for the Stairs family, for sure,” he said.

He has one year left on a two-year contract that was transferred from the Blue Jays to the Phillies and he is ready to contribute next season in any way they want.

The Fredericton, New Brunswick, native will enter the season as a career .266 hitter with 254 homers and 864 RBIs.

But for the time being, he is immersed in coaching. It is his fourth year with the Crusaders.

“Coaching is fun,” said Stairs. “You get back the first couple of days, everyone asks you questions about how it was, what’s going on and what’s this guy like.

“But the good thing about it is when I get here, everyone treats me just like a regular coach. The biggest thing is I’ve been around so long and I’ve played the game for so long, what I try to teach the kids as a positive role model is if you have a dream, anything is possible,” said Stairs, who was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Montreal Expos in 1989.

lmahoney@bangordailynews.net

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