Philadelphia is known for loving tough-nosed, blue-collar players. In the ’70s, it was the Broad Street Bullies who ruled the NHL with a reign of terror not seen since Robespierre; then Buddy Ryan’s gangrene defense preyed on opposing NFL offenses. The Philadelphia Phillies have had their fair share of tough outfielders, ranging from Greg “The Bull” Luzinski in 1980 to Lenny Dykstra in the ’90s and Aaron Rowand – beloved in the City of Brotherly Love for running head-first into a fence.

Even the fans reflect the players they root for. In the past 40 years, Philadelphia fans have thrown snowballs at Santa Claus, cheered when Michael Irvin was carted off the turf at Veterans Stadium and threw batteries – size D, not AA – at former Phillies prospect J.D. Drew. Philadelphia fans take toughness – and to a degree, lunacy – to a whole new level.

Needless to say, when it was announced earlier this season that Shane Victorino, a 5-foot-9 goofball from Hawaii, would be the starting centerfielder, Philadelphians were a little concerned that the little guy might not be able to stand up to the pressure of playing the position. Standing behind the big trio of Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, it would easy for Victorino’s stature to slouch even further down, but throughout the 2008 campaign, he has shone through, and he is a huge reason the Phillies now find themselves in their first World Series in 15 years.

“The Flying Hawaiian,” as Victorino’s teammates call him, took over the centerfield position from Rowand, who had become something of a cult figure among Phillies fans. But Victorino never backed down from the challenge. During spring training, Victorino offered to do weekly interviews with The Daily Examiner, the Philadelphia magazine’s blog, as a way to give the fans a chance to get to know him. For the first few years of his career, Victorino was known as a “clubhouse guy.” He was someone who kept the locker room loose with his antics, most notably throwing shaving cream pies in the faces of teammates during post-game interviews. The idea of him as a focal part of a team that many thought would be a World Series contender concerned some in Philadelphia.

This season, though, Victorino quickly adapted to his role in centerfield. His speed, which had long been an asset on the base paths, has been put to good use, making up for Pat Burrell’s lack thereof in left field – if you have never seen Burrell run, it is like watching paint dry. Countless times Victorino has run down tough fly balls, making spectacular plays look easy.

No moment during the regular season summed up Victorino’s grit and his value to the Phillies than an early June game in Atlanta. In the top of the 10th inning, Victorino drove in the go ahead with a run with a triple, and in the bottom half of the inning cleanly fielded a single to center and fired home, throwing out the would-be game-tying run in Gregor Blanco at the plate to end the game.

This prompted Philadelphia Daily News columnist David Murphy to write, “Wins such as the one the Phillies pulled out of a certain orifice last night will be long forgotten. [But] a stolen game in June counts the same as a stolen game in September.”

urphy was correct. In the long run, Victorino’s heroics that night did not resonate in the minds of fans in the way the Phillies’ four-game sweep of the Brewers did, but it was equally important to their division championship and gave anyone watching a taste of what the Flying Hawaiian could do.

any may not have taken notice of the role Victorino – who hit .293 in the regular season with 102 runs – played in the Phillies’ playoff run, but his performance in the postseason has surely drawn the attention of many across the country. In the second game of the divisional series against the Milwaukee Brewers, with the mercurial Brett Myers facing the all-everything C.C. Sabathia, Victorino led the way for the Phillies with a grand slam in a game that figured to be a loss on paper. Victorino, the little engine that could, became the first person in postseason history to hit a home run and a double and have two steals in a single game that night, giving the Phillies a commanding 2-0 lead in the best of five series.

His breakout performance carried over to the NLCS, starting with a four-RBI performance in game two. His eighth inning two-run game-tying home run in game four silenced a hostile Dodgers crowd, paving the way for the Phillies to win the crucial game and take a 3-1 series lead.

Cole Hamels may have gotten the NLCS MVP award, but the heart and soul of this Phillies playoff run has revolved and will revolve around Victorino. His transformation this season has mirrored that of the team. The Phillies, like Victorino, were good, but it was hard to take them completely seriously as a contender. This season, however, Victorino has become a legitimate threat and a leader, while the Phillies have excelled as a team. Victorino has become more than just a good right fielder; he has become one of the toughest, and not to mention the most clutch, players on the Phillies. He has come into his own at the same time that the Phillies have finally become a legitimate World Series contender.

What will happen in the World Series remains to be determined, but Victorino has won more fans with his play than his spring training interviews could have.

He must be good – he even has the Philadelphia fans happy.

Ryan Travers is a junior in the College. He can be reached at Illegal Procedure appears in every other Friday issue of HOYA SPORTS.

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