Rheal Cormier threw his last pitch in a Phillies uniform 15 years ago, yet I find myself thinking about him often.
I really do.
Whenever the subject of just how mercurial relief pitchers can be — you know, up one season, down the next — comes up, I think of Cormier, the gutsy lefty who pitched 16 seasons in the majors, including six for the Phillies.
In 2002, his second season with the Phillies, Cormier pitched to a 5.25 ERA in 54 games.
The next season, at age 36, he pitched to 1.70 ERA in 65 games. He pitched 84⅔ innings and gave up just 16 earned runs — five of them coming in his first appearance of the season. He had a 0.93 WHIP that season and went 8-0.
And so, the year after being one of the worst relievers in baseball, Cormier was one of the very best in the game in 2003.
There was one area where Cormier was always consistent. He was good people, always there when the Phillies needed him for a hospital visit or to do something in the community, always there with his checkbook and an end-of-season donation to Phillies Charities, Inc.
I found myself thinking about Rheal Cormier again Monday, but it wasn't for the right reasons. News of his death at the age of 53 after a quiet battle with cancer was shocking and sad.
It wasn't that long ago, a couple of years maybe, that he was back at Citizens Bank Park looking fit, talking about his family, loving life after baseball. He and his wife, Lucienne, and their children, son Justin and daughter Morgan, had settled in Utah and loved the snow and hitting the slopes.
Rheal was one of those guys who was never afraid to tell you his personal story. He grew up in a French-speaking household in Canada, in the province of New Brunswick. He had four siblings. The family didn't have a lot of money and worked hard for everything.
One day during Rheal's time with the Phillies, I learned we had something in common.
As kids, we had both seen our first big-league games at Fenway Park with our dads. I believe I rode in a station wagon. Rheal and his brother Donald rode in the cab of a 10-wheel truck. It was 1975. Their dad, Ronald, was a truck driver and he hauled everything from logs to lobsters. On this particular trip, he was delivering a load of lobster to Boston and decided to take his sons along and take in a ballgame. Pretty cool.
Rheal was always grateful for the blessings that professional baseball gave him. In June 2004, he told me the story of how he was waiting for more than the bullpen phone to ring. He and his wife had applied for U.S. citizenship years earlier and he felt like the long process was close to a resolution and didn't want to miss the phone call.
"This is very important to me," he said at the time. "I love everything about the States, the people, the schools. I want to retire here. Everything I have comes from this country. I'm proud of America. I've lived here a long time. I sort of consider myself a U.S. citizen without the paper. I just want to make it legal."
In September 2004, Rheal Cormier became a U.S. citizen.
He was good people long before that.