Jayson Werth knew what was coming. He had seen it, lived it, loved it, admired it, and marveled at it - the unvarnished passion of Philly fans - so he knew that the lively crowd at Citizens Bank Park would have something special for him Tuesday night.
He was the villain for taking an ungodly sum of money to play baseball in Washington instead of staying in the baseball utopia that Philadelphia has become for considerably fewer dollars and years. Werth got that. The fans were mad he left. He got that, too.
"Tuesday night," Werth quipped after speaking with reporters before his return to Citizens Bank Park with his new team, the Washington Nationals. "Dollar hot dogs. Wonder how many I'll get."
As it turned out, Werth mercifully did not get any hot dogs hurled at him from the upper deck. It is hard to get that worked up about a player who helped the Phillies win four consecutive National League East titles, two NL pennants, and a World Series. Besides, he plays for a team that is 14-15 and has the history and tradition of a newly constructed apartment building.
And who can really blame Werth for taking the seven-year, $126 million deal from the Nationals? The Phillies were not willing to pay that kind of money, not even close. Think about it: Over the life of the contract, Werth will average about $111,000 per game. He has a World Series ring. So he doesn't get another. He gets something else - a ridiculously fat paycheck on the first and 15th of every month during the season until he is 38 years old.
Nevertheless, the fans did not welcome Werth with the love they typically reserve for Jim Thome or Pat Burrell. It was, at best, a mixed bag.
When Werth strolled to home plate for his first at bat, many in the still-arriving crowd booed him. He looked around at the ballpark where he had played for four glorious years, then tipped his cap, and the boos instantly either turned to or were drowned out by cheers. Another tip of the cap a few moments later and three-quarters of the fans were on their feet applauding.
Cole Hamels proceeded to walk Werth on five pitches, and then Werth stole second before getting stranded. As Werth jogged to his familiar spot in right field for the bottom of the first, fans in the nearby outfield seats started booing him again. Werth turned to look at them, putting his back to home plate, and tipped his hat again for a few seconds. Again, the boos turned to cheers.
Hate him, love him, hate him, love him. It was hard to tell exactly how the fans felt.
Werth finished 0 for 3 in the 4-1 Nationals loss. He is batting .226.
A year ago, someone hung a huge sign over the rail at Ashburn Alley that said: "Sign Werth." But Tuesday night, another outfield sign tried to explain the vitriol: "Werthless: You bad-mouthed the Phils. Now we're bad-mouthing you. Boo."
In February, the Washington Post's Thomas Boswell wrote about a spring training conversation between Werth and Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, in which Rizzo said to Werth, "I hate the [expletive] Phillies." Werth reportedly responded, "I hate the Phillies, too."
Werth also said earlier this year that had the Phillies played their cards right, they could have had him and Cliff Lee, instead of having to choose between the two.
We will never know the answer to that. It is a moot point now. Werth did not want any part of this question posed to him before the game: In a perfect world, where would you be playing, Washington or Philadelphia?
"There's a lot of considerations that have to be met before you can comment on that," Werth said. "That's a pretty loaded question."
It was evident that Werth still has feelings for the Phillies and their fans, and that he always will. He said it was "going to be an interesting evening," and he could not predict how emotional he would be once he stepped onto the field for the first time.
"Hopefully, there will be a mutual respect," Werth said.
In the end, there was.
"You can't take away from us what we had," Werth said, mentioning more than once the Phillies' championship run of 2008. "It was a special time in sports history, let alone Philadelphia sports history. Hopefully I'll be remembered for the good times, and after that, I understand. I understand all bets are off. Where their team is and where their fans are at, I mean, I get it. I'm only one man."
Therein really was the crux of the issue. The Phillies are 19-9, the best record in the National League. The Nationals are still without their best pitcher, and on Saturday they learned they would be without Ryan Zimmerman for at least six more weeks. With their rotation, the Phillies are the front-runners to reach the World Series again. The Nationals are years away from contending for the division.
"Obviously, it's two totally different animals," Werth said of the Phillies and Nationals.
"We definitely want what they have, I think there's no doubt about that."
That was the ultimate compliment. How are you going to hurl a hot dog at that?