THINK FAST: WHAT’S the name of Mike Schmidt’s wife?
Didn’t think you’d get it. (It’s Donna.) And that’s because the metamorphosis of the Phillies wives from being part of the background information on the players to being Philly celebrities in their own right is a rather recent phenomenon. No one remembers Mrs. Luzinski, or Mrs. Bowa, or Mrs. Morandini. That’s because they existed in the vacuum of Vet Stadium, before the age of a thousand cable channels and Deadspin, before Madonna dated A-Rod (and Kate Hudson dated A-Rod, and — oh, you get the idea), before Jessica Canseco posed nude for Playboy and starred in a straight-to-video DVD with the unambiguous title Gettin’ It.
So perhaps it shouldn’t be all that surprising that we in celebrity-starved Philadelphia, where a Cecily Tynan sighting can create a near-riot at the Stop & Shop, would find ourselves poking into the lives of the gorgeous women behind our World Series champs. And some of it also has to do with the fact that we feel like we know these guys, can relate to them as Philadelphians, in a way we haven’t been able to with other squads. “I had to realize I was a part of all of this, so I had to get comfortable,” says Johari Rollins, the newly married wife of shortstop Jimmy and co-owner of Balance gym in Chestnut Hill. “But I was definitely not prepared for it.”
Johari would seem to at least have a slight advantage — she grew up in Mount Airy. (She met Jimmy when she was interning with the Phillies.) Ditto for Stephenie LaGrossa, fiancée of pitcher Kyle Kendrick, who co-owns the Old City restaurant Gigi and grew up in Glenolden. But for someone like Brandy Halladay, newly arrived from Toronto and sweating out fans’ big expectations for Roy, swimming in the Philly fishbowl is a whole other story. “I’ve heard everything,” she says, “from ‘You’ll love them’ to ‘They’ll eat you alive.’ But I like that in a city — that they’re passionate. I know they’ll be tough, but I don’t think they’ll be any tougher than we’ll be on ourselves.”
Note use of the word “we”; in pro baseball, the real teams are the married ones, navigating an alternately fabulous and harrowing existence on and off the field. And given that being the wife of a pro baseball player is such a singular experience, it’s hardly surprising the Phillies wives would turn to each other for counsel and the occasional laugh. Though they’re by no means a sorority (“It’s not like The Real Housewives of the Dugout,” Johari remarks dryly), they are an exclusive girls’ club bound together by a stitched white ball. “It’s an odd little business,” Jennifer Utley says.