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It’s not over for Nats, according to Dr. Phil

- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 21, 2006

When Nationals manager Frank Robinson learned Dr. Phil was throwing out the first pitch before last night's game at RFK Stadium against the Atlanta Braves, I asked Robinson whether he was going to have Dr. Phil say a few words to his team.

"Too late," Robinson said, jokingly. "Too late. Where was he when I needed him?"

But it's never too late, according to Dr. Phil.

Dr. Phil was warming up in the tunnels inside RFK Stadium about a half-hour before he was to take the mound. He had a decent arm, which is not surprising, because Dr. Phil is a big-time jock and has been since he was a boy growing up in Oklahoma.

"If it wasn't for athletics, I would have probably been in jail," he said, wearing his Nationals jersey. "Seriously. That's what kept me out of jail."

Dr. Phil, a juvenile delinquent?

"How's that working for ya?"

All I knew about Dr. Phil and his self-help television show before yesterday was from the various spoofs. He's an easy mark. Why do you think, when I heard he was throwing out the first pitch last night, I asked to interview him? This was meat on hoof.

Then, after spending a few minutes with Dr. Phil, I realized something: "This is going to be a changing day in your life," another one of Dr. Phil's catch phrases.

Not really. But it was unnerving because I got a little taste of why Dr. Phil has become this television phenom, telling housewives that "you can't change what you don't acknowledge." He's got that personal style that makes you feel like you're the most important person in the room. The other person I've met who has that same sort of persona was Don King, for what it is worth.

Dr. Phil was a pretty good athlete, a star linebacker in high school who landed a football scholarship to the University of Tulsa. He has remained a huge sports fan, and his baseball loyalties lie in Texas, where he rooted for the team formerly known as the Washington Senators, the Texas Rangers.

"I have been a Ranger fan for years because I was from Dallas, and George Bush was a friend of mine," Dr. Phil said. "We went to lots of Rangers games. My wife, Robin, has been a huge baseball fan and a huge Rangers fan. She probably saw 90 percent of their games.

"I've watched the Nationals a few times," he said. "We don't get them much on the West Coast."

We didn't get them much on the East Coast, either, Dr. Phil, until recently.

Dr. Phil was in town promoting a new season of his television show, and his wife was doing a signing for her new book, when he was offered a chance to throw out the first pitch at RFK.

"I jumped at the chance to do this," he said. "It's a dream to be able to stand on that mound."

The sparse crowd at the ballpark gave Dr. Phil a round of applause as he was introduced and made his way to the mound. And he didn't embarrass himself by bouncing the ball to the plate, tossing it high and away.

Given his jock background, I asked Dr. Phil whether any sports teams had invited him to come talk to their players, something coaches often will do.

"I've never done any sports psychology," he said. "There's never been anything that I've had an opportunity to do. I wouldn't mind doing it someday, because I've been an athlete all my life and have studied performance. I think sports psychology is very important."

It doesn't pay as well, though, as telling America to "get real."

If Dr. Phil did have a chance to talk to the Nationals -- a last-place team playing out a string of meaningless games -- what would he say?

"You are playing for something, and I know it sounds cliched to say that you're playing for pride, but I believe right now in my life that everything I've ever done up to this point has prepared me for this point in life," he said. "Every game they play, every time at bat, every inning that they are out there is preparing them for what they are going to do next, and it all accumulates.

"I think these games are just as important as the first games of next season. I know the season is over, I know mathematically they are way, way out of it, but it does matter. They are honing their skills and their focus. This is a time when you can really work on your game, develop yourself as a player and come back stronger next year. I don't think it's over for them."

Over? It's not over until Dr. Phil says it's over.

Speaking of over, I asked Dr. Phil the most important question in Washington this week: Should Joe Gibbs bench Mark Brunell?

"I don't think so yet," Dr. Phil said. "I tell you, Brunell is a winner. That guy has proven himself time and again. You let him get a few W's in the column, and he will be the fair-haired boy again."

He had me until Brunell.

"That dog don't hunt."