For a one-time major-league prodigy Jeff Stone, a return to the bootheel was only natural.

Field of Broken Dreams 

For a one-time major-league prodigy Jeff Stone, a return to the bootheel was only natural.

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Stone had some difficulty adjusting to the City of Brotherly Love, though. People he encountered on the street were often rude, and the steady symphony of horns, screeches and clatter tested his nerves. He kept to himself, staying inside his room whenever possible.

But baseball stayed simple, thanks to Phillies manager Paul Owens' minimalist approach.

"Certain players you don't fool with, and Stonie was one of them," Owens told Sports Illustrated in 1992. (Owens died in December 2003.) "My advice to Stonie was, 'You see the ball, you hit it and you run.' And he said, 'That makes sense.'"

Prior to the 1985 season, the Phillies printed posters with Stone's face on them, put him on the cover of the team's calendar and built a public-relations campaign announcing the beginning of the "Stone Age."

But it was the Owens era that proved more significant for Stone. When the grandfatherly figure moved into the team's front office, the Phillies replaced him with monotone crank John Felske, whose caustic criticism immediately eroded Stone's confidence.

Suddenly, see-hit-run wasn't good enough at bat, and sprint-to-wherever-it's-hit wouldn't fly in the field. There were strategies and statistics to memorize, pickoff moves and outfield positioning shifts to learn. Even when he was a pitcher back in high school, Stone hadn't worked with signs; Jerome had been his catcher, and the two simply tossed the ball back-and-forth as if they were at home. But baseball wasn't a primal process anymore. It was a complicated, almost academic pursuit, and Stone wasn't a quick study.

"When they started messing with him, he started thinking," Owens told Sports Illustrated. "And he wound up getting so confused, he forgot how to play."

"To be honest, he couldn't absorb a lot of instruction," adds Phillies Chairman Bill Giles, who was the team's president at the time. "A lot of other coaches and managers tried to make him more than he was capable of being, and then they decided he didn't have the ability to learn," Giles tells the Pitch.

After his auspicious debut, Stone had made several cameo appearances in the pages of national publications. For the most part, writers cast him as an endearingly baffled bumpkin, usually in the form of the tall tales known as "Stonie stories."

For example, during a minor-league night game (the location varies by publication), he allegedly asked, "Is this the same moon that shines back home?" Asked once if he wanted a shrimp cocktail before dinner, Stone reportedly replied, "I don't drink." Another time, after a season of winter baseball in Venezuela, someone asked Stone why he wasn't taking his television back to the states. He supposedly responded, "It only gets Spanish stations."

These tales, all of which originated in his first year, endeared him to fans as well as to the press. But they also reinforced for Felske and others within the organization that Stone might be too dim to become a star.

In 1985, he went hitless on opening day and never fully recovered. By the end of opening week, he had become a platoon player, starting only against right-handed pitchers. By the end of the month, he was stuck on the bench.

"No matter what I did, it wasn't good enough," Stone says of this nightmare season. "If Felske had left me alone and left me in the lineup, I would have become the player I should have become."

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