Phils legends set for eighth annual grill-off

Phils legends set for eighth annual grill-off

PHILADELPHIA -- Greg Luzinski rose at Tuesday's formal announcement of the eighth annual Garry Maddox Barbecue Challenge.

"Garry," he said, "Maybe we shouldn't enter this year and give everybody else a chance."

Laughter ensued. Neither Phillies-star-turned-chef has ever placed at, let alone won, their own competition.

At Citizens Bank Way on Aug. 8, before the Phillies host the Marlins, the field will be split into two divisions -- Restaurant/Catering, with a $250 entry fee, and Pit Master, at $100 apiece. Participants vie for the best barbecue chicken and ribs, as determined by a panel of local celebrities, chefs and food industry representatives. Whoever wins Garry's Challenge, the evening's final battle that combines all entrants into a single pool, receives a trip to the 2009 World Series.

All proceeds benefit Maddox's charity for at-risk city children. Since 2001, the Youth Golf & Academics Program (YGAP) has received $380,000 from these grill-offs.

"It's important that we get the word out to people of what we're doing," said Maddox, an eight-time Gold Glove Award-winning center fielder known as the Secretary of Defense. "Money's important, but having people understand what we're doing, so they understand what kind of difference we're making, is very important."

That's one reason why Maddox is thrilled to have famed Philadelphia restaurateur Stephen Starr, who creates buzz wherever he goes, co-sponsoring the '09 Challenge.

"To be associated with Stephen Starr, on one hand, and the Phillies, on the other," said Maddox, wearing his 1980 World Series ring, "Both are No. 1."

Added Starr: "Garry doesn't need to thank me. It's an honor to be a part of it. It's an honor to be involved with Garry and Luzinski, who were my heroes way back when I was still following baseball."

Starr indulged in his own grub at Tuesday's kickoff event. Chefs from Barclay Prime, Buddakan, El Vez and Jones -- all of which will have tents on Aug. 8 -- were on hand outside Citizens Bank Park, serving Starr, the media and Phillies personnel.

"How's the food? OK?" Starr playfully asked. "You can't return it."

That's all part of the fun. As Maddox put it, "This is an event where we pride ourselves in talking trash." He and Luzinski -- a Phillies first-round pick in the 1968 First-Year Player Draft, four-time All-Star and fellow member of the 1980 squad -- exchanged jibes at their respective special sauces.

But between the playful digs was a more serious look at YGAP, which aims to provide structure from the end of the school day until parents return home from work -- a roughly four-hour time period during which, according to Maddox, most teenage pregnancies, crime and other undesirables occur.

Staff members pick up children (grades K-8) from school, bring them to a local YGAP facility and offer them snacks. The food may not be as good as Maddox's flame-broiled fare, or the Luzinski-owned Bull's BBQ, but it's the start of a productive afternoon -- homework first, sports later.

"To have you folks here to validate what I'm doing, to support what I'm doing," Maddox said, "That means a lot to me."

David Gurian-Peck is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.