Everything about Phillies Opening Day starter Kevin Millwood resembles thick maple syrup spilling onto a stack of piping hot pancakes.
His delivery, mannerisms, voice and approach to the game have a smooth, easy, natural and relaxed flow.
Not much flusters this sturdy 6-4, 220-pounder, who will attempt to become the Phillies' first right-handed 20-game winner since Robin Roberts went 23-14 in 1955.
''It was the one of the best Christmas presents I've ever received,'' Phillies manager Larry Bowa said.
A spectacular spring training has helped Millwood dispel the notion he was damaged goods.
The Gastonia, N.C., native, who admits he just likes playing good, old-fashioned, country hardball, insists he's not a hired gun.
A free agent at season's end, Millwood disputes reports he's already decided to return to Atlanta in 2004.
''That's news to me,'' Millwood said. ''I don't know whose plan that is, but I haven't made that plan. I enjoy myself here. We have a good young team with a bright future.''
Millwood was very comfortable living in Duluth, Ga., with his wife and two young sons. Finding and maintaining a similar comfort zone in the Philadelphia area will ultimately determine if he decides to stay with the Phillies.
''I'm still going to give it some time,'' said Millwood, who will rent a Main Line home in Glad-wyne. ''I want to think about it. I want to experience life in Philly for a little while. I've made no plans whatsoever to go back to Atlanta. I love it here so far. I like all the players, coaches. The front office has been great. So have the fans. I've been enjoying everything.''
What's not to like?
His wry sense of humor and playful antics have made him an immediate clubhouse hit. More importantly, pitching coach Joe Kerrigan says Millwood is one of the game's elite hurlers.
''Kevin is an artist out there,'' Kerrigan said. ''He knows how to set hitters up and then finish them off by painting the corners.''
He does it with two- and four-seam mid-90s fastballs that dart and swerve with plenty of late movement, a hellacious curve that tests the machismo of batters and a nifty changeup and slider.
All of that is backed by knowledge, poise and command that comes only with experience.
Millwood's brilliance his .620 career winning percentage ranks fifth among active N.L. pitchers with at least 90 career decisions has gone virtually unnoticed because he's worked his entire career in the shadow of Atlanta pitching legends Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz.
Millwood went 18-8 with a 3.24 ERA last season and did not make the All-Star team. He allowed two or fewer runs in 21 of his 34 starts and the Braves won 20 of his final 23 starts.
''I don't feel cheated in any way on publicity,'' Millwood said. ''I don't need a lot of notoriety. I don't need my picture on the front page and stuff like that. Those other guys get what they deserve. You can run out of paper listing all their accomplishments.''
He insists being the ace is just a spot in the rotation, but is curious to see how he'll respond to added pressures that come with being the stopper.
''I think everybody who plays wants a chance to be the top guy, the No. 1 guy,'' he said.
An avid hunter, Millwood will be stalking a few specific targets this season.
''My goals are to improve on my numbers from last year,'' he said. ''I want a lower ERA, more strikeouts and less walks. If I can accomplish that, the wins will take care of themselves, because putting runs on the board won't be a problem for this team. We'll put a lot of crooked numbers up. When you are confident of that, it helps you relax a little bit.''
Catcher Mike Lieberthal caught Millwood in the 1999 All-Star game and is looking forward to a beautiful relationship.
''With him, it's really easy, because he's such a nice guy,'' Lieberthal said. ''He's very laid back, like myself.''
Millwood admits he's been fortunate to have two of the game's most respected pitching gurus, Atlanta's Leo Mazzone and Kerrigan, tutoring him.
''They are similar in that they break down things a lot,'' Millwood said. ''Joe is more of a numbers guy. He likes to tell you what guys hit on certain counts and certain pitches and locations. Leo is a mechanics guy. He was very good at it. That's all he really went on. Everything I learned over there will help me here and everything I learned here will just make me a little bit better.''
Even though he's the most proven starter in a very young rotation, Millwood is reluctant to give out advice.
''I try to take care of myself first,'' he said. ''I'm not a guy that will go up to you and tell you what I think might be right or wrong. If a guy has a question for me, I'll tell him what I think and try to help. If I don't have an answer, I'll tell him I don't know. I'm not real pushy. So, I won't go up to people and teach them how to pitch. That's not my job.''
He has taken Brett Myers under his care.
''Brett and I have talked more than anybody else because we are similar pitchers,'' Millwood said. ''If I can help him here or there, I will, because it will make the team better.''
The Phillies will be as good as any team in baseball when Millwood takes the mound.
''I've been on a pennant winner every year of my career,'' Millwood said. ''I'd like to keep that streak going.''