Loving the Phillies…It’s in My Genes

We’re nearing the end of a competition between two tough opponents.  It’s red vs. blue, but my hometown is seeing only red.  Wait – I hope you don’t think I’m talking about the election!  It’s all about baseball, America’s pastime.  More importantly, the fuss is about the “fall classic”!  The Philadelphia Phillies are poised to win their first World Series in 28 long years…and their second ever since the club was founded.  Considering that they were founded in 1884 and are the longest one-city one-name club in baseball history, that means Phillies’ fans have endured a lot more defeats than wins – which is why this town gets so excited when we have a winner!

I am definitely not a sports fanatic, but I really enjoy baseball and, occasionally, hockey.  When you come from a city that loves sports as much as Philadelphia, you can’t help but get swept up in the excitement of it all.   (Well, except for football…I think if the Eagles made it to the Super Bowl I’d go out shopping that night since there wouldn’t be any lines.  I just don’t like the sport and can’t get excited about it.)

Watching the games for both the National League Championship Series and the World Series has brought back a lot of memories – surprisingly, a lot of family memories.  Sporting events of historic proportions, at least those for the teams you root for, burn into your memory.  The act of remembering where you were when the team won becomes similar to remembering when JFK was assassinated or the Challenger exploded or the Towers fell – everyone seems to have a memory.

My family isn’t as crazy about sports as the rest of the city, but we do love the Phillies.  My grandfather used to take my father to see the team play at Shibe Park in the 1940‘s and ‘50‘s.  My mother as a teenager in the ‘50s was smitten by Richie Ashburn and the Whiz Kids.  One of the most striking stats of this entire World Series has been the revelation that several of the Phillies – and most of the opposing team, the Tampa Bay Rays – were not even born the last time that the Phillies won the Series in 1980!   I was thirteen years old, and while I do not remember my family watching a lot of baseball in general during my childhood, I have specific memories of watching the NLCS and World Series that year.  The team included such greats as Mike Schmidt, Garry Maddox, Steve Carlton, Tug McGraw, Pete Rose, and Larry Bowa.  I remember the excitement when they won!  Little did we know that it would be a long wait to feel that sort of excitement again.

In 1993, my parents and I once again became infected with the baseball bug – only this time much earlier in the season, not just fair-weather fans at the end.  We became hooked by the spunky “Fightin’s” and watched every game that season.  Unfortunately, this made their ultimate demise even harder to bear.  But let’s not spoil the memory…  The 1993 team had the image of being loud, dirty, and obnoxious.  But not to their fans!  We loved the hairy, drinking bunch because they could play ball so well.  Darren Daulton, Lenny Dykstra, John Kruk – you couldn’t make those sorts of characters up in a movie.  My favorite wasn’t quite the “bad boy” as the others, right fielder Jim Eisenreich.  The best part about that year was how the team worked together as a team…you never knew who would become the hero of the game, or the villain.  For the championship series we beat our nemesis, the clean cut boys called the Atlanta Braves who were unanimously loathed by this city despite their ball-playing talents.  The World Series that year had many memorable moments, but none as devastating as the loss of the series – the moment closer Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams gave up a homer to Toronto Blue Jay Joe Carter.  Recall the moment to anyone in Philadelphia and they’ll react with either a sad sigh of what might have been or some interesting curses involving Mitch’s parental makeup.  But, what a ride it was…that year’s team is still much beloved.

In fact, the 1993 team is so loved that the new kids on the block – our present team – is actually sick of hearing about them.  Tonight I hope our 2008 team will jump up a step in the city’s regard by doing what the 1993 team could not – win the World Series.  I hate to admit it, but this year I’m a fair-weather fan.  I stuck with the Phillies for several years after the ’93 defeat, watching every game on tv and some at the Vet.  But, one can only take losing for so long.  I gave up (losing cable contributed, since the games are mostly broadcast on a cable channel).  This year I jumped on for the NLCS, hesitant to get invested in another loss.  How wrong could I have been!  A team with good pitching?  Good relief pitching?  In Philadelphia?  When did this happen, and why didn’t anyone tell me?  I’m in love with the new Phillies and excited to watch history in the making.  Cole Hamels reminds me of the legendary Steve Carlton with his poise and his pitching.  Ryan Howard, Jimmie Rollins, Shane Victorino…what’s not to love?  They play hard, and just like my old favorite team someone always steps up to the plate (pun intended).  So, I feel fairly confident at tonight’s winning combination – Cole Hamels, home turf, and a team that finally started hitting last night (here‘s hoping the wind dies down and the rain goes somewhere else until tomorrow). I can’t wait to hear Harry Kalas, the Phils’ legendary “voice”, announce the win (when Harry announced the starting line-up last night for Fox, one of the broadcasters remarked, “If I had that voice, I’d sit around the house all day talking to myself just so I could hear it.”)

When the 2008 Phillies take the field, they aren’t alone…the hopes and dreams of past teams, the city, and our ancestors who rooted in the past are with them.  Go Phils!  We love you even if most of you guys aren’t old enough to remember the 1980 championship!