Opinion: What the Phillies improbable run meant

  • The Philadelphia Phillies’ Rhys Hoskins runs the bases after a solo home run in Game 3 of the World Series against the Houston Astros. Jose F. Moreno/ The Philadelphia Inquirer via TNS

Published: 11/21/2022 6:00:25 AM

Jonathan P. Baird lives in Wilmot.

It is funny being from New England. I am surrounded by Red Sox fans. My own son, Josh, is a Red Sox fan. My work friends are mostly Red Sox fans. But, as someone who grew up in the Philadelphia area, I am a lifelong Phillies fan. My Phillies love has deep roots.

My parents were both diehard Phillies fans. They took me to many games starting out at Connie Mack Stadium, moving on to the Vet and then Citizens Bank Park. Later in their lives, my parents watched every Phillies game on TV.

They did live to see the 2008 Phillies team of Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Shane Victorino win the World Series. My mom had previously said that the Phillies manager Charlie Manuel was “a moron.” After the World Series, she revised her view. She said, “Charlie Manuel is a genius.”

When I was around ten, my dad took me and my friend Hank to spring training in Clearwater, Florida. Seeing the players up close I was star-struck. I got autographs from Phillies stars Richie Ashburn, Robin Roberts and Curt Simmons. To a little kid, the players were like gods. I was the kind of kid who memorized batting averages and pitchers’ ERAs. In my yard playing wiffleball and later playing on the Merion Stars little league team, I grew to love the sport.

My dad took me to Connie Mack Stadium to see the Phillies play the San Francisco Giants. Late in the game, the Giants Hall of Fame slugger Willie McCovey hit a towering homer over the light tower in right field to beat the Phils. I recall crying.

The Phillies were the first team in the majors to lose 10,000 games. That happened back in 2007. If you are a Phillies fan, losing is not unfamiliar. Founded in 1883, the Phillies are the oldest continuous same-name, same-city franchise in American professional sports. There have been many, many losing seasons.

In 1964, the Phils were up 6 1/2 games with 10 to play, an almost insurmountable lead. This was the team of rookie of the year Dick Allen, Jim Bunning, and Johnny Callison. They had a west coast swing. Late at night, under the covers, I listened to the Phillies-Dodgers game play-by-play on my transistor radio with earphones plugged in. My parents assumed I was asleep. The Phillies proceeded to have an epic meltdown. The Phils did the impossible, dropping out of contention as the season ended.

My parents and I went to a June 2003 game at the Vet between the Phillies and the Red Sox. Pedro Martinez was on the mound for the Sox. We got tickets late and the only tickets available were high up in the 700 section in right field. The 700 section had a well-earned reputation and that day didn’t disappoint. Many fans were drinking and fights were breaking out. My mom turned to me and said, “You’re with your people.” Philadelphia fans are famous.

The game was fantastic. It went into extra innings. Nomar Garciaparra went six for six that day. The Phils won 6-5 when pinch hitter Todd Pratt hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the 13th. Jim Thome hit two homers and Bobby Abreu had one. The Sox wasted a great effort by Pedro.

Part of the enchantment of the Phillies' 2022 run to the World Series is their history of losing. In Philadelphia, there is an expectation of failure. This year the Phillies who were total underdogs smashed that. They had been counted out by all the experts. Just to recall, they were 22-29 in early June when they fired their manager Joe Girardi and hired bench coach Rob Thomson to be manager. On June 25, their star, Bryce Harper, broke his thumb when he was hit by a pitch. At that point, most Phillies fans thought the season was over but amazingly the team started winning.

Harper did not return until August 26 but the Phillies went 32-20 without him. That gift from the Red Sox, Kyle Schwarber, ended up hitting 46 home runs, leading the National League. The Phillies barely got into a playoff spot. Their playoff run was pure Cinderella. They won series against the Cardinals, the Braves and the Padres to make it to the World Series. The moment that floored me was when the Phils scored six runs in the top of the ninth against the National League champion Cardinals. The Phillies seemed dead before that.

Even though they ended up losing the World Series, what the Phillies did was mesmerize the whole city of Philadelphia. To say they lifted spirits doesn’t describe the positive vibrations generated. Walking around the city, the number of people wearing Phillies paraphernalia was staggering. It was eleven years since the Phillies were even in a playoff game. As Jason Kelce once said about the Eagles, “Hungry dogs run faster.” The Phillies were hungry dogs.

Life in 2022 has so many stresses. In the last year, I have seen four friends die. Over a million died from COVID. The world has largely failed to respond to climate change. The UN chief Antonio Guterres says humanity is on a “highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator.” Nuclear war emerges again as a distinct possibility.

I am thankful to baseball for taking us away from all that, if only for a short time. The pleasure of watching great games was a gift. It was hard not to marvel at Bryce Harper’s super clutch homer in game five that took out the Padres. The sheer drama kept me glued to the TV. What was particularly cool was the underdogs winning. It doesn’t happen enough in life. I wished my parents, my sister, and my Phillies/Eagles fan friend Harold could have still been alive to see it.

Although it can sometimes seem unbearably slow, baseball is one of those things that keep us sane. It helps us get through and sends a message that hope springs eternal. Spring training is right around the corner.

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