I received my first official Phillies hat for my sixth birthday.
I went to my first game, at Connie Mack Stadium, that summer. My mom taught me to keep a box score and yell “Pitcher’s blowed!” at the opposing hurler. I watched every game on TV that I could, keeping the box score for the whole season. The games that weren’t on TV, I listened to on the radio. That was 1964. Do I need to explain the significance of this date? There are people in Philadelphia who are more permanently damaged by 1964 than by their own birth trauma.
I once watched Dick Allen foul off twenty pitches in a row, deliberately and with precision, as Philadelphia fans booed him lustily. This was a little-known event in the struggle for African-American civil rights, but an event all the same.
I listened to Jim Bunning’s no-hitter on Mother’s Day.
There was a time in my life I thought Astro-Turf was the most beautiful thing in the world.
In 1980, when the Phillies won the World Series, I started to weep as Tug McGraw faced the final batter, and I didn’t stop crying for an hour.
During one of my father’s hospitalizations that led eventually to his death, my mother and I would occasionally leave in the evening, and go down to Veterans Stadium spontaneously, to have hot dogs and beer for dinner and watch the game. We didn’t talk much: we just watched the game.
I now live in this god-awful part of the country where the only question people ask me is “Yankees or Red Sox?” And in fact, if I lived anywhere north of here, all the way to the Canadian border, or anywhere south of here, all the way to Staten island, they wouldn’t even ask. The team to the North is just as hopeless as the Phillies; the team to the South is evil. As they say in South Philly, “Whaddayagonnado?”
I vowed not to follow the Phillies closely this year, as they grimly hung in within 8 or 10 games, losing franchise players to injury and having the same slightly-better-than-average pitching rotation they always have. This year they didn’t even have a Jim Bunning, a Steve Carleton, a Curt Schilling — brilliant guys who would gut out 1-0 victories, sometimes notching RBI’s to make it happen, in years their teammates couldn’t hit their shoe size.
And yet. A month ago, after a small losing streak, I couldn’t help but notice that my Phillies were starting to pull themselves together, as they always do in August, lighting that beacon of hope that raises blood pressure from Wilmington to Trenton, from Allentown to Princeton, causing all of us to say casually, “Oh yeah, I think I’ll watch the first couple of innings tonight.”
Incredibly, the Mets have gone into a Phillies-like season end collapse. This morning I found myself in the car, on my way to rowing practice at 5:15, pumping my fist wildly and screaming “YEAH!” Why?
Because I heard on the radio that the Phillies tied the Mets for first last night.
I have two responses.
Dear God, no not again. And:
If I believe in them with all my heart, somehow they might just do it. There is no choice not to commit. One more time.