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95% Phillies, 4% Eagles/Flyers/Sixers/Big Five, 1% Nonsense .... Contact us: Scott Graham ~ Andy Musser

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The importance of this series

Despite this blog's extreme statistical nature, both Mr. Graham and I are die-hard Phillies fans (in addition to the other 3 Philly teams). The only reason why this site started is, for 4 years, Mr. Graham and I ended up screaming at our television every day from early April through late September about Charlie Manuel. I watch 99 percent of the games, Mr. Graham watches 99 percent, and together we pretty much see every pitch of the season. Losers? Obviously. Die-hards? No fuckin' doubt.

I grew up watching the Phillies. My first sports memory is Mariano Duncan's grand slam on Mothers Day in 1993. I was four years old. My father was at the clinching game 6 of the 1980 World Series in Philly. My grandfather was at game 5 of the 1980 World Series. In Kansas City. My grandmother and aunt had Phils season tickets for years. I went to bed during game 4 of the 1993 World Series figuring the Phils would hold their 6-run lead, only to wake up to my father having to tell me they lost, 15-14. The Phillies were my first love - and they ripped my heart out. I remember asking my baby-sitter to turn on a Sixers game in the Shawn Bradley, pre-A.I. era, and his confusion as to why a 7-year-old wanted to watch a god-awful NBA team. Two years later, the Flyers ripped my heart out in Detroit. They did it again 3 years later, thanks to Patrick Elias. The next year was the 2001 Sixers run, again ending in heartbreak. The Eagles then took it to the next level: three straight NFC Championship losses followed by a Super Bowl defeat, all in brutal fashion.

The Phillies, meanwhile, stayed low on the radar during all this. I suffered through the late 90s with Rex Hudler and Alex Arias. When Rico Brogna is your favorite player, you know your expectations aren't very high. My dad would frequently tell me during Phils games in the Francona era, "Andy, we may be the only two people in the Philadelphia area watching this game right now." The sad thing was he could have been right. They never made the playoffs during my childhood and adolescence, and thus never gained any significant attention in the city. They were close though: the 2001 Phils were my first taste at a pennant race. Scott Rolen knocked two homers on September 17, 2001...but refused to voluntarily take the curtain call for which the wild Phils crowd was begging. They fell two games short of Atlanta. 2002 was a disappointment, but the signing of Jim Thome the following offseason shoved the Phils into the city's spotlight for the first time in a decade. Again, they fell short: this time the bastardized team from Florida stole the wild-card. August 2004 was a disaster, complete with a Todd Pratt triple play ending the Phils wild card hopes. Things then started to heat up. The Phils were eliminated on the final day of the year in 2005, my first glimpse at how awful Charlie Manuel can manage sometimes (see: the Houston sweep in Philly in early September). 2006 was essentially the same story: eliminated on the penultimate day of the season. 2007 changed the city's perception of the Phils: they became a team with a tangible connection to the fans, able to topple the bastards 90 miles north. Then came this year.

Jose Reyes is 25. David Wright is 25. Their best years are ahead of them. Rollins will be 30 in a month. Utley will be 30 in a month. Howard will be 29 in a month. Their best years aren't necessarily behind them, but it's possible. Burrell is a free-agent. Moyer is 80. Even Ruiz will be 30 on Opening Day next season. This team has about two or three years remaining before their collective decline. The Mets, on the other hand, have much longer to build around their young stars. The point is, with the randomness involved in the baseball playoffs (i.e., Matt Stairs, the Phils not having to face the Cubs, etc.), this can certainly be these Phillies' last shot at a World Championship.

Philly fans are easily the best in the country. There is no other city that can go a quarter-century without a championship, yet manage to fill their stadiums and support their teams knowing that heartbreak is inevitable. Look at Cleveland, the only other city with a longer championship-less season streak (zero championships for 3 teams since 1964). The Indians went to the ALCS in 2007 while consistently playing in an empty home stadium. The Browns walked out on them. The Cavs were irrelevant until they changed their uniforms, which apparently sparked the city's interest in the NBA (or maybe it was something else?). The media loves to shit on Philly, but we fight on.

The worst fans in the country reside in Florida, almost unquestionably. They are the definition of fair-weather fans. The Lightning were in the bottom half of the NHL's attendance in 2003, and only 12th in 2004: the year they won the Stanley Cup. Prior to playoff games that year at the Lightning's arena, the scoreboard instructed fans about various complicated hockey rules, such as icing and offsides. Embarrassing. This year, the Rays won 97 games, going worst to first to the World Series. They were 26th in attendance. That includes the droves of Yankees, Red Sox, and Cubs fans that filled Tropicana this year, and they still only managed to beat out 4 other teams (one of which, naturally, was Florida). Tampa Bay is a brutal sports town, with awful fans. They deserve to play in a dome, but we don't deserve to listen to the mother****ing cowbells all game long when we're trying to watch our beloved Phils play in the World Series for the first time in a decade and a half.

The Eagles lost to the Buccaneers in the 2002 NFC Championship game - one of the most painful losses of my lifetime. The Flyers lost to the Lightning, 2-1, in game 7 of the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals. It was the first time I ever heard my older brother use the F-word: directed at the bandwagon Lightning fans celebrating the Prince of Wales Trophy that they had no idea existed, let alone were able to name.

If the Phillies lose to Tampa, it will mark the third time in six years that a Philly team loses to Tampa in the most important level of the playoffs possible. It will be the third time that the worst sports city in the country (at least Miami can support an NBA team) rips the heart out of the best sports city in the country. It is the equivalent of a multi-billionaire eating a sandwich in front of a poor, starving African child, and forgetting about it in four seconds (you see, because Tampa fans have four-second memories).

A win will give this city something I have never seen and therefore can barely even fathom. A loss, however, will break the city. We've waited our entire lives for this. This is why I watch every pitch. This is why I threaten to smash the home plate umpire with a brick in the first inning of an April game. My entire heart is in this, and if you're insane enough to follow this blog, I know yours is too. I will be broken. Mr. Graham will be broken.

Yes, we love stats on this blog. But we love the Phillies more. For my mental health, for Mr. Graham's mental health, and for yours: Go Phils.

2 comments:

Scott Graham said...

Muss, couldn't have said it better myself. My dad was at the clinching game in 1980, too. I not sure for whom, and how often, but I know he had season tickets for different Philly teams for periods of time before I was born (sadly). I know that when you were watching Rico with Mr. Mr. Musser (you're dad), I may not have been, but Mr. Mr. Graham most certainly was. He has watched 99% of Phillies games each year, for as long as I can remember (probably longer too). Bottom line. You want this, I want this, but if for no other reason, the Phils need to win the Series this year for all those elder folk (like our fathers) who might not be around to see another Phils team rise up from this cheap organization.

Anonymous said...

that was beautiful. go phils