Seems like old times
Phils' run conjures up memories for this longtime fan
Posted: Monday October 1, 2007 12:32PM; Updated: Tuesday October 2, 2007 4:40PM
For my generation, it always comes back to baseball. You put the game in the background for years, even decades, but back it comes, first nudging into your consciousness, then taking solid shape as memory, a first game with a father, a scratchy radio voice on a summer evening, a dropped foul ball in souvenir alley, all those things ...
The 2007 Philadelphia Phillies would be my father's kind of team, not that every Phillies team wasn't his kind of team in some way. The last one he followed before he died, the '93 Phils, made the World Series, and this one's liable to do it, too, and so I have signed on to cover them, for the opening round of the postseason at least, and, damn, my father would be pleased.
He took me to my first Phillies game, at Connie Mack Stadium, in 1956, a school night that turned magically inviting after an afternoon shower. A year later, on a hot Sunday afternoon, he grabbed a foul ball off the bat of Phillies pitcher Harvey Haddix, dropped it, scrambled after it and finally got his hand stomped in the scrum. He didn't come up with the ball and felt bad about it all the way home.
He whiled away many a Sabbath next to his homemade brick barbeque in the side yard, basting the chicken, sipping a Piels (a beer that won no taste contests, incidentally) and listening to By Saam broadcast the Phils on radio. On Father's Day in 1964 he drove to the ballfield where I was playing a pickup game to alert me that Jim Bunning was three outs from a perfect game, so I jumped in and we watched the final inning together. A few months later he took me to the fateful September game when Cincinnati's Chico Ruiz stole home to beat the Phils 1-0 and kick-start the 10-game losing streak that precipitated their infamous late-season collapse.
And he was there at Veterans Stadium on another summer night, in 1990, with his grandsons, whom I was trying to interest in the game that he had taught me. It didn't take.
Indeed, the Phils have woven through my life even after I stopped thinking that Richie Ashburn was the game's greatest all-time player and Dick Allen the world's coolest man. I was covering the Phillies for a suburban newspaper in 1980 when, in the middle of a fascinating season, I took a job at a bigger paper to follow the Baltimore Colts. That kept me busy, but I felt pangs of regret when the Phils went on to win the World Series. A year later I was hired by a Philadelphia newspaper to be the Phils' beat writer, but, just before spring training began, I took a job with SI. My father thought I was nuts. Give up the Phillies beat? Wasn't that the apex of sports journalism, not some once-a-week mag that covered polo and yachting? (That was a typical criticism of SI circa 1980, even though it was no longer accurate.)
Since then, a bouncing ball, bigger than a baseball, hasn't given me much time to follow the Phils and baseball in general. But this season, suddenly, I came back. (You always come back.) Like some loyal fan in a Ryan Howard jersey, I felt that the franchise's 10,000th defeat was covered too extensively -- hell, even Charlie Manuel wasn't born when most of those defeats took place -- and began to see the Phils' late-season rally, in combination with the Mets' collapse, as some sort of cosmic retribution for '64.
And it wasn't about just memories. These Phillies are a fun team for any sports fan, baseball's version of the Showtime Lakers of the '80s or the contemporary Phoenix Suns, out there on the edge, scoring runs in bunches, blowing leads, then scoring some more, smiling all the while. Sure their collective ERA looks like the GPA of a Phi Beta Kappa MIT grad (i.e. around 5.0), but the Howard-Chase Utley-Jimmy Rollins infield is way better than the Ed Bouchee-Granny Hamner-Chico Fernandez 3-4-6 trio that was in place when I first began following the team.
So as September wore on, I hopped online to follow my team, semi-arranged my schedule around watching the Phils and explained the double-switch to my wife. And when closer Brett Myers froze Wily Mo Pena with a vicious hook on Sunday, clinching the Phils' divisional title, my first thought was how much my father would've enjoyed this.