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What happened in Point Breeze was Howard's 2006 MVP season, Rollins's '07 MVP season and the Phillies' '08 World Series championship. That's the night Diane flung four Heinekens into an insulated cooler bag and raced to join the joy mob on Broad, where she danced and jumped and screamed, "We won it! Gimme that diamond ring! We won it!" And now TVs attached to extension cords appear on fold-out tables outside row homes at dusk in Point Breeze, along with bushels of crabs and coolers of beer and a dozen chairs full of folks watching the Phillies. And Diane, every other night, goes straight to her 60-inch plasma TV and starts screaming so loud, her husband has to take refuge in another room. But not every night, thank God, Thomas says, because every second night he injects her with Betaseron to relieve her MS symptoms, and she pops two Benadryl and falls into a deep slumber, making sure just before fading away that he's DVRing her Phillies so she can start whooping and howling first thing in the morning.
Look around, lefty. Corner of Broad and Passyunk. The second-damnedest thing's happening here. Look east on Paah-shunk, as the locals pronounce it, one of the city's rare diagonal streets and once one of its busiest commercial centers until the owners of the bustling shops began cashing in and bolting for the burbs back in the 1970s. But suddenly Passyunk's humming again with designer coffee shops, gastropubs, cantinas, outdoor tables ... and look, all those tattoo-covered Cliff Guys in their 20s and 30s. Hipsters. The other demographic fueling Philly's and the Phillies' resurgence.
Hold on. Those guys, the skateboarders, artists, musicians and borderline nerds in high school a dozen years ago? Those thin-shouldered dudes, raised suburban and Protestant, wearing scruffy beards, mustaches, tattoos, thick-framed eyeglasses, black sneakers, tight T-shirts and a grin over the three-buck happy-hour craft brew perched next to their open laptops? Those guys, who spurned their parents' two-car-garage dream in search of cheap apartments where they didn't need even one car, didn't need to sell their souls for corporate jobs with six-figure salaries, didn't need a big house to express their individuality because the ink on their flesh and silk-screened T-shirts did that ... but who did need glue, something to connect them to their gritty new digs?
Yep. Those guys. You just never know who you're going to meet in heaven. The Phils felt right to them: A team led by baseball nerds named Doc and Chase and a pitcher wafting their same scruffy and casual air—you, Cliff. A team managed by this folksy old syntax-challenged uncle whose creviced face they love wearing on their T-shirts. A team performing in a beautiful, eight-year-old ballpark that serves up the microbrews they cherish, all at an entry fee—$17 for a standing-room-only ticket—they can handle, and all without the tribal, testosterone-fueled Eagles crowd that makes their eyes roll.
Mark Precheur, a 35-year-old video editor, bellies up to the bar at P.O.P.E.—Pub On Passyunk East—a corner joint that's packed on weekend nights with a young, tatted-out crowd cheering the Phils on TV and peppered here and there with a skinny guy trying his best, shouting, "Yeahhhh! Sports!" Mark's a Doc Guy. "Doc's the guy I'd want operating on my brain ... even with bombs going off," he says. "But this whole team... . Every decision by the front office is the right one. You used to want to be a Yankee. Now you want to be a Phillie. They're our soap opera here. Everyone talking about who's hot, who's slumping, why he's slumping. And you'd better know your stuff because you can't bulls--- your way here too long. Phillies! is like our password on the street, our greeting to each other."
You think that's odd, Cliff, modern-day hippies whose cause is beer and your ball team? Wait till you visit the other hipsters' haven in town, just a few miles to the north, a neighborhood named Northern Liberties. Picture a cobblestoned plaza in an old European town where everyone gathers at night, only in this one, three sides of the stone plaza are six-floor modern glass-walled apartment buildings and the fourth side—the fading brick wall of the old Schmidt's Brewery—features a 400-square-foot TV screen flickering with the Phillies game each night. The Piazza, it's called, inspired by Rome's Piazza Navona, and it's filled with hipsters draped on towels, lounge chairs or outdoor restaurant seats, quaffing beers, tossing Frisbees and watching the Phils.
Weaving through them, selling one of the alternative Philly Phaithful t-shirts he's created to celebrate Ruiz—proclaiming simply, enjoy chooch—is 27-year-old Dan Hershberg, a Doc Guy. He and his girlfriend, he says, have come up with a hand signal to demonstrate their disbelief each time their team does something stunning: They turn to each other and pinch the flesh on their upper arms as if to say, Are we awake or dreaming?
Sipping a Belgian beer on the Piazza is Bryan Dilworth, a red-bearded 42-year-old music promoter who awoke from a 20-day diabetic coma three years ago with a rewired brain, one mesmerized by the nuances of baseball and in much deeper love with the Phillies. "And it all just keeps getting better and better," he gushes. "When the Roy Oswalt thing goes bad, the Vance Worley thing appears in its place. Everyone here loooooves Worley. He's fearless, and we won—what?—14 straight games the kid started? That's crazy. The dread we used to walk around with, it's gone for 75 percent of this city. And now Hunter Pence. He's perfect for this team and for this town. He just wants everything so badly. He's like watching a baby giraffe run. This has to be heaven. An angel just appeared here—Hunter Pence."
They're all in Cliff's dust now. The hipsters' hangouts, the black hood, the Mexican barrio, the Asian enclave, the ritzy section. Now he's deep in South Philly, running a gantlet of hoagie shops and Italian funeral homes and weaving between potholes and cars parked smack in the center of Broad—even in the turn lanes—that are covered with Phillies stickers but not parking tickets, and corner taprooms where in a few hours the old crustaceans will be settling in with a stack of ones and a pack of smokes next to their glass of uncraft beer, peering through the Marlboro haze at the Phils game on the screen ... and still bracing for the sky to cave in, especially after the Phillies' postclinching swoon. Mostly Doc Guys because he's no frills and all lunch pail, just like them, their eyes narrowing when their children say that they're Cole Guys because Cole delivered that World Series in '08 ... because they can't accept the Gift of '08. It's just too dangerous.
Cliff approaches Packer Avenue. One block to his right, the boys—Ace and Head and Joey and Boo and South Philly Pat and Tastykake Dom and Violations Greg—are tight around a table at Chickie's & Pete's, dangerously close to the WIP microphone of Anthony (Ant) Gargano, the buddy whom many of them grew up with in South Philly, all hollering to be heard over one another and the barroom din and the live airing of the sports talk show that Ant cohosts with Glen Macnow. Holding their weekly referendum: Is this really heaven now, or can heaven only come at the end? Can you boo in heaven, and if so, under precisely what circumstances? Like when Hamels got mauled in his first start this year, and confusion reigned as some booed and screamed, "Three aces and a queen!" and others, outraged, turned on them.