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October 03, 2011
For Phillies Nation, every game has felt like October since Cliff Lee's return. Now an ever-growing fan base wonders: Is it still O.K. to boo?
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October 03, 2011

'we're In Baseball Heaven'

For Phillies Nation, every game has felt like October since Cliff Lee's return. Now an ever-growing fan base wonders: Is it still O.K. to boo?

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You've seen this story in a movie, maybe, or read it in a book. It's the one where the guy's in heaven the whole time, but you can't be sure because it seems like just another day.

Come and get me, boy! You ain't got nothin'!

That's not the guy. That's his 10-year-old son, Jaxon, trying to trash-talk him into playing another video game, which the guy would love to do because he loves video games and trash talk and every moment with a boy given a 30% chance of surviving leukemia in his first year of life. But nope, the guy's out the door of their condo in jeans and a T-shirt, catching an elevator and jumping into his black BMW. It's nearly 3 p.m. Cliff Lee's going to work.

He merges into the traffic on Rittenhouse Square. Squint and you're in Paris: fountain and sculptures and iron railings and pigeons and lap dogs and sidewalk tables with rattan bistro chairs and waiters in white carrying cafés au lait. And people, every kind of 'em: corporate executives and shuffling down-and-outers and baby-strolling moms and dog-walking college girls and sunbathing fat men and... .

Cliff blinks. Is he at work already? Scores of them are dressed like his workmates, down to the very names on the backs of their shirts—why, there's HALLADAY and ROLLINS and HOWARD and UTLEY and look, even two of him, two lees. There's a young woman from Russia entering Barnes & Noble with his company's logo tattooed on her neck ... and a white-haired lawyer hurrying his briefcase and deposition back to an office whose desk, shelves and walls have vanished under Phillies keepsakes ... and that old man in a Phillies hat with a Phillies key-chain necklace who comes here every afternoon to feed the birds on his way to whisper his prayers at St. Patrick's ... and that beefy guy in a Phillies cap who sets up his chessboard behind the Lion Crushing a Serpent sculpture every day and challenges passersby to play for cash, which Cliff would love to do because he loves playing anything for cash and playing chess till his opponents whimper—but he can't. Cliff Lee's going to work.


What? Did someone just recognize him? Is this the city that Cliff heard about when he first moved here, the town full of bitter burghers who'd bellow that word at him and his workmates at the first trace of failure, the city chosen in a 1994 Gallup poll as America's most hostile place?

No, that was just someone calling out to the hurrying lawyer who knew David Rodden's nickname—Boo—from when he was a kid growing up in a big Irish family in a South Philly row house, always sneaking away from his job mopping floors at a concession stand at Veterans Stadium to catch another glimpse of a team that he and his kin had loved and booed all their lives. "Losing didn't get to you," Boo'll tell you. "It was part of you." Now he and a brother have four Diamond Club seats nine rows behind home plate to 40 games a season, worth nearly 20 grand, and his team's the winningest one in the National League for the second year in a row, and he can't believe it: It's nearly October, and he has bellowed his nickname at his team no more than, gosh, a couple of dozen times all season.

"Booing's over," remarks the old man feeding birds in the square. "It's all love. We're in baseball heaven."

Four blocks away, about to turn onto Broad Street, Cliff suffers a red light. When he was a kid, squirming on the hard pews at Sharon Baptist Church in Benton, Ark., or chopping firewood in his grandfather's yard and gazing up at the big sign that Grandpa Buck posted for the I-30 traffic hissing by—WARNING: PREPARE TO MEET GOD—he'd wondered what heaven would look like.

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