Today is Opening Day. Why it’s not a national holiday is beyond any rational comprehension, but it’s not. Even without the holiday it deserves, there are few moments better during any year than Opening Day. Winter is over, Spring is here. Hope is renewed with the anticipation of much joy and excitement to come. America’s National Pastime is back and all that goes with it. It’s all very cliché, and yet, there is still comfort in those clichés. Opening Day is the quintessential day to dream. Every fan knows where his or her favorite team is supposed to finish, but on Opening Day, that’s still only an expectation. No matter how high or how low, expectations don’t determine outcome. The game decides who will reign supreme at the end. On Opening Day, every team has a chance. And every fan wants to believe; not only wants to believe, every fan has permission from the gods to believe the silliest, most far-fetched success imaginable. And believe they do.
Phillies phans are not every fan. Phillies phans see every glint of sunlight as the dying light of daytime, of dreams and hope. There is no possibility that the light may be the beginning of a sunrise. After being disappointed fifteen times too many, Phillies phans decided long ago that cynicism is more enjoyable than any other response. For Phillies phans, the phacts, although interesting, are irrelevant.
I don’t believe that. There is a time for pessimism in phandom, although that time is closer to September than Opening Day. Yet, Phillies phans have disavowed even mere pessimism as pollyanna-ish and embraced cynicism in it’s darkest form. Consider this example:
The Phillies have long had a promotional slogan – repeatedly requesting that we “Catch the Fever!”. The slogan was printed on cups, shirts, hats and bats. It was even a cheesy disco song in the seventies starring Schmidt, Bowa, Luzinski, Maddox and the rest (send me an e-mail and I’ll send it to you, very funny).
But with one championship in 122 seasons, I question if I really want to catch the kind of fever they’ve been promoting.
Yeah, it’s a negative way of looking at things – but that’s what being a Phillies fan is all about. The team puts something on the field worth supporting once a decade or so, and the fans spend the rest of those decades dispassionately following teams mired in mediocrity or stuck in dead last place.
Why is that what being a Phillies phan is all about? I don’t get it. The last decade has been frustrating with either losers or not-quite-good-enough teams, but the point of fandom isn’t to support the team once it wins. Being that kind of phan is no different than being a Braves fan. Perhaps Phandom requires this, but I don’t accept that. Personally, I’m going into this season with optimism until play on the field warrants otherwise.
It’s not just
Phillies blogs Phlogs that do this. The cynicism is as bad in the Philly newspapers. Part of it is no doubt a simple pandering to the crowd, but why should that be so? It may only be the sports page, but it’s still journalism. Consider:
The Phillies are embarking on what is almost certainly the last go-round for the team built on Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell, Mike Lieberthal, Vicente Padilla, Jimmy Rollins, Jim Thome, Billy Wagner and Randy Wolf.
Another flop or fade will reduce the club to its youthful cadre of Rollins, Ryan Madson, Chase Utley, Gavin Floyd and, maybe, Ryan Howard.
Right, because the Phillies don’t have a chance to win the wild card spot or, gasp, even the division. Nope, nothing to see here folks. We’re just amazed the team isn’t going to forfeit it’s season, because, really, what’s the point? Not for a moment does anyone consider a moment of possibility. The phandom is locked into a dysfunctional, collective comfort zone of low expectations. “I told you so” is easier than being let down if the team doesn’t win.
Here’s an example: Four or five years ago, I traveled to Philadelphia for an afternoon game in April. The Phillies played the Arizona Diamondbacks. In his first two at-bats, Ron Gant doubled and homered, driving in enough runs to win the game by himself. When he came to the plate for his third at-bat, there was a man in scoring position and the Phillies were winning. He popped out to the infield. How did the phaithful react? They booed him. Loudly. Because, you know, that out ruined the entire day.
Sometimes I think I’m more suited to be a Cubs fan than a Phillies phan. I believe. Even in the face of obvious failure, I still believe. Last year, even in the face of the mid-season collapse, I still believed. I was realistic enough to know that we weren’t going to make the playoffs, but I still love the game. I didn’t need a pennant race to keep me interested.
Last week Bill Simmons wrote something simple and profound. He directed it more at the Cubs, but I’m going to redirect it at Phillies phans. It’s sound advice.
Start thinking of yourselves differently. Stay away from the negative TV shows and apocalyptic newspaper columns. You can follow the team just fine without being infected by that stuff.
Positive thinking mumbo-jumbo, sure, but isn’t that the whole point of baseball, especially on Opening Day? Examples abound of false hope bearing fruit. Last year alone provided two examples. There’s the obvious case of the Red Sox. Admittedly Red Sox fans are a different breed completely, but even through the hard times of last season, their fans never quit. They were rewarded with an improbable championship. But also consider last season’s other example, this time as told the right way by a Philly newspaper:
The 2005 Phillies could be last year’s St. Louis Cardinals – or last year’s Phillies.
No one picked the Cardinals to get to the World Series last year, but they did, with a pitching staff that surprised and a lineup that was strong on paper and even stronger on the field, thanks to a few career years. That’s something the Phils could use – a career year or two.
Yes, the Phillies have questions, but almost every ball club has questions at this time of year. But I thought the Cardinals would be a bad team last year because their pitching was so bad. They won 105 games during the regular season. They made it to the World Series. Losing a World Series is the worst feeling imaginable as a fan, as I learned in 1993 when the Phillies lost a heartbreaker to the Blue Jays. But I wouldn’t have traded that pain for the numbness of not making it there. So, yeah, maybe the Phillies need to play above their heads and have a few career years, but every championship team in every sport must have that. The 1991 Redskins had it. The 2004 Detroit Pistons had it. The 2004 Red Sox had it. Maybe the 2005 Phillies don’t have it, but maybe they do. I know I’m going to pay attention and dream. In the words of General Manager Ed Wade:
“I know how much our fans want a championship to happen. I know how much I want to make it happen. And when it happens, it’s going to be tremendous.”
I believe that. When it happens, it is going to be tremendous. I’m going to scream and jump around and cry like a baby, and no matter how long that joy lasts, whether a dozen years or a dozen minutes, every moment of folly and foolishness of my phandom will fade. That one moment will be the reward for the faith. While I don’t know much else, I know that one moment will be sweeter because I believed in that moment along the way.