Congratulations to the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies, National League Champs. The first Phillies team in 15 years to make it to the World Series, the Phils won the NLCS tonight against the LA Dodgers 5-1, to win the series 4-1. Cole Hamels pitched another outstanding post-season start, giving up 1 run in seven innings, and was named NLCS MVP. Shane “The Flyin’ Hawaiian” Victorino, who in my estimation was at least runner-up for the LCS MVP title, again had an excellent night defensively, and hit 1 for 2 on the night with a .750 OBP. It was an outstanding win all around, and certainly a joy to watch after last night’s nail-biter of a game 4, which the Phils won 7-5.
On a more personal note- Philadelphia sports fans have a bit of a reputation, and well earned. I am in my 13th year as a transplant to the Greater Philadelphia Area, having grown up in Virginia Beach. Back home, the closest thing we had to a “local” professional sports team was the Washington Redskins, 5 hours away up I-64 & I-95. My folks, both from New England, were both staunch Red Sox fans, but in those days the Bum Sox (as my mother so often called them) were deep into their 84 year World Series win drought, and were only seen on TV a few times a year. My father took my brother and me to several minor league games every summer, to watch the (then) Tidewater (now Norfolk) Tides, who were at the time the AAA franchise of the New York Mets. Aside from these outings, I really didn’t grow up a sports fan. Tidewater Virginia just wasn’t a big sports town.
So, when I moved to the Philly area in 1996, I got a bit of a culture shock. These folks are fans, in the truest sense of the root word “fanatic”, and they are passionate about their teams. This is a city (in fact, a whole region, encompassing southeastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and much of Delaware) with 4 major sports franchises (Phillies, Eagles, Flyers, and 76ers) but without a championship in over 25 years. Witness the Cheesesteak of Suffering, which at the time of this writing shows 9270 days since a Philly championship of any kind (as an aside, the Philadelphia Soul won the Arena Bowl this year in the AFL, which was awesome (!), but it just doesn’t count when it comes to the drought around here).
Once I moved to the area, though, it didn’t take long. Improbably (given that I’d never watched a game before moving here), I became a hockey fan my first year here, following the Flyers as they won their first conference championship in 10 years before getting swept by the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Finals. Although they haven’t done as well since, I’ve been a Flyers fan ever since. A few years later, in 1999, Andy Reid took over from Ray Rhodes (who led the Eagles to a 3-13 record in ’98) as the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, and drafted Donovan McNabb as the second overall pick that year. The ’99 season wasn’t very good either (5-11). But in 2000, the Eagles hype finally got to me, and I watched the season opener, which they won. I was quickly hooked and watched the Eagles go on to have their first winning season in 4 years. They then proceeded to win their division in the 5 of the next 6 years, including a trip to the Super Bowl in 2004. I’ve been hooked ever since, and have only missed a handful of Eagles games on TV in the last 8 years.
And so it was that last year my friend an co-worker Yeager, an avid baseball fan in general and Phillies fan in particular, after years of ribbing from the guys in my group (including me) at work about how baseball isn’t a “real sport” like football or hockey, managed to peak my interest. It was after the all-star break, and the Phillies were make a dogged attempt to catch the hated Mets for the NL East divisional title. The team that Jimmy Rollins had dubbed “The team to beat” was making it happen, Fightin’ as only the Phillies do while the hated Mets managed their storied collapse. By the time the Phillies clinched the divisional title (on the last day of the regular season!), I was completely hooked. Unfortunately, the Phils got swept by the Colorado Rockies in the NLDS, but it that didn’t dampen my enthusiasm. During the off season, I read (at Yeager’s recommendation) Baseball Between the Numbers, an excellent introduction to the field of Sabremetrics, the über-geeky expression of love of baseball via statistical analysis (highly recommended- I’ve read it twice now). I even picked up my first copy of the annual Bible of baseball, the Baseball Prospectus. I’ve followed the Phills all season, and watched a whole lot of baseball… even to the exclusion of a couple of Eagles games so far this season (an idea I would have laughed at a couple of years ago). My appreciation for baseball has really increased, as I learn more and more about this surprisingly deep game. Tonight’s win was hugely satisfying for me, as a recent fan; I can only imagine what long time fans are feeling.
So, to the 2008 Phillies – congratulations and best of luck in the World Series. I sure would like to see that Cheesecake of Suffering reset. To Philadelphia sports fans of every team – thanks. Your enthusiasm has really rubbed off, and I will continue to be a fan of Philly teams no matter where I live. And a special tip of the ball cap to Yeager, for putting up with the anti-baseball razzing over the years, and turning me on to the original National Pastime.
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