I grew up a Phillies fan, but really in name only.
I've always taken the old four-for-four mentality, but I didn't grow up much attuned to sports in general. I spent one year in tee-ball, and made it to about half of the games and practices; real commitment-phile, as you can see. My prevailing memory from that brief stint as a Michael Martinez impersonator (though I think I played left field) was getting a hit (how could you not?) and running the wrong way around the bases. When they called me out (because how could I not be?), I burst into tears because I thought that it meant I was off the team. Not surprisingly, we didn't give it another season.
Despite a brief stint attempting wrestling (I never won a match), I never really tried sports again. I muddled through gym, walked my share of miles, and joined a punk rock band. I rejected sports as the bastion of jocks, and really only dabbled in Eagles football, with shame and aversion. I secretly exulted over 4th and 26 without really understanding how unbelievably unlikely it was. Otherwise, I ridiculed people who cared about sports over politics, or who cared about the Birds over Bush/Gore 2004.
I was insufferable.
Once I got back from studying abroad in 2005, I turned a bit of a corner with the Eagles. Eventually, I started realizing that it was way more fun to watch sports with other people, and it turned out a buddy of mine from the band had a hidden penchant for football himself. We watched with vague irony, crackin' wise and laughing off interest, and then, quickly enough, with rapt attention. While my friends watched Super Bowl XLI for the Prince liveshow alone, we watched that man do unsavory things to a guitar and then sat tight for the rest of the game. I was an over-educated sports fan at last.
But through 2008, it was football only. Don't get me wrong: I knew my allegiances. I cheered with my dad when the Churlish Phillies beat the Braves in the 1993 NLCS. We didn't really watch the World Series; saved myself those memories, for better or for worse. My dad still has a framed newspaper from the day they beat the Bravos, though, and it remains a nice childhood memory. I also sang the "Star Spangled Banner" with my choir at the Vet one summer day. And I was in New York when the Mets collapsed in 2007, living in Brooklyn and going to school at NYU. While Park Slope fell into hysterics over the collapse, I smiled to myself hearing about the Phillies' surge. They were my team, even if I couldn't stand the game itself.
And then, in 2008, I remember hearing that they'd made the playoffs; I saw it on a TV at Susquehanna University, where my wife was doing a job fair for her job. I wondered if they were any good. I was living back in the area, and I'd been following the Eagles rabidly (I'll admit: I read BleedingGreenNation well before TheGoodPhight), but I was pretty curious about this playoff bound Phillies. I had known them as entirely moribund (Mets collapse notwithstanding), and I knew my dad would be excited at least. And at that point, we were in the headiest days of the Ben Franklin curse, so it was exciting as a Philadelphian. I went to watch the game when Dad invited me during the NLCS and...something clicked.
This will sound stupid, but there was something about the way those teams played that made me realize I'd been watching baseball all wrong. I'd been watching it like football, waiting for the big play, and being driven to distraction every pitch it didn't come. I was watching for the long ball. This makes sense given that my only other two baseball-related memories were the Sosa-McGwire home run race and the Pedro Martinez implosion that cost Grady Little his job. I was used to offense. And, yes, the 2008 Phillies had an offense to get excited about, but it wasn't the big hits that caught my imagination: it was the fact that every at bat was a serious affair.
I realized that the crux of the game was the solo battle between hitter and pitcher, each at bat an important miniature event within the game. The guessing game that transpired between a patient, smart hitter and a crafty, talented pitcher.
I was enraptured.
We watched Game 5 of the World Series together: the frustrating Rays (including a just infuriating BJ Upton), the heroic Eric Bruntlett, the excitement of a close game. And I put on the television for the continuation of the game after the rain delay the next day. And my words when Hinske struck out against a still-lights-out-Lidge: "Wow, that's pretty cool."
"That's pretty cool." Not a particularly lasting sentiment. But I got the itch. My fiancee (now-wife) told me she'd probably divorce me if I got into baseball. Unluckily enough for her, I was hooked by Spring Training, I'd found this blog, I was learning about sabermetrics, and in our small Sellersville apartment, I lived and died on every pitch that year.
Most of that is a story for another time -- or maybe never, as I can't imagine you all are too interested in more of my meandering memoirs. It took me a year and a Wet Luzinski contest (which I lost!) for me to finally post on TGP, and a couple of years after that until I was a part of the community enough to have Peter and Joe and Liz invite me to start writing full time. And now baseball is a huge part of my life, my philosophy, and my writing. And I've made all these friends. People even post on my dumb ol' twitter, and me and LTG8 get together weekly to talk Heidegger and advanced stats. It's unbelievable.
My life would be infinitely poorer if not for the 2008 World Series. I know this sounds dramatic, but it's not far from the truth. I'll admit that I wasn't there since the beginning, but I've been a :Philly guy forever. Just now, it's the Phillies over the Eagles, even in the lean years.
Thanks, guys. Happy fifth to the WFCs.