When your team is losing, never leave the game.
When your team is winning, you should still support your players until the final pitch and the confirmation of victory.
When your team is winning by a significant margin, you can consider leaving early. You probably will not miss anything miraculous or historic. And if you did miss a monumental comeback, you will not want to retell that story to your grandchildren, anyways. It was at the expense of your team.
But when your team is losing, you must never leave the game.
Stay - even if more than twenty thousand other fans have already filed out of the ballpark, deeming a two-run deficit insurmountable for a team that had only tallied four hits over eight innings on the afternoon.
Stay - even if wool socks, gloves, a hood, and three layers of Phillies apparel encased in your heaviest winter coat are not enough to keep you comfortably warm in wintry April weather conditions.
Stay - because if your team does come back in the bottom of the ninth for a walk-off win, it will be an Opening Day you will remember and recount for the rest of your life.
Down to their last three outs, the Phillies were losing 4-2. One out, six singles, and seven batters later, the Phillies were winners: 5-4. Along with everyone else that remained from the first of eighty-one sellout crowds at Citizens Bank Park, I was lingering for a memory.
I rose to my feet, interlocked my gloved fingers, and pressed my joined hands against my mouth. In between pitches, I blew warm breath into the small cavity my hands formed, combating the chilled wind that continuously blew through the 200-level behind right field. As Astros closer Brandon Lyon extended into his stretch, I clenched my palms together, praying for the rally to continue.
First Rollins. Then Howard. Ibanez faltered, but Francisco recovered. Ruiz and Valdez followed suit. All singles. The epitome of small ball. The makings of a memory.
Mayberry emblazoned the image into our minds forever: the 2011 Phillies celebrating their first win together in their first game together.
They stormed the field because Mayberry had redirected a pitch over the head of the centerfielder, who played shallow with the bases loaded and only one out. They collectively embraced the rookie outfielder after Francisco stepped onto home plate for the winning run, more than making up for his error earlier in the game. They rejoiced in weather worthy of October baseball as if they had just won a playoff series.
It was just one win. It was just one comeback. There will surely be many more of both over the next one-hundred and sixty-one games. But this one was special.
Everything is already special on Opening Day. It starts with the Phillies parading down 10th Street into Citizens Bank Park - walking along the red carpet that extends across Ashburn Alley, down the steps between sections of cheering fans, and onto the outfield grass. They are flanked by fans clad in red and white, exchanging high fives with their beloved ballplayers - their hometown heroes.
It continues with the extended introductions: the trainers, coaches, and players from both teams lining up along the baselines as the public address announcer declares each of their names for all to hear. Then comes the enormous American flag unfurled and held by our nation's finest, and the flyover of military planes during the National Anthem.
The game begins with one pitch and thousands of camera flashes illuminating an overcast afternoon. Four runs for the opposition follow, inducing a feeling of disappointment - setting the stage for euphoria.
Then comes the pitch...the swing...the line drive to center field...the run...the win...the memory.
This Opening Day was just a little bit more special than others. It will be the one that I talk about tomorrow, next year, and for the rest of my life.