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A Year Without Baseball

Wherein your old friend takes a year off from watching the sport he loves, and tries to learn to love it again. Warning: Here There Be Self-Indulgence.

Mitchell Leff

In 2005, I was a second year law student, and co-founded this blog with a few other like-minded baseball maniacs, a couple of whom (dajafi and David S. Cohen) still write here regularly. The Phillies had a new stadium, an exciting if flawed team featuring young middle infielders Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley, slugging rookie first baseman Ryan Howard, and an enigmatic left-hander in the minor leagues who was dominating hitters when he wasn't recovering from a slew of bizarre injuries, some self-inflicted.

Over the next few years, the Phillies went from league also-rans to the most talked about and one of the most successful teams in the National League. A World Championship, a pennant, and a total of five division titles. These were the days.

Fast forward to 2014. The Phillies have a deeply flawed team, an old but still talented and fairly productive middle infield duo of Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley, a tragic albatross at first base in the form of Ryan Howard, and that talented minor league lefty, Cole Hamels, is 30 years old and the most talked about trading chip in MLB.

Things change. Life takes you different places. What started as a brief sabbatical when I accepted a new real life job before the 2013 season turned into a total two season lay-off. I love writing, and I missed it dearly, but I wasn't missing baseball for some reason.

This was the first season in which I did not attend a Phillies game since 2002. There are a number of reasons for it -- new jobs for my wife and myself that have sapped some disposable income, a tedious turd of a baseball team assembled by Amaro & Co. -- but what is truly remarkable is that I did not sit and watch an entire Phillies game on television from start to finish during the entire 2014 season.

I live outside of the Phillies' market, in northern New Jersey, and rely on (and SNY when they are playing the Mets). Anyone who uses and streams through an external device, such as a PlayStation3 in my case, knows that the product kind of blows. It's buggy, it's slow, and it's always about 30 seconds behind live action, so if you participate in social media while watching the games, SPOILER ALERT.

There was also some level of burnout. Running this site for about five years, and watching about 95% of the games from start to finish over that time really takes its toll.

I attended one baseball game* in 2014, in Kansas City while visiting a friend. The American League Champion-to-be Royals were the scrappy underdog to the red-hot Angels that weekend, so it was funny to see the script get flipped in October, when the upstarts swept the bloated, old, expensive team from Anaheim. Truthfully, though, that weekend was more about drinking Leinenkugels and eating hot dogs with bacon and bleu cheese than it was about watching the game.

Don't get me wrong, I followed the game, and watched most of the playoffs. I'm excited about Ken Giles, even though I spent the better part of the spring telling people not to get too excited, that he was likely to struggle a bit out of the gate. I'm looking forward to the development of J.P. Crawford, Roman Quinn, and the rest of the quickly improving farm system.

But this team, in general, has been rendered almost unwatchable. I know it makes me a "bad fan" insofar as you're supposed to stay faithful, through thick and thin, but the sorry state of the team, combined with the technological inconvenience imposed by the crappy product, have made watching live Phillies baseball a real turnoff. Seeing this team, which still features most of the core members of those great championship clubs, is just a huge painful reminder of what was, and was used to be so great. It's like being forced to be with an ex-girlfriend at work or school even after you broke up. Even if you want to clean break, that reminder is always there, with every warning track fly ball floated from Ryan Howard's drowsy bat.

Moreover, there's no Harry Kalas. As a young child, even when the Phillies were terrible in the late 1980s and through most of the 1990s, there were Harry and Richie Ashburn, one of the greatest broadcasting duos in the history of baseball, who could personally redeem every terrible game. All due respect to Tom McCarthy and crew, but... it's not the same.

What can I do?

1. Recalibrate expectations. There's no way this team will be particularly good for at least a few years. I used to say that it was more fun to write about a bad team than a good one; it's kind of cumbersome to second-guess success. But I've come to realize that it depends on what kind of bad team you're talking about. One like these mid-decade Phillies, where the front office just now seems to be accepting that the party is over, is different than an upstart team with no expectations and a bright future, like the Cubs and maybe the Astros if they can get their heads out of their asses. Liz and the rest of the staff at The Good Phight have done an awesome job these past couple of years, and I'm proud with how they've carried the torch and made this site even better than how I left it.

2. Laugh. Laugh a lot. Losing can be really funny. And there's a whole lot that's funny about the Phillies, in the present and historically.

3. It's baseball, you dork. Quit being neurotic and enjoy it.

4. Write about it. Hopefully I'll be back around here more during the upcoming season, if Liz will have me.

* Even though I only attended one MLB game in 2014, and just a few in 2013, I still managed to be present for the longest home runs in each respective season, per HitTrackerMike Trout in 2014Evan Gattis in 2013. If you watch the Gattis video closely, you can see my pained reaction as the ball is about to land among a group of oblivious Ashburn Alley denizens.