The busy season at my day job just ended, and so I've I come back from a three week forced non-vacation from the blog. I barely watched any baseball during that time, though from what I can gather the Phillies played mostly the Mets while I was away. I've started to catch up on what I've missed -- Cody Asche's DL stint, more bad news for Cliff Lee, Dom Brown's struggles, and shitty reliever bingo. And then I watched last night's game, the Phillies' fifth in a row against the Mets. They certainly welcomed me back nicely, losing 11-2 and doing so in utterly embarrassing fashion.
As I get back into the regular thrum of my life, I can't stop this question from popping into my mind: why come back to a team like this?
If you listen closely right now, you can hear the sound of Trev and John shrieking in panic. The two of them ran the site in my absence, and did an amazing job. They want me -- no, *need* me -- to come back. But that doesn't answer the question.
Why come back to a team like this? Why rejoin this collection of clearly insane and damaged people who watch the Phillies every day and then write about them? Why subject myself to a team that's been built by people living in a baseball world that doesn't exist anymore? Who fail to recognize what's in front of them? Who don't seem to feel any embarrassment that their $180m team is playing this way? Or if they do feel embarrassment, don't have any plans to do anything about it?
"Because I love them" is true, and it's a decent answer. But there has to be more. As in some relationships, love, devotion, and personal history aren't enough. Why else do this?
Part of it is hope. Part of me hopes every day, with every game, that something will change. That David Montgomery will get bopped on the head by a coconut and, like a plot straight out of a Gilligan's Island episode, suddenly realize he's been doing everything wrong. That Ruben Amaro, the man we all believe is directly responsible for the crapfest we see on the field, will do something different, or at the very least show that he is a self-aware human being and recognize the substandard level of his handiwork.
Most of my hope for the Phillies stems from their continuing quest for rock bottom. Even if this isn't as bad as it will get (and, let's be honest here, it probably isn't), there is so much room for improvement. With a team this bad, even the smallest fixes mean a lot. A few extra walks from Ryan Howard. A slick defensive play from Cody Asche. A non-stupid outfield route taken by Ben Revere. Literally anything good from Dom Brown. Little things become so much bigger when your team is, by and large, fucking terrible.
But hope is only part of this. Why else watch these Phillies every day, and invest myself in them?
Because it's clear to me that the whole is somehow less than the sum of its parts. If I can get past that the Phillies are going to lose a lot of games and do it badly, I can focus on the individual things happening on the team.
Jimmy Rollins is having himself a fine season. He's as fun to watch as ever and he's the greatest Phillies shortstop of all time. Soon, he'll be the Phillies all-time hits leader. I love him, and it's a privilege to watch him play every day. Knowing those days might be numbered makes me enjoy everything even more.
Chase Utley is having an old school Chase Utley year. Less power than in the halcyon days, but he's hitting the ball better than he has in years. Watching him is still enjoyable, and as he gets older, I see little cracks in his stoic on-field demeanor. You can actually see him enjoying the game.
Cole Hamels has had another strange early season, but he's still Cole Hamels. Ergo, he is still awesome, even though he's dealing with more adversity. Last year, he didn't let it get to him and he pitched brilliantly from July forward. I trust him as a pitcher, more than any other, and so watching him figure things out and grow as a player is fascinating and delightful. Because I know he'll figure it out. He's a good pitcher. That's who he is.
All these losses and blowouts mean that Jonathan Papelbon will grace my screen much less. Is he even still alive? Who knows. Yes, it would be helpful for him to pitch more and increase his value before the trade deadline, but come on -- unless the Phillies are willing to eat some money (they're not), Pap isn't going anywhere. The less I see of him, the happier I am.
Third base continues to be a black hole of talent for the Phillies (I had no idea that Reid Brignac was a thing that was happening), but the longer this continues, the better chance we'll have of Maikel Franco making an appearance before the season is through. I don't want that to happen before he's ready, of course, and I'm not stupid enough to think that he's going to be the difference maker for the Phillies, but he's a young, exciting player and he belongs to the Phillies. Losing so many minor leaguers to trades has robbed us of the chance to get excited about young players coming up, and I don't want to miss out on this.
I'm rationalizing here. I'm trying to find real reasons why I'm excited to come back and why I keep watching beyond my deep love for this team. It's really just an ultimately futile effort to convince myself that I am indeed sane. Each one of those things I outlined above, those are just facets of my love for the Phillies. There is no sanity to be found here because it's all part of my irrational, abiding love for this team. That's why I come back. I'll watch them when they're great, and I'll watch them when they're terrible. And no matter where I go or how long I'm gone (or how terrible they are in the interim), I know the Phillies will be there when I get back.