Not everyone can be a crazy Phillies person year in and year out. Not even Phillies bloggers can muster constant excitement about the team. For me, the past two summers of meaningless baseball have been rough. In July and August being responsible for watching a game and writing the recap can feel like a chore for a team already out of playoff contention with only the faintest glimpses of hope available on the roster.
Cycles of Fandom
But the season has cycles. Baseball is always exciting in March and that honeymoon period usually lasts until around mid-May. September is exciting as rosters expand and prospects and bullpen pitchers you arbitrarily have prospect crushes on make their way to the majors. There are days when there is nothing you would rather do after work is go home, crack open a beer, and watch a baseball game. There are also days when you would rather do anything else. That's ok. You don't have to be jazzed for all 162 games to be a fan.
That's the micro scale of fandom's cycle, but it also waxes and wanes on a macro scale. For evidence, just look at the year-by-year attendance numbers at Citizen's Bank Park since it opened:
|1||2015||Philadelphia Phillies||Citizens Bank Park||1,831,080||22,606||14th of 15|
|2||2014||Philadelphia Phillies||Citizens Bank Park||2,423,852||29,924||10th of 15|
|3||2013||Philadelphia Phillies||Citizens Bank Park||3,012,403||37,190||4th of 15|
|4||2012||Philadelphia Phillies||Citizens Bank Park||3,565,718||44,021||1st of 16|
|5||2011||Philadelphia Phillies||Citizens Bank Park||3,680,718||45,441||1st of 16|
|6||2010||Philadelphia Phillies||Citizens Bank Park||3,777,322||44,968||1st of 16|
|7||2009||Philadelphia Phillies||Citizens Bank Park||3,600,693||44,453||2nd of 16|
|8||2008||Philadelphia Phillies||Citizens Bank Park||3,422,583||42,254||4th of 16|
|9||2007||Philadelphia Phillies||Citizens Bank Park||3,108,325||38,374||6th of 16|
|10||2006||Philadelphia Phillies||Citizens Bank Park||2,701,815||33,356||7th of 16|
|11||2005||Philadelphia Phillies||Citizens Bank Park||2,665,304||32,905||9th of 16|
|12||2004||Philadelphia Phillies||Citizens Bank Park||3,250,092||40,125||3rd of 16|
As you already know, and can see in the above table, the Phillies are currently in a down cycle of fandom. No one is going to games and no one is really talking about them outside of these communities specifically created for Phillies discourse.
That the state of Phillies fandom is where it is comes down to two things: 1) The product is bad, i.e., the Phillies haven't made the playoffs in any of the last four seasons and had the worst record in baseball last season. 2) Their particular version of being bad involved trotting out declining older players who would either by out of the game or at least out of Philadelphia the next time the team was good. Why would fans take time out of their evenings to see a team racing toward a dead end?
Why You Should Make 2016 the Start of An Upward Cycle
If that explanation is correct, then 2016 should represent the beginning of an upswing in Phillies fandom. Yes, the Phillies will still be bad. FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus (PECOTA projections) both have the Phillies as the worst team in baseball with 66 and 65 wins, respectively. Even Pete Mackanin, who is paid to be optimistic about the players on his roster, has set his goal at a .500 record. They won't get close to that. They will be bad. Maybe not worst team in baseball bad, but probably 90 losses bad.
Yet, they will be bad in a different way than they have been bad before. The last two years, the Phillies have been bad by trotting out the corpses of Ryan Howard, Carlos Ruiz, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins (apologies to all four) and a cast of withered husks acquired in free agency--Jeff Francoeur, Grady Sizemore, Aaron Harang, Jerome Williams. Aside from nostalgia and a visceral sense of obligation to pay attention to the home team, there wasn't a great reason to tune in.
That all changes this year. The Opening Day roster is set to feature a healthy dose of players at the beginning of what will hopefully be long careers in Philadelphia. Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, and, maybe, Vincent Velasquez will be in the rotation. Maikel Franco will follow a promising rookie season as the team's every day third baseman. Aaron Altherr, Odubel Herrera, and Rule 5 pick Tyler Goeddel will all be on the roster as outfielders. None of those players is older than 25.
By the end of the season, top prospects J.P. Crawford, Nick Williams, Jake Thompson, Mark Appel, Jorge Alfaro, Andrew Knapp, Roman Quinn, and Zach Eflin could all be in the majors. Some could be up by mid-season.
The Phillies have one of the most promising futures in the game and a large chunk of that future will be on display in Philadelphia this season making 2016 the perfect time to tune in and become acquainted with what that future will look like. Think of the Phillies like a hit television show. I didn't pick up on how good a show Breaking Bad was until the first half of the fifth and final season was well underway. Because I was late to the game, I spent weeks binge-watching the show in a desperate attempt to catch up in time for the final season. I missed out on years of sharing in the Breaking Bad experience, and, although I caught up in time for the final eight episodes, I never felt as connected to the show as others did.
The 2016 Phillies are your chance to catch on to Breaking Bad from season one. Sure, it might not be a masterful and brilliant product yet, but the characters who will carry it to glory will all be in place. If you wait until 2018 to hop on this train, you'll spend half the season catching up and won't derive as much pleasure from the eventual success that you deserve.
2016 is season one of the next great Phillies teams. The pilot will be disappointing and the first season will be a low-budget feeling-out process, but when the Phillies get the hang of things around season three, a knowledge of 2016 will be essential to understanding and appreciating that journey. If you somehow knew in 2008 that Breaking Bad and Mad Men would be significant cultural accomplishments by 2011, you would have watched the early season in real (or almost real DVR) time.
We know the Phillies are going to be good again in the not-too-distant future, at least we know that as best we can know anything in baseball. So don't wait for the show to blow up in season three or four; watch season one and enjoy the ride in full.