We thought it was over.
Some of us, anyway; the lucky ones, unburdened by despair. But when the Phillies’ 2018 season started, with young pieces of a future core installed in the depth chart, puzzling but not unsettling additions from free agency, and a gamble on an inexperienced manager, it seemed that perhaps, the uninspired stagnation of the organization since 2012 was beginning to lift.
By September 29, it was over. A lot of things were: The Phillies’ season. The hope that we had just witnessed a faster completion of a rebuild. The patience for some players deemed critical for the Phillies’ future. Even the bar jutting out the side of Citizens Bank Park’s first base gate was serving its last ninth inning nightcaps.
McFadden’s is not a special place. You don’t need to whisper a password through a slot or have some depth of local knowledge to get inside. Sometimes you have to wait in a line. East Coast Saloons bar management group ran various McFadden’s all over this part of the country; sometimes they were called Johnny Utah’s, and sometimes they were called Calico Jack’s, but they all never swayed from the company’s dedication to giving a city’s slovenliest, horniest drinkers a place to test out their fake IDs. Need to do a tea bomb before the big game? No? Yeah, that’s probably for the best.
When McFadden’s Northern Liberties location shut down three years ago, Philly Mag bid farewell to its dollar bottles and sloppy-drunks wandering into 3rd Street traffic with a disgusted wave, while warning city residents that the closure was not a cure-all:
Unfortunately, the people who brought you McFadden’s are working on opening up a new bar and restaurant in Philadelphia. Plus, there’s always the company’s lousy Tavern on Broad and then McFadden’s at Citizens Bank Park, so if you want to hang out in shitty bars, there are still options for you here.
As long as people came to Phillies games, they were going to come to McFadden’s ballpark location.
But then people stopped coming to Phillies games.
The crowds have thinned at McFadden’s, since Xfinity Live opened across the street and the Phillies stopped winning the division all the time. As it closes “some time in the near future,” according to a mysterious post that appeared in Instagram feeds last week, we are forced to reckon with a world in which the last Phillies game has been played just outside McFadden’s walls. In the future, patrons will be forced to scream at televisions while holding nine dollar beers in what’s going to wind up being a Shake Shack, or something. And then they will likely be asked to leave because the Shake Shack is probably going to change the general vibe of the space, as well.
But the memories can’t move out. Even a place where you could be “threatened by a guy with a goatee and cargo pockets full of sunflower seeds” can be a place that you pass on your way to a Sixers game and recall that cherished memory of the time a bartender accidentally elbowed your friend in the nose while opening a beer bottle.
We all have our McFadden’s stories, whether they’re as simple as “I went there during a rain delay once, I think,” or as unforgettable as, “That place? I think my cousin got a stomach worm from the cheese steak nachos,” or as formative as, “My daughter is a McFadden’s baby.” I remember the time I showed up there with a friend and discovered my old college roommate was working as the hospitality director, and had zero qualms about getting us all of our drinks for free. I then casually scanned the place for him every time I came through, just in case he was around. Once, I used my connection to him to impress a former girlfriend. She ordered two of those giant Foster’s cans for herself and he was so impressed he told me to marry her. I didn’t marry her.
This is not a bar that will be not missed, or remembered, or even mis-remembered. It’s the place where different bands played indistinguishable covers of “Santeria” all summer long while people did shots out of red Dixie cups. But McFadden’s Ballpark did offer something fairly unique: a baseball time warp.
Through what could have been a hiccup in space-time between the baseball diamond and the rusty blue standing tables of the patio—but what was certainly just a quite regular broadcast delay—there was always a four-second gap from what was going on in the Phillies game and what was on the TVs around the bar, just a couple hundred feet away. In a tense moment, the batter would still be squaring up when a cacophonous roar would explode from the stadium, letting viewers know what awaited them four seconds into the future.
This was how many fans took in the wild comeback against the Dodgers in 2010, when each single up the middle and runner rounding third as the Phillies closed a 9-2 deficit in the last two innings was known by those watching in the stadium seats just a moment before those in McFadden’s (not staying to watch a closer and closer game for some reason). Their screams of delight were a message from the future, telling us of the Wilson Valdez singles and Casey Blake errors and Carlos Ruiz walk-off hits to come, sending ripples of joy through the puddles of spilled domestics at their feet.
The Phillies didn’t need a comeback to win on September 29, having Aaron Nola on the mound facing a Braves team playing with one foot on their plane out of town. They could have used a comeback at some point in the last nine games, all of which they had lost by a combined score of 70-25.
Nevertheless, they remained ahead 3-0 in the ninth—something patrons learned as the TVs all changed back from the Penn State game that had dominated the monitors. A faded red banner advertising $3 Bud Lights from the seventh to ninth inning of every Phillies game, next to an image of Brad Lidge on his knees and screaming, called to me. As I tried to order another round, I realized time was precious as the Braves’ final batter, Kurt Suzuki, came up with two outs.
Time doesn’t pass all at once. It goes by year by year, inning by inning, bar by bar. And ever so rarely, we are given the chance to get some of it back.
I raced over to the bar and tried to get someone’s attention, but Suzuki had already put the last out on the ground. Time stopped. Hearts pounded. And the baseball gods, for whatever reason, saw fit to bless me one more time as Carlos Santana’s throw from third sailed past Rhys Hoskins at first base, putting runners on second and third and keeping McFadden’s terrible late-game drink special alive for one more out.
In the ensuing Ozzie Albies at-bat, I was gifted the time to put in my order and pay what I believe was fifty cents less for two beers I did not want.
“It’s a McFadden’s miracle!” I shouted.
I spilled all the beers.