Once more, friends; once more, we’ve buttoned up our Darren Daulton jerseys, held tightly to each other, and traveled ‘round the sun. Once more, we wind up here, at this Thanksgiving table together, asking solely through fearful glances, “What’s happened?”
Looking back at this page one year ago, we can only scoff with condescension at the fools we were. Such hope. Such anticipation. Such arrogance. How the cruel world didn’t snatch us up and break our backs between now and then is beyond understanding.
It’s 2018 now. We can’t eat the romaine lettuce. The Eagles’ Super Bowl victory has proven to be, as we’d all suspected, a collective fever dream, projected on the wall of our minds. And the Phillies, once sole protectors of first place in their own division, have stumbled, fallen, and shattered.
Oh, woe; woe be us, the sufferers of this reality!
It’s all gone, of course; the cheer and bliss stirred by spectacular moments in the past year. Cesar’s little league home run. Maikel’s walk-off bomb. Kingery’s grand slam. Odubel’s catch in the bushes. The night nobody ran on Jorge.
Some may argue that the best days are ahead: that inviting Jimmy Butler into this mess gives us life, bucket by bucket; that elite millionaires will come sprinting down I-95 for the chance to play within our borders; that attempts to poke holes in the promising future of Philadelphia sports come across as dramatic or contrarian for the sake of attention.
But this is Philadelphia; we’ve spent the last year saturating the local ecosystem with inbred monsters and cursing the next generation to fight our creations. The filth of dread is upon us. And you can’t wash yourself clean in a tough, blue collar town like this, where we have rusty nails for bath water.
A year ago, we peaked through the blinds at the future, giggling at what lied ahead. Take one of the items for which I, personally, had claimed to be thankful:
The future signing of “the big one;” the free agent acquisition that, because of the Phillies’ cash reserves and the talent available, we’ve been discussing for three years without any indication of who it actually will be
Such faith we put in a mystery. Such happiness we derived from inviting a traitor into our midst.
We know this is a city built on hustle. We hustle to not get out of each other’s way on the train platforms. We hustle to avoid the streets collapsing beneath our feet. We hustle to pay for nine dollar beers at the beer gardens. We hustle to involve ourselves in conversations about cheese steaks online while simultaneously resenting the idea that all we eat are cheese steaks. Our trash blows down the street faster than any other city.
So we expect to see that same hustle in our athletes that we exhibit while passive aggressively tweeting from three different accounts. And no, it’s not too much to ask.
Which is why looking at the current free agent class is so utterly, utterly hopeless. Even if they appear to hustle at times, both Bryce Harper and Manny Machado—our saviors—will let us down. The moment will come when either star will think twice or take a half-step or commit a mental error and everything—the hope, the passion, the jerseys we bought with their names on them, the hundreds of millions of dollars of an absurdly wealthy owner’s money—it’ll all be for nothing. Their lack of hustle will dim the glow of this metropolis, before, as it always has, killing us all.
Maybe skipping out on the two of them—as many joyless, broken men have written of late— is the smartest play, keeping our next big move for 2021, when Mike Trout is the name on the market. Possibly, but that denies our second most powerful Philadelphia instinct, which is “demanding immediate satisfaction.” I mean, that’s the whole reason we’re hustling in the first place—to get to the thing we want, faster. Besides, our top scientists or perhaps a dream I had are saying it’ll only be a few weeks before the romaine lettuce virus has become airborne.
There is the chance, as we’ve been told by friends and therapists who clearly just don’t “get it,” that we’re going about this all wrong. We’re not the only sports fans who’ve been hurt. If there’s a slight silver lining in these two non-hustlers, it’s their generational talent and opportunity to impact the Phillies franchise for the next decade, as well as the fact that the Phillies can afford them both and should they be acquired, they’ll be paid with someone else’s money. And there’s always the universal baseball truth to consider that bat flips are way cooler than hustling, anyway.
Perhaps... perhaps bleakness is not a gift to be worn with pride. Perhaps it is merely the weight we must carry as we push forward. And perhaps, friends... perhaps it is not so heavy when we carry it as one.
It’s settled, then. We shall sit at this table this year and give thanks: for each other, for our Phillies, for the opportunities that lie ahead. For there is no other direction in which to go.
Join me, now, as we raise a glass of warm, rusty nails, fresh from the faucet, and cheer our next trip around the sun. Together.