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The fightin' Phils

Posted at 1:31 PM on October 2, 2007 by Tom Scheck

Well, here we are. The team of my youth has made it into the playoffs for the first time since 1993. They did the improbable by winning the NL East with the help from the chokin' New York Mets.

I dropped the Phils a while back for a couple of reasons (mostly because I moved to Minnesota) but I found myself logging on to read the box scores at 11 pm or cursing ESPN News for spending too much time on the NFL when all I wanted was Phillies score.

I'm now infected with Phillies fever. Maybe it's because I was in Pennsylvania over the weekend and got caught up in all of the excitement. I think it has more to do with my 88 year old grandmother. She's been a Phillies fan all her life. She rarely misses a game and there has to be a pretty good reason if she does. The wedding of her granddaughter was one of those times. That didn't prevent her from demanding updates over the weekend. Every few minutes one member of the family would quietly saunter off during the first dance, the cutting of the cake or the toast by the best man (I totally missed that) to get grandma the score.

We would walk up to her and whisper in her ear "Phils are down two in the eighth. The good news is Ryan Howard just jacked one." Grandma would quietly smile when she found out the Phillies won. She would frown on Saturday when she found out that they were losing (and lost).

In fact, I'm not the only one to attend a wedding where most of the concern was over the ballgame and not the first dance. Famous Philadelphia Inquirer Columnist Bill Lyon (the best that ever was) witnessed the same thing. I just found this column but won't read it until I'm finished writing. To continue reading would force me to scrap this whole entry knowing I couldn't capture it as well as Lyon did.

It seems like my entire family grew up reading Lyon, loving their sports and hoping for victories. I know I'm not the only one.

Families talk about the games, the plays, the collapses and the world championships (there haven't been any in the City of Brotherly Love since 1983). It would have been a quiet few years in my house if my father and I didn't have the 'iggles, the phils and the 76ers to talk about. In fact, Philadelphia's trophy case has been quiet over the years.

The city is starved for a victory. We watched the beloved 'Iggles lose in the Super Bowl a few years ago. The Sixers (otherwise known as Allen Iverson's one man band) couldn't get a win over those pesky Lakers a few years back. The Phils lost in 1993 on a Joe Carter homer. The last Philadelphia pro sports team to win was in 1983.

That doesn't mean there weren't highlights. Philadelphia has Villanova's 1985 NCAA basketball championship and Smarty Jones won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 2004. But the city groaned as the horse lost the lead to Birdsong in the Belmont and ruined any hopes for a Triple Crown "Smarty Party" as Lyon put it. Another horse, named Barbaro, also brought joy to the city after it won the Kentucky Derby in 2006. The horse came up lame in the Preakness and was put down after fighting to stay alive for a year.

Those two horses may be the perfect metaphor for the City of Philadelphia. Early on, Smarty Jones was near death after getting spooked and cracking its skull in the starting gate. The injury was so bad that the vet thought the horse would lose its eyes. But it persevered, got up and kept on running.

Barbaro broke a few bones but defied the conventional wisdom that the horse had to be put down and fought for life. For a year and a half, Barbaro's medical updates captured the city's hearts. Many hoped that the horse would defy the odds and live on. "Never say die" is the city's motto even when the priest shows up to read you the last rights.

That may be the embodiment of this Phillies team.

Philly fans also had to watch as the Phils approached and passed the 10,000 loss mark this summer. The Phils are the first team to do it. Were these fans bitter? Heck no. Many celebrated the event hoping that the team would get up after the knockdown, dust itself off and start swinging.

And swing they did.

Jimmy Rollins caught fire and proved that he should be the MVP (last night's botched outfield play by Matt Holliday is reason enough he shouldn't get it), Ryan Howard went deep 47 times and Cole Hamels has shown the guts of a gritty veteran.

The Phils caught the Mets. They also caught the heart of this 33 year old hoping to recapture the pride and joy he felt when the Phils won the 1980 World Series. He hopes he can whisper into his grandmother's ear just once more "The Phils did it Grandma. They did it."

October 2007
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