For me, home will always be the the city I grew up in. Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, was (and remains) a sour, cynical town with an overall bad attitude that flows through the population’s bloodstreams, and seeps into its institutions like mold through rotting floorboards. Its residents embrace that attitude and wear it proudly. “City of Brotherly Love” my ass. How about, City of Bodily Harm?
But that’s so two weeks ago. So pre-post-season. Remarkable how a World Series appearance, only the sixth in the team’s 125 years, makes it all fade away. Or, if not all, then at least a fistful or two.
Yes, the World Series. A strange rallying cry, “Why Can’t Us,” has swept the city. Allegedly it started with a caller to a sports talk show, bubbling with a faithful fan’s joy over the team’s definitive trouncing of the Dodgers to take the NL pennant. Forgive him, Language Gods: he was calling from Wilmington, DE, and probably meant, “Why Can’t Youse?” They talk funny in Delaware. Probably from drinking the water downstream from Jersey.
Steeped in the sport of baseball, and lifelong fans of a futile franchise, Phillies followers exhibit measured emotional levels about their team. They anger more easily than they rejoice, and curse their team mercilessly a dozen times a season. I have personally abandoned them forever about a thousand times following an especially boneheaded maneuver of life and death significance — a poor performance, a rotten trade, a mental error, a stupid remark — only to grimly return and await the next BOHICA presentation.
Last year they became the first baseball franchise on the planet to lose 10,000 games. The only team I know of to top that mark is the one that has played against the Harlem Globetrotters for the last half-century.
Still, friends and family back home tell me the streets of Philadelphia are filled with unlikely smiling faces these last few weeks. Baseball is the buzz, and this team’s gritty, dirty-uniform approach is the way they like it there. The 1993 team 1993 remains a fan favorite: they lost a World Series, but they were fun, played like maniacs, partied like rock stars, and engaged the population.
Local writers gleefully point out if the Rays win this series, they will have won as many World Series championships in their truncated history as the Phillies have in theirs. Even Tampons can count to One. This is the sort of factoid that means something to unsophisticated sports towns, and absolutely nothing to the players. What happened to other Phillies’ teams happened to other Phillies players, not the ones on the field today.
Anyway, the Series has begun. In that dinge-dome the Rays call their home, the outfield shag carpet has been freshly permed and the fans’ little cowbells — isn’t that quaint — re-Bondo’d. Phillies fans know that even if their team loses on the field, they must prevail in the scuffle in the stands.
Game One: Phillies 3, Rays 2. A real cliff-dweller, as former Phillies manager Danny Ozark actually said once. Yeah! Why Can’t Us?