Tuesday, September 30, 2008

MEET ME IN THE LAND OF HOPE AND DREAMS: Last year, it was a rollercoaster ride for a team that finally reestablished Philadelphia as a two-sport town, one that was thrilled to make the playoffs and from which we didn't expect a championship yet. This year, however, they're into full mojo reversal with a Mitch Williams appearance, and the expectations are higher. Much higher. And so, reusing a literary device one more time ...

The fundamentals we use to measure this Phillies team's strength are whether we are living up to that fundamental promise that has made this city great - a promise that is the only reason I am typing here tonight.

Because in the faces of those young players who came up from Scranton Wilkes-Barre and Reading, I see Garry Maddox, who was traded over here from San Francisco for Willie Montanez, marched in Ozark's Army, and was rewarded by a grateful city with the chance to go to the playoffs six times in eight years.

In the face of that young college student (wearing a t-shirt saying "College") who sleeps just three hours after attending a night game, I think about my dad, who grew up a Yankees fan but raised my brother and me in the red and white, who once turned to reluctant support for Ricky Jordan but was still able to keep our partial season ticket plan through the years so that we are now attending half this year's playoff games.

When I listen to another fan tell me that Kyle Kendrick was shut down, I remember all those men and women in South Philadelphia who I stood by and cheered with a decade ago when it was Matt Beech, Garrett Stephenson and Carlton Loewer we were complaining about.

A city of boo-ers? Tell that to the proud fans of 1986 who, 20 games out of first, kept showing up every day and cheering as hard as ever when the Mets came into try to clinch in September, because we knew there was nothing that would suck more than seeing them celebrate on our artificial turf. (And we swept them.) Tell that to the fans that suffered through 1964 and didn't see a playoff game between 1950 and 1976, or 1915 and 1950. These are not boo-ers. They work hard and give back and keep going. These are the Phillies fans that I know.

It's not because Bob Uecker doesn't care. It's because Bob Uecker doesn't get it.

I don't know what kind of lives Bob Uecker thinks that Phillies fans lead, but this has been mine. These are my heroes. Theirs are the stories that shaped me. And it is on their behalf that I will be cheering my ass off to keep the promise alive as a Phillies fan.

What is that promise? It's a promise that says each of us has the freedom to boo whenever we want, but for whatever reason always treat Pat Burrell with dignity and respect no matter how badly he slumps.

It's a promise that says that beer prices at Citizens Bank Park can keep going up, but that the organization has an obligation to make said beer plentifully available, and with a decent selection too.

Ours is a promise that says Pat Gillick cannot solve all our problems, but what he should do is that which we cannot do for ourselves - protect us from overpriced middle relievers and provide Jamie Moyer a decent pension; keep our outfield healthy and our stolen base attempts safe; invest in young arms and young ballgirls and young fans in the next generation.

Our team's ownership should work for us, not against us. It should help us, not hurt us. It should ensure playoff seats not just for those with the most money and influence, but for every fan who's willing to camp out.

That's the promise of the Phillies - the idea that we are responsible for our behavior when they lose, but that we also rise or fall as one city. We are the franchise of Schmidt. We are the franchise of Carlton. We are the franchise of Tug McGraw. So don't tell me that Phillies can't win in October. Don't tell me that Phillies won't win tight games and close out leads. The Nick Leyva-John Felske-Larry Bowa managerial policy squandered the legacy that a magical run from 1976-1983 had built, and we are here to restore that legacy. Phillies in four.

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