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Monday, October 27, 2008

Emotions in Philadelphia

We've been waiting for this moment since 1983, when Moses Malone led the 76ers to an NBA title over the Los Angeles Lakers. Great team, that '83 team was, with Malone, Dr. J, Andrew "The Boston Strangler" Toney, point guard Mo Cheeks, power forward Marc Iavaroni and invaluable sixth man Bobby Jones.

It's just that we didn't think we'd have to wait a quarter century for another. But now we're there, the city proper, northern Delaware, South Jersey, and all of Southeastern Pennsylvania and somewhat beyond. Waiting for tonight's game, when ace Cole Hamels goes to the mound to try to win Game Four.

It's been a long time.

For me, I get a little choked up, because my father, who died over 20 years ago, used to go to games all the time. We went to Connie Mack Stadium, parking on the street in North Philadelphia and to Veterans Stadium. We watched some woeful teams in the 1960's, teams still under the spectre of the fantastic collapse in 1964. We watched the team crawl out of its misery in the mid-1970's, and he was there for Game 6 of the 1980 World Series, when the Phillies clinched. He had two interesting observations that day. First, when he got into the building, he wondered to himself whether what he was experiencing was real. After all, it was the World Series. Where were the Yankees and the Dodgers? What the heck were the Phillies doing in it, with a chance to win, no less? Second, he pointed out that there was a slight pause from the time when Tug McGraw struck out Willie Wilson to clinch the series and the time the fans erupted. His view: it took that small pause for the Phillies' fans to realize that they weren't dreaming, that their hometown team actually won the World Series -- for the first time!

I take my family to the games because, well, it's fun, and, also, because it's something that my father shared with me that I cherish and something that I share with my family that I still cherish. I could only imagine what my father would say and do if he were here today. I know that my kids would have every piece of Phillies' wear imaginable, and that he and I would be trading phone calls and e-mails about pitch counts, how hitters fare with men on base and the improbability of Joe the Pitcher's home run. I'd like to think that on Saturday night he blew a strong enough breeze to keep Evan Longoria's long fly ball in Citizens Bank Park, and that he sprinkled magic dust on Joe Blanton's bat before Blanton's home run. He'd be sitting there high-fiving my kids, hugging them, urging his team on.

You can't really find a pinch hitter for loved ones, not every day. Grandparents can enrich kids' lives in a way that parents cannot, as such is the circle of life, to take a page from "The Lion King." But I can try, as much as possible, to replicate the experience, to pass along a warm, fun tradition, and to make sure that the kids realize that what they're viewing is special and that they're enjoying every minute of it. I can tell them about their grandfather, about his knack for counting pitches, about his enthusiasm and his love for the game. How they resemble him at times and share some similar characteristics (the best ones, mostly). In doing so, I tap into some of the deepest parts of my memory, some of the very best moments, something very special.

I'm sure that countless numbers of Philadelphia fans feel the same way. There's some tradition, some ritual, that they replicate that underscores the connectivity from generation to generation. Some people stop at Pat's or Geno's for a pre-game steak sandwich. My great uncle used to show up at family events with a transistor radio earpiece in his ear, as his Phillies were more important to him that most things. My grandmother, who didn't have an athletic bone in her body, watched the Phillies all the time. Most Philadelphians have these rituals and these memories, which is why tonight is such an emotional night.

I cherish the professionalism of Jamie Moyer, the ability of Ryan Howard to strap the team on his back, the hustle of Shane Victorino, the precision of Cole Hamels, the calm of Brad Lidge and the leadership of Carlos Ruiz. I love the way Jimmy Rollins made himself into a tough out, the athleticism of Jayson Werth, the raw talent of Brett Myers and the homespun wisdom of Charlie Manuel. I also love the home run call of Harry Kalas, and I'll never get tired of "That ball is outta here." (I loved hearing the replays of that call last night).

Most of all, though, I love the way that baseball acts as a loving cement that holds generations together and gives them something to share. That's what makes a kids' game played outdoors in the best weather months so darned special for the entire city and its surrounding suburbs.

You'll see that emotion on edge tonight, supportive, nervous and hopeful. And, if the Phillies' win, you'll see it erupt all over the Delaware Valley.

You'll see the collective emotions of generations -- past and present -- reflecting, individually and collectively -- on a triumph that would reflect the shared experiences of millions of lifetimes.

It will be a great thing to witness, but as a native of the Philadelphia area I'll be among the supportive, anxious and hopeful tonight.

After all, the weight of generations is riding upon the outcome.

Go Phillies!


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