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Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Phillies -- My Personal Parade

By now almost everything that could have been written about the Phillies' magical 2008 season has been written. We've read about the strength of the Phillies' bullpen, the sagacity of Jamie Moyer, the personal transformation of Brett Myers, the emergence of Cole Hamels as a national star, the perfect year of Brad Lidge, the monster shots of Ryan Howard, the savvy, excellent play of Chase Utley, the catalytic ability of Shane Victorino, Charlie Manuel, a "players" manager who knows where to draw the line, the Hall of Fame general managership of Pat Gillick, the timeless home run call of Hall of Fame broadcaster Harry Kalas and the victory parade to end all victory parades. Lots of great photos and articles, lots of great moments, and a wonderful time for legions of devoted fans who kept the park packed until 2 a.m., stayed steadfastly in a downpour and rooted hard in the cold. The book on 2008 has been written, the t-shirts and hats and collectibles created, and, well, as of Monday the team will announce a new GM to replace the retiring Gillick and talk of rebuilding the roster. The Circle of Baseball Life, as it were.

I've shared with you some of my personal story, but not all of it. You know from previous posts that my father took me to games as early as 1964, that we watched the Hall of Fame performances of Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt, the playoff teams of the late 1970s and the World Series teams of 1980 and 1983. (Dad was at Game 6 of the 1980 Series, when Tug McGraw struck out Willie Wilson to end the game and clinch the Phillies' Series victory). We watched some great visiting teams and players -- Bench, Seaver, Perez, McCovey, Mays, Winfield, Carter (Gary), Stargell, Parker, and many, many more. We sat in the Sunday heat at Veterans Stadium, once couldn't find our car during a thunderstorm, drank cokes, ate hot dogs and peanuts, and loved talking baseball.

This was the same guy who played wiffle ball with me since I learned to walk, who carried me into our pediatrician's office on several occasions when my congenitally trick knee would pop out on me as a young boy. The same guy who played two major college sports (including baseball) while only being able to see out of one eye, the guy who would pitch to me in the front yard and catch me with his suit and dress shoes on on a hot summer's night. The guy who taught me to love the game of baseball as a hobby and a pastime, even though, I'm sure, was somewhat disappointed that I didn't demonstrate a fraction of his baseball ability (and whose disappointment, though, did not manifest all that much after a (short) while).

The Philies' post-season was rife with emotions for me and many others. Baseball is the game many of my generation shared with their fathers (and grandfathers), and the Phillies hadn't been in the Series in 15 years and hadn't won one in 28. Philadelphia had gone 25 years without winning a championship in a major sport, and, well, we've been disappointed over the years. So much so that there were more than a few of us who saw the suspension of Game 3 on Monday night -- despite the Phillies' being up 3-1 in games and tied with 3 1/2 innings to go -- as an omen of doom, that the baseball gods were going to deny a great group of fans (as the victory parade demonstrated) and a wonderful team a World Series title. Put simply, while we enjoyed every hit, every home run, every great pitch, we weren't going to relax until, well, Brad Lidge struck out Eric Hinske to clinch Game 5 and the world championship for the Phillies.

My eyes welled up at the time, I high-fived my kids and my wife, hugged them, and just sat in my family room with a big smile on my face. Friends from all over emailed me, and I had been emailed my cousin and an old friend constantly during the game, sharing thoughts, emotions and hopes. A good friend called me from Citizens Bank Park (a work commitment compelled me to decline a mid-day offer for 2 tickets to the clincher) to share in the noise and revelry. Boy, it was loud!

It was a great night, and, yes, somewhat hard to get work done the next day. I work in central New Jersey, in a place full of Met and Yankee fans, but my colleagues were waiting to see if I would demonstrate a post-Series glow. I don't have a ton of hobbies, but following the Phillies is one of them. Yes, I smiled, and I bought a celebratory cake for all to share. The victory seemed surreal -- after all, the Phillies have been around since 1883 and had won only one Series before this year. The enormity of the victory had yet to sink in, even as I managed to contribute to the region's retail economy buying shirts, hats and other collectibles for family.

The parade would follow two days later, this past Friday. I managed to get two tickets to Citizens Bank Park to watch the end of the parade. I don't use the words "always" and "never" all that much, but I never want to pick one child over the other. So, we left the decision to my kids. My younger child, my eight year-old son, said my eleven year-old daughter should go because he's gone to more games with me. Moved by her brother's generosity, my daughter said that my son should go because he said she could go. So began an endless loop. In the end, they couldn't decide.

So I started to call friends of mine who might want to go. One had family responsibilities, one was taking his daughter to visit a college, a few others had work commitments. After a short while, I determined that going to the parade wasn't meant to be for me, and that I actually didn't need to go. Instead, we offered the tickets to a family in our community full of diehard fans. The look on their faces was all I needed -- they were thrilled to go.

I watched the parade on my computer at work (sorry, IT colleagues, as I know that streaming slows down the internet for everyone) and called my mother for updates (she was watching on TV at home). I marveled at the sea of red, the large crowd, the reaction of the players to the cheering they received from an entire region. It was great to see, galvanizing what I had always known -- that the Philadelphia fans are as dedicated as they come.

While the parade closed the chapter on the season for many, it hadn't for me. I still kept on thinking of my dad, who died way too young, in his mid-50's, and how great it would have been for him to share it with me and my family. About how we would have gone to games together, how he would have bought all sorts of Phillies stuff for the kids, how we would have talked about Cole Hamels' ability to deceive with his changeup, Ryan Howard's power, Chase Utley's overall excellence, Jimmy Rollins' leadership, and so on. We miss our loved ones for all sorts of reasons -- for their unconditional love, for their wisdom, for their humor and for the things we shared with them the most. For me, baseball was at the top of the list. The Phillies' success once again rekindled my strong, loving memories of my father. I needed to find my own way to close the chapter on the Phillies' season. Somehow, going to a parade with at least a million people in attendance just wasn't going to be it.

So this afternoon, I went to his grave site. I took with me a Phillies' towel and a cigar (he and many of his friends used to light them up on occasion). I placed the towel next to his headstone and started smoking a cigar, just the family plot, his headstone, me, my cigar and my thoughts. I shared with him news of the family and, of course, the Phillies, and how he'd have so much to be proud of. I watched as a few cars with Phillies flags drove by, headed to grave sites perhaps for the same reason I did. That notion, perhaps, might be lost on an entire nation -- that the Phillies' victory evoked so many positive memories and emotions for all of us.

I laughed, and, yes, I cried. I cried for the joy of what we couldn't share together, for the joy of what happened, and for the plain fact that I miss him. I laughed at some of the things we would have thought humorous, but, mostly, I just sat there, puffing this big cigar on a beautiful fall afternoon, alone in my thoughts, being thankful for what I have and for the bond that the Philadelphia Phillies and the game of baseball created between us.

That solitude was my parade, my way to close the chapter, my way to honor the Phillies and my father and to express my gratitude. Not just to a great baseball team, not just to great shared experiences with my family from spring training through Game 5, but also to a good man who gave me a great gift. I needed something less complicated than that -- just my father's memory, a cigar, and a nice fall afternoon.

Thank you, Philadelphia Phillies -- for everything.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

By the time i got to the gravesite part of your article, I was crying too. Thank you for sharing this with the public. God bless you and your family. It obvious you are raising 2 good kids at home also.

2:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What started as another "Phils Win!" column turned into something beautiful and very moving. Thank you for sharing.

3:16 PM  
Blogger Corry Cropper said...

A great piece. Thanks. Reminds me why I like baseball...

1:06 AM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

Thanks, everyone, for your comments. I really appreciate them.

6:05 PM  
Blogger josh pincus is crying said...

Great post. It seems a lot of us had these same feelings. HERE is a post from my own blog expressing a similar feeling.
Thanks again

10:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your post and yes seems alot were thinking the same way.Lost our pops few yrs.ago.And said wish he was here to see it and knowing seeing it in a better place knowing how much it would mean to him like everyone else.And swearing why couldn't they do this when I was around.
I remember all the times seeing him watch the game cussing and swearing left and right.I still can hear it and remember it.It is diffently everlasting now in our hearts it was diffently a time to remember and a time for past memories.Thanks Phillies WTG NUM 1#!!!!!
ps. And we can't forget one more past came to mine.
WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS love when they played it.It is just in time when we need a well over due uplift. oxoxx :)
God Bless.

11:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was surfing the net to buy some phillies Christmas presents for my brothers and I came across your beautiful story which made me cry uncontrollably because of how much it touched me and was so fitting toward my family's life. My mom, brothers and I are Phillies fans because of my dad who passed away over 5 years ago. I, too remember visiting Veterans stadium on hot summer August days when I was a young girl because dad insisted on going to see them on the spare of the moment. We would sometimes travel back to our home in Northern NJ in blinding rain and thunder storms in the wee hours of the morning.
When Philadelphia won the series we all called each other and cried with excitement and thinking of how dad would have been so overly excited.
My brothers did go to the parade. One lives in NJ, one in Maryland and they found each other quickly even though there were millions of people. Each of them was wearing something of dad's, one a Phillies jacket, the other a Phillies jersey. It definitely was a bittersweet moment.
My brother too visited dad's grave site and hopes to find a phillies flag to don his grave with.
Again thank you for a wonderful, heart-warming story.
Mary Ellen Pajunas

9:32 PM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

Thanks, Mary Ellen, for your kind words. The victory still hasn't totally sunk in yet, but it was a great ride and fun to enjoy with the family. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

10:14 AM  

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