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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Holiday Season in Philadelphia

Boy, what a difference four decades can make.

About 40 years ago in July, every Philadelphia sports team was flailing (with only one -- the Flyers -- showing any hope). The average Philadelphia kid just went about his business, went to the local pool, to a day camp, played softball at dead ends, in open fields, basketball on courts with torn nets, what have you. No one -- and I mean no one -- had any hope that their team could make a run for a title any time soon. The sports landscape was like Irkutsk, Siberia in mid-February, without all the charm.

Fast forward to yesterday, and it was as though the two "major" sports teams in Philadelphia were in a steel cage match to see which one could wrestle the sports headlines from the other. In one corner, wearing the red and white, were the Phillies, with baseball's best record and a pitching staff that's the mound version of a modern-day Murderers' Row. In the other corner, the perenially gridiron challengers, the Eagles, wearing the green with white trim. Each were on a mission.

The Eagles were busy all week, trading for a cornerback, signing a defensive end, a tight end, a wide receiver who can return kicks, and a back-up QB with all the potential in the world, some decent results in his past, but a more recent history of a bad attitude. They had put up a lot of points, got kudos for moving forward when their division rivals were retreating, shedding some big names and past contributors to get under the new salary cap. They were impressing the media judges with their tireless jabs for success, working the media ring, getting attention, but they didn't score the knockout blow.

The Phillies, in contrast, got attention because of the moves that they hadn't made, and the annual debate about whether low-minors prospects can turn into the next Jon Smoltz or a jar of schmaltz (read: chicken fat) had begun in earnest. They also drew news because last year's World Champions took 2 of 3 in their house and then elected to rent the best OF available, Carlos Beltran, to serve as a human version of a PED for their anemic offense. The media judges were questioning their resolve, their tentativeness, noting that while their body of work was impressive they were questioning whether the team had enough to deliver the knockout blow to the rest of baseball.

And then both teams struck at once, one by surprise, and other by stealth.

Early last evening, the media reported that the Eagles came out of nowhere in the sweepstakes for classy all-world CB Nnamdi Asomugha, landing him for enough money to reduce the national debt for about 2 hours. Eagles fans were rejoicing, because now the team had 3 -- count 'em -- Pro Bowl-caliber CBs to help face whatever the best passing offenses could throw at them. I'm sure that the local sporting goods' stores are rushing to mint Asomugha jerseys, and that they'll sell a ton of 'em. Score a huge blow for the Eagles in their quest to knock the Phillies right off the sports pages mid-season.

The normally aggressive Phillies were tentative, because recent history has shown us that they've spent their prospects in trades the way Congress has spent our tax dollars. Over the years, they've shipped over a dozen prospects for Joe Blanton, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt, so much so that we fans were getting worried that the pimply kid who lives three doors down and broke his arm playing wiffle ball on the ice while wearing shorts was now going to be the top OF prospect in short-season "A" ball. But the reports have been that despite the massive trades, the Phillies were doing a good job of replenishing the farm system, shedding any illusions that it was turning into the after picture of a West Virginia strip mine.

Phillies' fans were getting anxious -- the window for the core players on this team to win it all (again) has an ETA to close in 3-4 years, at which time, perhaps, the prospects whose names were being bandied about might be rookies. Then, about 3 hours later, after the euphoria of the Eagles' signing Asomugha was hitting its peak (where it might remain indefinitely), Comcast SportsNet showed Hunter Pence coming out of the game in Houston and receiving a very warm sendoff from his teammates. Shortly thereafter, the Phillies' broadcasters hinted that rumors were swirling that the Phillies got the 6'4", 220-pound RF with the good arm (if funky mechanics), good power, good OBP and, yes, his right-handed bat. Score one huge blow for the battler in red and white. The euphoria over the Pence trade will last for a shorter while, but it will peak tonight when he's spotted at the Bank and announced -- he'll hear the cheers loudly and strongly.

The final tally? Both teams won, and won big, and their fans are elated. If you had told Philadelphia fans 40 years ago that a day like this would be in the offing, they would have spat their Ortlieb's or Schmidt's at you, tossed a few crumpled Taskykakes your way, and told you that you were delusional.

So, when my son came downstairs this morning, still waking up, he asked, "Dad, is it really true that we're getting Asomugha and Pence?"

"Yes," I replied with a smile, "it is."

Christmas is 5 months away, but the presents came early in Philadelphia.


Blogger Escort81 said...

Add DT Cullen Jenkins to the mix of Eagles signings. While the LBs might be average at best (perhaps Asante will be traded for a LB), and DeSean is not yet in camp, Vince Young has called the Eagles a "Dream Team."

5:16 PM  
Anonymous Laureen said...

It won't have effect in actual fact, that's what I suppose.

9:32 AM  

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