As I entered the ballpark I couldn't help but think back to '93 when the Phillies last reached the playoffs. A playoff run that ended when the team faced the class franchise of the day, the Toronto Blue Jays. Since that eventful year, the Jays and Phils have followed a pretty similar path --- year after year of mediocrity. But all of that is forgotten in Philidelphia this year. Even Mitch Williams is a distant memory in this city. The images of Schilling burying his face in a towel as the Wild Thing served up the series losing pitch to Joe Carter have been replaced by the hope of this season. Proof of that was the lack of reaction to my retro Blue Jays cap as I walked through the crowd. It made me realize how long ago it was since Jays fans had felt this way this late in the season. It was a bittersweet experience for sure.
A few other notes about my experience:
- While some teams in Philadelphia rise and fall in prominence from time to time, people in Philadelphia care about ALL of their sports teams. Every conversation that I had --- from the flight in, the cab ride to work, the business meetings, dinner before the game, at the game -- reflected a general love of the city's teams as an extension of the peoples' identity. They talked ball one minute -- jumped to hockey the next ---threw in a couple of points about the Sixers -- and got into the Eagles' chances. This was a refereshing change from the seemingly single minded interest in the Leafs reflected in the Toronto media.
- Phillies fans know their ball. And not in the obnoxious Beantown manner of flapping gums and getting in each others faces (that is reserved for eagles games apparently). No, they were plenty vocal but it was pretty positive. They cheered at the right times and --- to my surprise --- gave the loudest cheer of the night to the out of town scoreboard when it showed that the Nationals had pulled ahead of the hated New York Metropolitans in the seventh. Torontonians could do a bit better in this department.
- Citizen's Bank Park is not a stadium. It's a ballyard. And not one of those phony Camden Yards deals. It is just right. I walked the whole perimeter of the place and there was not a bad seat or a misused space. No need to cover seats with tarps in this place. And the out of town scoreboard is out of this world. At some point, the Blue Jays organization will need to build a place like this in Toronto's downtown.
- JP is no Pat Gillick. While it could be argued that the Phillies benefit from being in a weak division and that as a team they aren't significantly better than the Jays, it's pretty apparent that Gillick has some abilities not seen in Toronto GMs since he left. Since leaving TO, Gillick's teams (Baltimore, Seattle, and --- God willing --- the Phils) all hailed from different divisions and made the playoffs at least once each.
So, while it was a lot of fun to be dead smack in the middle of a pennant race, it got me more than a little bit disallusioned about the state of our beloved franchise. My hope is that if we aren't in first place by next May, that big changes are going to happen fast. Because JP's contracts are turning into pumpkins soon and I'm not sure that I can wait another 5 years for the team to be "rebuilt" once again. But who am I kidding? I'm not going anywhere. Bring on the misery.