The most common reason any one person follows a particular team is civic pride. We adopt the teams that play in our cities for many reasons. The most obvious is that their games are the ones we can most easily attend, watch on TV, listen to on the radio, or read about in the newspaper. Loving a team is all about being a part of the team’s story, and it is much easier to be a part of that story when the local media helps tell it. As that story of a team enmeshes with the story of the city, the two become linked in powerful ways, and the mood of an entire city can be swayed with the wins or losses of their team. I don’t know how strong this affect is in every city, but in the two major league cities in which I have lived, Chicago and Saint Louis, this is definately the case.
The reason I love most of the teams that I follow is the simple fact that they play in Chicago. The Bears, White Sox and Bulls are my team because they play in my city. I have been a part of their story as a resident of Cook County. I have seen the Bears helmets on the lions at the Chicago Public Library, my grade school class had a Superbowl Shuffle party, I was in Grant Park with thousands of others celebrating with the Bulls and I choked back tears as the White Sox paraded through the South Side.
But there is one team that I love that defies standard allegiance practices. I am a Phillies fan. People have asked me through the years, “Why are you a Phillies fan?” I often joke, “It’s my Dad’s fault.” I have never lived in Philadelphia. I could not care less about the Eagles and 76ers, and I have only been to one home Phillies game my entire life. There is no natural reason for me to love the Phillies, save one: my Dad does. And here’s the funny thing, he has no natural reason to love the Phillies either.
He was born and raised in Southern Illinois – Cardinals country. He listened to games on KMOX, and went to games with his Dad and brother at Sportsman’s Park. He remembers Stan Musial fondly, yet Richie Ashburn was his guy. The reason he is a Phillies fan, at least the way he always told it to us, was simple: he didn’t want to be like everyone else. When he was a little kid the Cardinals weren’t very good, so he decided to pick a different team. He thought it was cool that the Phillies dotted their i’s with stars. Plus, he was learning to read and thought it was funny that in the words Philadelphia Phillies there was not a single ‘F.’ So he decided he’d be a Phillies fan. He has a photo of himself, no older that 7 or 8, wearing a Phillies hat that his Aunt made for him by cutting out the “P” from white felt and sewing it on a plain red hat.
When he was a bit older he was treated to the Whiz Kids, the 1950 NL champions led by Richie Ashburn and Robin Roberts. When he was a young man he experienced the horror of ’64, when the Phills had a 6.5 game lead with 12 to play but lost the pennant after a 10-game losing streak. He remained true to the Phillies en route to the most losses of any professional sports franchise in American history, and he raised his kids to be Phillies fans.
My brother became a fan when he was about the same age as my Dad was when his aunt sewed that P on the old red hat. My brother watched Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton carry the Phillies to divisional dominance in the late 70′s, and was an impressionable age when the Tug McGraw leapt into the air to celebrate the Phillies’ first (and only) World Series title in 1980.
And they raised me to be a Phillies fan. I remember being able to stay up late to watch George Michael’s Sports Machine when Mike Schmidt hit his 500th home run. I remember putting on a Phillies batting helmet and running around the family room pretending to be Pete Rose during the 1983 World Series. And ten years later I was in that same family room trying to get the radio to tune into the Philadelphia station to hear the Phillies clinch the division. And I was on a couch in that same room when Joe Carter made me die a little inside with one swing and many jubilant leaps into the air.
It was my brother that taught me how to trade away all my Cubs baseball cards to my neighbor for more Phillies cards, and it was because of my brother that I have a collection of hundreds of Mike Schmidt cards. In 1995 my brother and I went to Cooperstown to see Schmidty and Whitey get inducted into the Hall of Fame together. It was on that field in Cooperstown, where we claimed our spot the night before with nothing but an outstretched Phillies beach towel that I got the worst sunburn of my life, one that scarred my skin for many years. It was also the first time in my life I had ever been surrounded by so many Phillies fans.
All my life I was one of just a few lonely people in a stadium full of enemies. Along with my Dad and brother, we would pack up some sandwiches in the cooler and go to Wrigley Field to see the Phillies, not the Cubs. We were at the first Phillies night game in Wrigley Field on August 8, 1988. My Dad’s best friend, who was a Cubs fan, gave my Dad the tickets as a gift in the beginning of the season, before he knew he was giving away history. It is a strange feeling to wear a shirt in a stadium that you know will make you the enemy of 30,000 people – but it’s also kind of fun. There is nothing like being the only one in a section of fans standing to cheer a home run, only to hear in the distance another lonely fan doing the same. I have shared many long-distance high-fives with fellow Phillies fans.
Why do I love the Phillies? Because they are a part of my family story. The story of my Dad just deciding he didn’t want to be like everyone else. The story of our bonds getting stronger around a common cause. For most sports, we were just another family in the crowd. Bears, Bulls, Sox and Illini – nothing too strange. But every now and then we would wear the ‘P’ and be just a little different, but more importantly, we would be together. So now I have taught my daughter to say, “Go Phillies,” and I am the only one in town to hang a Phillies flag from my house.
Last night my brother and Dad were at Game Four of the World Series. In a way, it probably would have made more sense to go to a game in Tampa – that is part of what made being a Phillies fan fun, but they went to a game in Philadelphia. My work and finances made it impossible for me to go, but I was there with them. From my living room I watched as Ryan Howard came to life again, and I saw those white flags waving in the night, I could see my brother and Dad finally giving people close up high-fives, and I wondered if someday we will make another trip to Cooperstown. I knew my nephews were watching the game and I wondered if they now have their Phillies. My Dad had Ashburn and Roberts. My brother had Carlton and Schmidt. I had Kruk and Schilling. It looks like they will have Howard and Hammels.
Tonight we will all be back at home. We will watch with high anxiety as our Phillies try to do something special. I am sure there will be some phone calls made, and texts sent and received. Seperated by miles we will be together. It will be another page in our story. Here’s to hoping for a happy ending.