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Commentary: The Fire Rumbles

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I had a dream last night.

No, no, it wasn’t a dream about winning the World Series. Actually, I dreamed I was at a bonfire, and Charlie Manuel was there. I thanked him for the wonderful managing job he did in 2008, and he accepted it wholeheartedly. Then he taught me hitting — in an office, no less — by tossing cough drops at me as I waited with a bat.

I didn’t initially know what it all meant, and I still don’t know if it really means anything. But I wanted to share that with you all.

***

The Phillies are in the World Series. How cool is that? Not as cool as “The Phillies are World Series champions.” We’ll get to that later.

Last night seemed celebratory, as I expected. I told those close to me the Phils would get a couple early runs off Chad Billingsley, Cole would pitch very well, they’d win 4-1 or 5-2 or something. I was close. And that shows how predictable this team has become — at this point, we know these guys will do their work, play their game, finish the job. It made each drink seem more savory, each out seem more complete. Sure there were tense moments, but did you doubt? Did you?

***

I had a World Series experience. Game three. October 19, 1993. My ninth birthday. Mom and dad surprised me with five tickets that night. Before that surprise, my classroom got camera time on Action News. My aunt helped bake some ridiculous cake that was on display at Veterans Stadium. The whole city was nuts.

That game three ended with a whimper. The Phils lost bad to the Blue Jays. Rain hampered the whole evening. But all I remember is looking out from my left-centerfield seat and seeing the endless array of bunting. Yes, bunting, the universal symbol of the World Series, of something big. The outfield fence held manicured flowers arranged into logos. Uniforms were crisper and cleaner. The crowd’s buzz was electric.

That’s the stuff I remember — the atmosphere. As a starry-eyed newly minted 9-year-old, those were the things that said “World Series.” Now, at 23, “World Series” means even more.

***

So here we are, 2008, and four wins to go. At the most, there are just seven games remaining. We’ve watched this team give us joy, and we’ve watched them give us pain. We’ve gone crazy for late comebacks against the Mets, and we’ve cursed out loud Jimmy Rollins’ mouth. But all of it has become this force, greater than us all.

This is a different team than those past. The 1993 team was a team that hit all the right notes for one year. A bunch of guys who had career seasons and stayed healthy. They rode the train until it stopped at a way-too talented Toronto team. The 2007 team sparked late, fueled by crazy comebacks and an overload of character. They were destined to fall.

But this team has the make, look and swagger of a champion. How many times can we write “businesslike”? How many games can we point to and say “they did their job”? It’s a team full of guys in their primes, sprinkled in with a couple veterans and younger guys. It’s built to raise the trophy.

And like a few others have written, this team is different than previous teams because you can believe in them. You don’t have the sinking feeling of choke. You don’t have the letdown feeling. They’re too good for that. The pitching is gold. The hitting is clutch. They always find a way.

***

So I woke up this morning, head hurting but pride strong. And I recalled the dream last night. The obscurity of Charlie Manuel at a bonfire. And then of us in an office, taking batting practice. And then, it did make sense.

Writing here, being a fan, it’s like sitting at a bonfire, sharing stories, opinions and information. And the fire is this team, what we all huddle around, what we all stand by to keep us involved, to keep our hearts warm and strong.

And the office? Shall I bring up the word “businesslike” again?

Sure, it’s a dream, and sure, most are unreadable, but the clarity I have for this team is impenetrable. I’ve never felt so good as a baseball fan, and I’ve never been so proud to be a Philadelphia Phillies fan. To huddle around the bonfire, to observe hittin’ season in the office, to celebrate a World Series berth.

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