Foundation

A Christmas Story

Sometimes I’ve crossed the boundary of “Phillies blogger” to get personal here. I’ve done so knowing full well my stories return back to the Phils. After the NLCS victory, I spoke about a dream I had that night. After the World Series victory, I spoke about my relationship with my father. I suppose I don’t mind presenting some of the more personal items of my life here, as my story twines interestingly with the ups and downs we all experience as followers of the red pinstripes. Our passion meets, and more than we realize.

Our passion, really, is somewhat ridiculous. Step back for a moment — we follow a band of baseball players, men who swing bats and throw balls across dirt and grass. We follow men who play meaningless games 162 times each year. We’ve followed them so strongly that they’ve been able to turn their cottage industry into worldwide mainstay. Shrines of brick and metal are constructed for millions of dollars so they can work there. Wise men earn millions to build these teams through convoluted networks of farm systems, waiver piles and league-wide bargaining meetings. These teams are run like well-oiled, Rockefeller-type business. Well, they are Rockefeller-type businesses.

Even more ridiculous is how we — the fans — devote our lives to following the sport. The game. Some of us fans earn wages writing about the game. Some of us fans earn wages preparing the field for the game. Some of us fans earn wages selling food at the games. But most of us fans just watch, and use much of our free time watching, studying, discussing and questioning the game. At times, our lives rely on the outcomes of these games. By following this game so devotedly, we’re embracing distraction. We’re embracing the ridiculous.

But by embracing this game, we’re quietly holding together the relationships that keep us human. If not for the Phillies, I would barely speak to my brothers, not because we don’t want to talk, but because we wouldn’t know what to say. If not for the Phillies, I wouldn’t have too much to say to my father. And if not for the Phillies, I wouldn’t be exercising my writing every day, keeping a semi-respectable relationship with the thousands of readers who purvey this site each day. If not for the Phillies, who am I? Who are you?

2008, without a doubt in my mind, was the most trying year of my 24-year life. It began innocently, turned dramatic, and resurfaced as something entirely different from what I originally expected. For those who remember, on April 26, my apartment was victim of a massive blaze that displaced more than 120 people. The Phillies had just defeated the Pirates, and I had just finished a night of casual drinking when the fire began. In three hours, my world transformed from mundanely and routinely normal to wildly uncertain. I had lost everything material, and for a little while I was shocked and dizzy. But the next day — after realizing my home was destroyed — I began rebuilding my life by starting with what I still owned: My body, my health, my family, my friends and my Phillies.

Those five things kept me going in 2008. And those five things kept you going in 2008. Not our iPods or our cell phones. Not our laptops or our golf clubs. If your heart beat, your heart beat for those five things.

***

On Friday, May 2, 2008, I drove to Philadelphia, seeing my family for the first time since the fire. It was the end to a week of rebuilding, of seeing firsthand the gracious and loving eyes of humankind. First, my boss told me to take the week off: “Your job is to rebuild your life,” he told me. Co-workers called, telling me what they wanted to donate. Other co-workers at my workplace began collecting money — thousands of dollars in all — for my roommate and me. The entirety of Eastern Connecticut ponied thousands of dollars for us displaced, and many more donated things to an abandoned warehouse. I shuffled around the building in a hoodie, collecting silverware, plates and bowls, dry food. I couldn’t believe the outpouring.

And here, on the blog, some collected money to buy me a Chase Utley jersey. I wore that proudly during the season.

When I arrived in Philadelphia that Friday night, my brother wanted me to come to his house. He was hosting a party, and his friends gave me their best. On the television was the Phillies, playing the Giants at home. And we rallied around the television when Aaron Rowand homered to take a lead in the 10th inning. Of course, Pat Burrell took a Brian Wilson fastball into the seats, scoring two and winning the game in the bottom half. We cheered and embraced, a bunch of rowdy Philadelphians celebrating a classic Phillies win.

While Burrell’s home run didn’t erase the tragedy that occured a week earlier, it helped for certain. In time, my life would retain itself almost fully, though the memory will never die. I moved to a new home, then moved again when a new job surfaced. Now I live alone again, in a new town, in a new state, pressing on, sure to meet people, pushing for the next step. But the constants remain: My body, my health, my family, my friends, my Phillies.

***

On October 29, those five things converged, and unquestionably, it was the greatest moment of my young life. I don’t even mind saying that. Ridiculous? Please.

It was the greatest moment because I felt it. I never screamed louder. My tears never felt more real. My smile never reached wider. Even re-watching the moment, I can’t help but smile widely. I can’t help but notice the boyish, wide-eyed cut of Carlos Ruiz as he dives low to hug Brad Lidge. Or Lidge’s baffled quick take to the heavens, as if to ask his God, “How did this happen?” Or the dozens of fans hunched together behind home plate, raising their arms in jubilation, almost in some unceremonious manner, since the moment had built to that climax so effortlessly. Or the crowd succinctly before Eric Hinske swung — how quiet Philadelphia became for a few milliseconds. For just those ticks, we bottled up all the bad we’ve endured.

As sports fans, we’ve endured horrible things. We’ve endured Joe Carter’s 1993 World Series-winning home run. And The New Jersey Devils’ comeback in the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals. And Joe Jurevicius’ pattern in the 2002 NFC Championship. And Robert Horry’s rampage in the 2001 NBA Finals. We’ve endured years of criticism, choking and sheer horrible sport. We’ve endured name-calling, posturing by rival teams and 10,000 losses.

***

Yes, when looked at it through the scope of the world, it’s all ridiculous. But when you’re shown a baseball field at a tender age, you don’t ask why, you just fall in love. It’s indescribable, because no adult can put into words the joy a child receives from watching a baseball game. And no adult can put into words how a child grows fond of a certain baseball team. There’s a father’s guidance, there’s constant trips to the ballpark and constant showings of the game on television, but to take that and formulate it to a devout love? There’s a missing part, and that’s totally indescribable. That’s the part that makes the ridiculous seem believable.

And that missing part is the part that ignited us the night of October 29, 2008. It caused us to run onto the streets of Philadelphia, madly cheering and hugging any and everyone we saw. It caused us to call out sick and skip school so we could watch a bunch of flatbeds roll 3 mph down Broad Street. It’s the part that causes us to follow this team each and every day, the part the causes me to write each and every day about a stupid, mindless form of entertainment known as baseball.

It’s the exact same part that causes us to love our parents, our brothers and sisters, our husbands and wives. Why we trust certain human beings with all our feelings and emotions is the same reason why we allow a game to dictate our emotions 162 times each year. Totally inexplainable, but understood by all, for good or bad.

As I move through this world, pushing through to my next arrival, I don’t expect my iPod or cell phone, my laptop or golf clubs, to last with me throughout. At some point, I’ll lose them, or destroy them, or forget about them, or upgrade them. Like everything I lost in the fire, they are things, material possessions, minute pieces of inhumanity that — on the surface — define me to the world.

But what really defines me, and you, and everyone else, are those things inside, those things you cannot explain, those things that are bridged to reality by that secret part that you also cannot explain. For us here, the Phillies are one of those things. The Phillies have been integral in my life since a tender age. I’ve lived with their ups and downs just as my life has endured ups and downs. No matter how good or bad my life may be, I know one thing: That one day in April, I will turn to the Phillies again and smile, at least for a day. And no matter what results, I’ll continute to allow them into my heart and mind.

On October 29, the devotion paid off. And today, Christmas day, I’m alone, in my new town, proceeding as if it was just another day. Sure, I will soon be with family and friends, celebrating our proper Christmas with gifts, food and drink, but it doesn’t quite feel like Christmas. Not for bad, no, but because my Christmas came October 29. My Christmas was watching my passion pay off, and celebrating the accomplishment of my passion with those I hold closest in my life. However ridiculous it may seem.

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