Commentary

Coping with the end of an era

Please welcome back Tim Malcolm! Tim was the editor-in-chief of Phillies Nation from 2006 to 2009.

The struggle to cope through change has been documented for centuries. In one moment your experiences marry the ongoing popular culture and the people carrying influence; then, in an instant, no longer. You’re a dinosaur. Your views aren’t those of the youth. Your experiences are merely shared with your peers, and become nothing more than history, something that collects dust in the basement.

Cole Hamels speech

Cole Hamels’s speech after the 2008 World Series parade

It was only seven years ago when I walked through a pattern of red bodies gathered happily on Broad Street waiting for the Phillies to parade a world championship. On that day Cole Hamels uttered words that will grow dust in my brain forever:

“If there is one thing I cannot wait to do, it’s go down that Broad Street parade again, and again, and again.”

Again, and again, and again. The boldness! The swagger!

Admittedly, others shared similar sentiments, but it was Hamels’ words that stayed. He was 24, just a year older than me at the time. His first major league start was May 12, 2006, which I remember clearly. I was standing in my parents’ Boston hotel room, the first night of commencement weekend at Boston University, checking blog comments for updates on Hamels’ debut. This was before Twitter and, really, before the advent of streaming content that allowed a range of game-following experiences. We took whatever we had.

After that debut I’d graduate, and after that I’d start writing regularly about baseball. My interest in the team would grow to something beyond simply watching games. Starting in 2006 I’d watch every game I could, follow every game regardless, analyze statistics, write about the games, and attend as many games as possible. My favorite players were now around my age. I wasn’t looking up to personal icons like Thome, Abreu, Rolen, or Daulton. I related – at least on one small level – with these new guys, especially Hamels. We “graduated” on the same week. We would grow through our new careers, hopefully find success, and reach new heights together.

It’s 2015. I’m 30 and Hamels is 31. My career is shifting, as I’m about to throw myself into full-time self-employed writing; his is changing, as well: recently we saw him standing on the pitcher’s mound in Arlington, Texas. For a few years I stepped back from following the Phillies fanatically; recently Hamels has seen a major transformation with his team. His words from the 2008 parade are now simply history; they will likely never come to fruition.

A day after Hamels was traded, sweating while standing on the stage at Citizens Bank Park, Pat Burrell accepted his place in the Phillies Wall of Fame humbly, but not without a reminder of the surreality surrounding the weekend.

“I’ve played with some great players,” said Burrell, “but the guy I enjoyed playing with the most is actually still here in the dugout. And I hope that all of you realize how special of a player, and a man, Chase Utley is.”

Pat  Burrell

Pat Burrell’s Wall of Fame induction on Friday

The crowd roared as the camera shifted to the dugout where Utley, arms folded, flashed the smallest smirk. Burrell slotted him with Thome, Abreu, and Rolen – relics of the past – and Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins – fresh reminders of a painful present. Beside Utley in that dugout stood Howard, but Maikel Franco was there, and Odubel Herrera was there. Cesar Hernandez, Freddy Galvis, and Cameron Rupp also would play that evening, as the Phillies disposed of the Braves. And Cole Hamels was not there; instead, miles away in Arlington, Texas, he was greeting his new fans and supporters wearing the blue, white, and red of the Texas Rangers. Blue, white, and red … you may call them the backwards Phillies.

So with Hamels in the backwards land, with cold and musty baseball blood stewing in the dugout, with history sweating on stage, and with a warm batch of youngsters stirring themselves for victory, surreality reigned. In one speech, packaged with familiar overwrought string music and the omnipresent Video Dan Stephenson, the modern history of the Philadelphia Phillies laid bare, and I couldn’t help but feel like an odd observer attempting to cope with this change.

In this post-Hamels era I now feel removed from the experiences of our modern Phillies. Only three players remain from the 2008 team, and their contributions feel more like stubborn afterthoughts. Now we see Franco and Aaron Nola leading the team, with JP Crawford, Franklyn Kilome, and now Jorge Alfaro, Jake Thompson, and Nick Williams preparing to make their contributions. These guys are in their early 20s. They’re kids – awkward and splintery, slamming balls into the seats and throwing absurd sliders. I’m older now. My favorite players may still be around my age, but the next generation of Phillies are fit for my nephew and niece. They’ll hopefully grow with them, maybe find success with them, maybe reach new heights with them.

Phillies alumni weekend provides us all weird glances into these slices of franchise history. Sometimes we’re honoring someone like Tony Taylor, and older fans may wax poetic about the uber infielder’s versatility and personality. Other years it’s Bob Boone, and our older parents will go on about those classic Phillies of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Recently we’ve seen players like John Kruk and Darren Daulton earn enshrinement, and our older siblings and younger parents will remind you of the gritty essence of the 1993 Phillies. Mike Lieberthal’s Wall of Fame weekend felt close to familiar, if just a little distant for a fan of my age. But Burrell’s night Friday reminded me of every great memory of my recent past. And standing alongside guys like Taylor, Boone, Kruk, Daulton, and Lieberthal, Burrell profiled all the more eerie. He came freshly dressed, sweating and clutching bottled water, peculiarly outside his element despite standing on the field at Citizens Bank Park, a place he’d look so comfortable just years before. It never seemed clearer: The classic Phillies of 2006-11 were no more. We reached the end.

We only had seven seasons of this. Luckily they were filled with joyously thrilling baseball, the kind that demands you to glue your eyes to the screen every evening. These were the times that felt superior, summer days of high sun and summer nights of chirping crickets. Even the minor games – late mid-season comebacks against Milwaukee while sitting on my apartment balcony with a beer – feel a little more significant now. That’s what history does to us; it packages these memories into something that will feel dead to someone outside the experience, but wholly alive, bursting with buoyancy for those who were there, who saw it, who felt it. Those things happened. We can always return to them and smile, because we knew them, and we knew them very well. They were ours.

I don’t remember 1993 the same way. I don’t remember 1987 much at all. And I won’t remember 2025 like I remember 2008. There’s no chance. Whatever JP Crawford does in 10 years will, I hope, be great, and I’ll celebrate, and my future child will hold it close, much in the way that I kept close Mariano Duncan’s Mother’s Day grand slam in 1993 – a faded moment I can recall with just enough wistfulness. But it won’t be until probably 2040, when my future child is close to the age of another young Phillies prospect, that he or she will truly understand how married you can be to your team.

I’m lucky 2008 happened when I was 24. What a time to soak that in. And what a time for heroes like Utley and Howard, Rollins and Ruiz, and Burrell, and Hamels. A perfect time, really.

“If there is one thing I cannot wait to do, it’s go down that Broad Street parade again, and again, and again.”

I was standing in a Citizens Bank Park parking lot when Hamels shouted those words. I’ll never forget them. Just as I’ll never forget all of those glimmering faces, bodies draped in red, drinking in the ocean of joy on Broad Street. Just as I’ll now never forget the words uttered by Pat Burrell on Friday night, and how much they do, and will, mean to me:

“I hope that all of you realize how special of a player, and a man, Chase Utley is.”

We’ve now closed the book on a moment in time for thousands of us who were just so lucky. Soon the final relics of the recent past will fade to dust, and the future will reign, but in this present, it’s only fitting that we cling to the words of our heroes, and smile for what was – and maybe – what can be, still to come.

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