Note: I’d like you all to share what this world championship means to you. I’ll leave this up for a while, so you all can contribute if you’d like. This is a special time for all of us, so I feel it merits this sort of treatment. I’ll share what this championship means to me, first. Of course, it’s about fathers and sons:
At 5:25 p.m. Monday, I was sitting at my desk at work, preparing for game five of the World Series by listening to the same pseudo playlist I’ve created through my iPod. Always at the top: “Life in Technicolor” by Coldplay. A gorgeous, soaring song, it evokes breaking through, breaking out, then running in unison, together.
As the song began, I stopped, and I thought about my earliest baseball memories.
I remember sitting on the third base line at the 600 level of Veterans Stadium, peering straight ahead and seeing a sign that read: “Mike Schmidt * 548 * We love you.” It was an August Saturday evening in 1990, and I was keeping score — as I always had. The Phillies beat the Giants. Terry Mulholland threw a no hitter that day. My dad sat next to me.
My dad took me to my first Phillies game, a 1985 game where Juan Samuel knocked a game-winning home run. He took me to many more games after that. I must’ve attended a dozen Phils games a year in my childhood, or at least I think. Between the Vet, the art museum, the Rand McNally store at Liberty Place and South Street, my dad shuttled me everywhere in my youth. I spent every Saturday with my dad, and cherished every one of those outings.
What amazes me most about these outings is my dad didn’t really have the sufficient cash to satisfy my budding child brain. My family was decidedly middle class, a two-parent, four-child, dog and cat collection in a Port Richmond row home. Dad drove to New Brunswick, N.J., each day to work. I anticipated him walking through the door at 6 p.m. every single day, and he never, ever arrived late.
But we had little cash for the weekends, and yet my dad took me everywhere, and to countless Phillies games. There I exercised my knowledge of the game, learned aspects like the infield fly rule and the squeeze play. There I gained a love for a bumbling bunch of guys in red and white. The Phils stunk, but I watched.
“Life in Technicolor” continued, and I thought about standing at the right field foul line, waving my little brother’s hat at Ricky Botallico. He signed it. I thought about my older brother yelling, “Hey, Mr. Lankford!” at a chatty Lankford on the field. The slugger tossed a ball to my brother.
I thought about watching home runs sail into the orange, yellow and brown seats of the Vet. I thought about Gregg Jeffries knocking a double into the corner. I thought about ‘371’ and the laughing Braves logo in the outfield. I thought about the yellow Bell Atlantic sign below Fan-a-vision. I thought about seeing Curt Schilling strike out almost 20 Yankees, Butch Huskey slaughtering a ball into the 600 level, Steve Carlton waving to the crowd as ’32’ retired to the black wall, Mariano Duncan hitting a grand slam on Mother’s Day, Darren Daulton hitting a grand slam against the Fish. And for every memory, there was Dad, sitting next to me.
I thought about the 1993 team. I thought about how my dad bought us all tickets to game three of the World Series — my birthday. Now I wonder how he paid for those. And I thought about how even before Joe Carter stepped to the plate, I ran to my room, threw myself on my bed and covered my head with my pillow. I didn’t need to see it.
And before I thought I would, I cried.
Like most families coming of age in the 1990s, my mom and dad found their way out of wedded bliss. The details are unnecessary, but the result is two distinct relationships. With my mom, it’s more personal, more confessional — women, life prospects, friends. With Dad, it’s the three of the material things I enjoy most: Alcohol, music, sports — mainly, the Phillies.
Like most fathers, it’s difficult to talk about some things with my dad. I don’t share much of the women/life prospects/friends conversation with him, but there has never been a time when I couldn’t pick up my phone, call him and say, “So … those Phils …”
Obviously, I’ve grown into much more of a devoted fan than he. Now he asks me for the latest news, and he picks my brain for opinions. And now I buy the tickets and take him to games. I’ll drive from Connecticut to take him to a game. I’ll always make that drive.
This year I drove home for games three and four. I had no tickets — all I wanted to do was watch the games with dad, to share our greatest shared passion in its most important moments. With my dad and my brothers, we pushed through until the beginning of game three, then cheered wildly as the Phils put away the Rays. And game four — while a little more tense — felt like a soothing of the soul. The Phils were up three games to one. My dad and I slapped hands, yelled, smiled. This was how it was supposed to happen. We always had our Phillies,
Monday I was at work, tired from the long drive home that morning, excited and tense for game five. You know the tale by now — the rains dampened our spirits and delayed our celebration. Turns out I wasn’t quite ready. Turns out sitting in a loud bar with football and hockey surrounding me, it wasn’t supposed to happen. It wasn’t appropriate yet.
Two nights later I sat on my couch. I watched the game intently — right leg shaking, eyes glued, hair itching, arms tired — just as I had watched the majority of the 175 games before it. And I was all alone in my quiet Connecticut home — well, except for the myriad phone calls during the evening. After each half inning I picked up the phone, dialed Dad, and comforted him. “I don’t know,” he said. “I’m stressed here.” “Don’t worry, Dad,” I told him. “We’re winning this.”
Before the bottom of the seventh, and after the Rays knotted the score again, I called him.
“This doesn’t look good.”
“Don’t worry, Dad. Burrell’s leading off, and I know it, he’s gonna do something. He’s gonna hit something big here.”
“I hope you’re right,” he retorted, searching for something more positive.
Then Burrell stepped in. On the 1-1 count, he launched a ball that should’ve left the yard. I was thinking home run — in fact, I was thinking home run since the close of game four. But it knocked the rail, inches from the crowd. Burrell doubled. A few batters later, his double became the fourth and winning run of the game. And as soon as Burrell stopped at second, my dad called:
“I can’t believe you called that!”
We were winning the game. We were going to be champions.
When Brad Lidge unfurled the final slider that dispatched Eric Hinske, I leaped, shrieked and frantically dialed the phone. At some point, Dad answered. I was in mid-shriek.
“Congratulations,” he said calmly, assuredly. “We’re world champions.”
He never sounded so calm. While I giggled and teared and screamed like a 4-year-old girl, Dad was calm as the sea, silent as the crowds that we were part of at the Vet. Both of us, though, in our own ways, were overjoyed. Simply overjoyed.
After making an initial round of calls, I called Dad back.
“I just want to thank you,” I said, beginning to tear. “I want to thank you for taking me to Phillies games. And for ingraining this team in my head, and making me a fan. And for always being there.”
Dad brushed it off. “Awww, that’s okay,” as if being a Phillies fan was like living under an albatross.
Why do we do it? Why do we cheer? Why do we applaud? Why do we devote our money, our time, our social lives, our abilities to something as trivial and simple as the game of baseball? Why do we write a thousand blog posts — which I’ve done since Nov. 1, 2007 — about a baseball team? Why do we schedule trips based on where our favorite team will be playing baseball?
I have no idea.
I can’t reveal the mystery behind that, because I just don’t know. I outgrew video games, and I outgrew professional wrestling, and the piano, and soda, and tap dancing. I outgrew sandboxes and skyline drawing, gum chewing and walking in circles. But I’ve never outgrown baseball.
But I know part of the reason is my dad. It connects us like nothing else. That applies for most men or women who love baseball — at some point in their lives, their fathers or mothers showed them a baseball game. The act of sitting next to your child at a baseball game is an act of many things: respect, demonstration, admiration, appreciation, tradition, and most of all, friendship. Baseball turns fathers and sons into friends. It turns us into equals.
And as I look back once more on those hundreds of games I’ve attended, and all those jumbled memories that comprised a chunk of my childhood, I know that I spent every one of those seconds as a friend to whomever I was with. Especially Dad. We could always come to the Vet, or Citizens Bank Park, and be friends. Just friends. And Wednesday night I spent the greatest moment of my still very young life with my friend, returning the favor as best I could, finally realizing what this was all for.