Image by Brian Wilson Photography via FlickrThose of you who know me well know that this is a tough day, on two counts. First, it's the first of the roughly 100 days between the end of one baseball season and the next year's spring training. Win or lose, it's a down time for me. I can watch and enjoy other sports on a certain level, but I don't care about them the way I care about baseball; there are no teams or players that I love or hate the way there are in baseball; the ability to armchair-manage, to argue strategy, to revel in the intricate detail of the statistical minutiae and grand history of the game just is not there in any other sport. People who don't "get" baseball or dismiss it as boring are missing out on an unparalleled joy!
But this year, there is a second reason today is a tough one. The Repeat (capital "R") didn't happen. The debt was not repaid. The Philadelphia Phillies - my Philadelphia Phillies - lost the World Series.
First of all, congratulations to the New York Yankees. They and their fans are celebrating their 27th World Series victory in the history of their franchise. They came to the Fall Classic this year determined and driven, and they played like champs. Though I cannot stand A-Rod or Jeter, I have to tip my cap to their team.
But do note my wording: I didn't say the Yankees won the Series; I said the Phillies lost it. The Phils' two victories, both with Cliff Lee on the mound, were played the way the Phillies played all year: like a team destined for glory, but realizing they better not slack off lest that glory be snatched from them. But for the other four games, the Phils played like a team that could barely be bothered to show up. They were sluggish and unexcited. Their defense was questionable (how can third base be left unmanned on a ninth inning play at the Major League level, much less in the World Series?), their pitching was unreliable (Cole Hamels and Brad Lidge, who both dominated last year's World Series, were horrible in their respective outings this time around), and their offense seemed to be stepping into the batter's box without bats. It was excruciatingly hard to watch, and almost a blessing to see it finally end.
The Phillies are still my team, and though I may be critical of how they played in this Series, I gotta say the past few years taken as a whole have been a fun ride: three straight NL East Championships, two consecutive National League Pennants and their first World Series Victory in nearly three decades (and only their second World Series win EVER) is not too shabby a run. This team has a lot to be proud of. They have surpassed the legendary late-seventies Phillies of Schmidt, Luzinski, Bowa, Boone, Carlton and McGraw. They have already been more successful than any other Phillies team in history, and the team is still young! The core players - Utley, Rollins, Howard, Werth, Victorino - all have prime years ahead of them. The veterans like Ibanez and Lee have at least one or two good seasons left in them. And Charlie Manuel may be the best manager the club has ever had; at the very least, he knows how to motivate this particular team. This run is not over yet!
So, yes, it's a tough day today, but it's not a sad one. In his post-game press conference last night, Manuel said, "I'll tell you something, we will be back. As MacArthur said, I guess, we will be back." I have no doubt they will, and I'll be cheering them along the whole way. And I hope the Yankees will be back, too, for the rematch, and so we can finally repay the debt of the 1950 Series - and maybe make up for this year's as well.