For the first time as a fan of the Philadelphia Phillies I find myself completely embarrassed to call myself a Phillies fan. I wasn’t embarrassed when the team was terrible in the late nineties , I wasn’t embarrassed when the teams choked in the wildcard race against the Marlins 2 years ago. I wasn’t even embarrassed when the team flat out gave up on Larry Bowa last year. (Because in a way who could blame them?) I’m not even embarrassed that the team has only one World Series championship in over 100 years of existence.
So now what has happened that has lead me to feel embarrassed for the first time in my life. Last night the Phillies opened up the biggest series of the year (until the next series that is) against the division leading Atlanta Braves, while the two teams ahead of the Phillies, The Houston Astros and the Florida Marlins fight it out for the Wild Card lead, but yet only 21,169 fans bothered to show up to support the team. That’s the lowest attendance in the Zens short life, but when the night was through the Phillies depending on the arm of a 27 year old rookie, closed to being one game out of the Wild Card.
Now granted as Phillies fans we have been down this road before. The team has come close and not made the playoffs, whether it was the team just flat out choking, or giving up, but still the last two season this nucleus of Phillies has been the best Phillies team in the city in 10 years.
Still the fans call for the head of General Manager Ed Wade (who in the fan’s mind has again failed to make the “big” trade or move) or discuses how Manager Charlie Manuel can’t manage a game. (Like letting an over matched Endy Chavez bat against Brad Lidge with two outs and two on in the bottom of the 9th just last week.) The fans say this team has no heart and show no emotion, but is this a fair critic of the team that is 8 games over .500?
Over and over again this team has fought back when it seemed all hope had been loss. The terrible start of the season was answered with a 12-1 home stand that brought the team back into the hunt. The season ending injury to the most dangerous bat in the lineup, Jim Thome, was answered by rookie Ryan Howard’s outstanding campaign. The loss of Randy Wolf has been answered by rookie Robison Tejeda’s 3.19 ERA and 7.65 strikeouts per 9 innings. Even now when Tejeda, the solid Cory Lidle and Vicente Padilla, who has seemed to finally put it all together, all have gone down to injury the Phillies found yet another rookie in Eude Brito to fill in in impressive fashion (1.72 ERA and 6.32 K/9 in 3 starts). It would have been easy for a team with these kind of injuries to quit. After all they sustained lesser injuries last year and seemed to give up, but there they are still fighting and clawing their way through the race.
In fact what may be the most frustrating part of the fan bases’ apathy towards the team is that isn’t this exactly the type of team the City of Philadelphia should love? A team that won’t give up no matter how bad it seems to get, even after being swept by the Astros, the team has answered by winning 3 of their last 4 games to climb back into the race.
And shouldn’t Charlie Manuel’s laid back but confident style be credited to this new team attitude? Hasn’t Manuel created an environment where rookie Howard, Tejeda and Brito could succeed and veterans like Burrell and Rollins could fight out of slumps? Burrell is on the verge career highs in Batting Average (.284 this year, career best .282), On Base Percentage (.391 this year, career best .376), RBI (108 this year, career best 116), Walks (87 this year, career best 89) and his second highest Home Run total (30 this year career best 38). While Rollins is riding an 18 game hitting streak when the team has needed his bat the most despite having a disappointing season.
For the last 10 seasons the fans have asked for a team with grit and heart. Through out the season the Phillies has asked and almost begged for the fan’s support and has played with grit and heart and has been repaid with boos and last night apathy. But just maybe the turning point could be found, in all things, an Eagles football game. Just maybe last night’s defeat at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons that Philadelphia sports fans to decided to watch instead of the Phillies in the mist of a real race, will remind the fans to appreciate what is going on right now. Maybe not, maybe the “wounds” of the last two seasons for the Phillies fans are too deep. But just a year and 7 months since the death of beloved Phillies pitcher Tug McGraw, I can’t help but think that “You gotta believe.” Whether or not this team has enough fight left in them to pull off the wild card, that in no way should take away from the heart and spirit the team has shown all year long. while I’ve never been more embarrassed by the Phillies fans, I’ve never been prouder of the Phillies. No Phillies team in the last 10 years has lived up to the nick name “The Fighting Phils” more then this team has and for me is reason enough that I gotta believe.