Act I: Purgatory
It was a cold, wet Tuesday morning, and by the tone of his e-mail I could tell my friend Red Dog was not yet convinced. He needed some prodding.
I watched the slick, fast, frenzy of October’s rain prick the windows of my office, thinking about the purgatory of the situation. Of the night before when the entire city of Philadelphia seemed poised for a delirious rebirth. Of the men and women walking through Old City to their favorite watering holes clad in red and white and pale blue. Of their eyes looking to that place in the distance where victory whispered its seductions. Of the slate sky. Of the pints of beer we all consumed through five-and-a-half soaked innings of senseless hope. Of the clinical tarp eventually covering the field. Of the cruel Doppler Radar, flashing. And of each of us—the men with their clenched fists, the women with their sad eyes—walking back to our cars through the rain, heads hung low, not in defeat but in the dissatisfaction of having to wait even longer for our moment of triumph.
I sat in my office that Tuesday morning and thought about all of this—and also of the eventual conclusion to the game. I knew Red Dog had to be there when it happened. We had started this series together and dammit, we would finish it together as well. But I also knew it would be a hard sell. The two of us had already spent far too much time and money on this World Series, and in Red Dog’s case the sacrifice was particularly great. He’s a teacher, which means his alarm begins blaring around 5:30 in the morning, two full hours before mine even thinks about waking. He’s also a husband and a father, which means his energy output requires significantly more precise calculation than mine. Nonetheless, he needed to give it one more go. He needed to meet us at National Mechanics and finish what was started.
So I responded to his e-mail (which had the perfect subject line of “Raining On Our Parade”) explaining why I thought it essential that we take one last shot in the arm and head in to the city for the 3.5-inning conclusion of Game Five of the 2008 World Series:
Dude, that’s a great headline! I’m really surprised it hasn’t been used anywhere else…
So yeah, tonight is apparently suspended until tomorrow, to which I think, yes, I will be going out. Tonight will give me a much-needed rest and opportunity to get some things done. And my rationale for tomorrow is this: it’s only 3 1/2 innings, which means it won’t be too late/expensive a night. Granted, it could go into extra innings and last much longer, but that’s a chance I’m willing to take. I mean, the whole point of being out was so if they won it in the city we would be there! If there’s still a chance to experience that, I’m there. Had they lost and it was going into Game 6, well, that would be a different story and I wouldn’t be going out. But this is STILL GAME FIVE!!
Anyway, no worries if you can’t swing it man. I understand. Let me know. But come hell or high, raging waters, I’ll be there. And I will scream out into the night. And the city will ring with the echoes of our elation. And the curtain of our sorrows will be torn in two. And all will be right with the world.
Act II: So This Is What Pure Joy Looks Like
And so it was. After a few more persuasive e-mails, Red Dog decided to come out after all, and when Brad Lidge threw the final strike of the evening, the two of us did indeed scream into the night. And indeed the city rang with the echoes of our elation. And indeed the curtain of our sorrows was torn in two. And all is, indeed, right with the world.
What occurred after that game can scarcely be put into words, as Philadelphia erupted into a scene I have never before witnessed. Along with three of my closest friends (sans Red Dog, who had to go home), I walked up Market Street from Old City, getting closer and closer to the din rising from behind City Hall. It was the kind of juggernaut rumble only tens of thousands gathered in a city street can create…and it sounded glorious.
Finally reaching the pandaemonium, we saw the entirety of Broad Street pregnant with a sea of humanity. Shirtless men running up and down sidewalks, screaming until voiceless. Women whistling from windows. Trucks and SUVs loaded with dozens of rabid Phillies fans spilling out of the windows and doors. Beer and wine bottles littering every spare inch of gutter and curb. Stoplights bending beneath the weight of those who hung from them like mad gargoyles. Overturned planters. Sidewalk trees shaken by those who wanted to uproot a piece of the evening. Fireworks slicing through the perfect dark of sky to explode and rain their sublime fire upon the cheering masses below.
We stopped into a bar serving three dollar whiskeys and toasted to our team. We gave high-fives until our palms were raw. We called our loved ones and tried to paint the scene for them with hoarse voices and the distraction of car horns honking perpetually behind us. We bummed cigarettes and stopped into Nodding Head, where we enjoyed dark pints of sticky Grog and sang “We Are The Champions” and watched replays of that final pitch over and over and over again on a small television. We saw an overturned car on the sidewalk and some firemen at the end of the block trying to put out a small garbage can fire. We hugged the homeless. We made more calls. We took photos and stood on planters like warriors on hilltops of victory. We visited one last bar—the Locust Bar, to be precise—and swallowed down some lager, still watching that final pitch. Still delirious. And then we all went home and slept one of the most peaceful sleeps we had ever known.
Act III: Tears at Broad and Federal
I wrote in a previous post about how silly sport is, about how its triviality and inconsequential nature cause so many to feel apathetic about the thing but that these qualities are what make it so wonderful to experience. So while I realize the Phillies’ 2008 World Series victory is not going to bring about world peace or an end to global poverty, I also know (and admit shamelessly) that it was one of the most beautiful moments of my young life, and that I am forever going to recall its sublimity as fondly as I would any fortune to befall me. It is good and righteous without condition and I am thrilled to have been a part of it.
The Friday afternoon parade down Broad Street was a far tamer experience than the Wednesday evening that proceeded it, but its sunny, measured execution was the perfect denouement to a release 25 years in the making. It was a moment of unhindered positive vibrations, of love overflowing, of new tides coming in for the city of Philadelphia and everyone who was there to see the moment unfold. Leading up to the afternoon, I wasn’t sure how it was going to feel once I finally saw this team I had been watching all my life finally showered with the unconditional attention all champions deserve. But then the parade made its way down to our post at Broad and Federal, and I had my answer.
Leading the caravan was the Philly Phanatic, and when his green, fuzzy paws became visible over the thousands of red heads bobbing up and down in frenzied elation all along Broad Street, I suddenly realized I was about to start crying. This was totally unexpected and I immediately tried to hold back, tried to tell myself how silly it would seem to have a grown man weeping in the streets over something as superficial as a baseball team; but then I realized how ridiculous the reasons for my resistance seemed and I let go of my insecurities and the tears started to flow. It wasn’t just the joy of the victory, or even the overwhelming sight of thousands gathered for this singular purpose, that brought me to tears. It was the Phillies game my father took me to see at the Vet when I was eight. It was watching the 1993 World Series in my childhood best friend’s basement at the age of 12, back when it seemed baseball was the only concern worth caring about. It was the baseball my entire family signed when I turned 13. It was Eagles football by fireside while my parents trimmed the Christmas tree. It was backyard home run derbies with my little brother, both of us wishing for the impossible. It was catches with my father in that same backyard. It was the watershed of 27 years coming to me in a flash of raw, unstoppable emotion at the hands of a silly, sarcastic mascot. And it was beautiful.
Thank you Phillies. Thank you for all of this. It is without a price and it will live forever in the hearts and minds of millions. Thank you.