And so it begins again. Another opening day – barring rain – for my beloved Philadelphia Phillies. The routine in my brain is the same as it’s been this time every year since I can remember. . . . 1964 to be exact. That’s my earliest memory of consciously engaging with the Phils as a fan. I was a measly seven-years-old. We were locked in the Cold War. I started collecting baseball cards, none of which can be found anywhere. That was the year Jim Bunning pitched a perfect game on Father’s Day at Shea against the Mets.
Later that summer, my dad took me to Connie Mack Stadium for my first-ever trip to a real live game. I will never, ever forget seeing the greenest grass I had ever seen in my life. The red of the Phillies’ uniforms and the Dodger blue of the visiting team was breathtaking. The sounds (Charley Frank selling hot dogs – “dogeo!”, the snap of the ball on leather, the crack of the bats, etc), the smells (a strange combination of cigar smoke, watered-down beer, and hot dogs. . . can that be bottled in a cologne?), all of it. . . . amazing.
I still have my 1964 yearbook tucked away. On my desk sits the Phillies bobblehead I bought that year, which is, by the way, made of something other than plastic. . . but I’m not sure what. To top it all off, my favorite player – right fielder Johnny Callison won the 1964 all-star game with a home run blast. I watched that happen live while we were on vacation in Florida. I remember it like it was yesterday. Of course, it all came crashing down later that fall when the Phillies blew it all in what was to become known – until last year – as the greatest collapse in baseball history. The Cardinals went to and won our World Series.
I’ve yet to figure out what it is that I love so much about baseball. I’ve played, watched, and coached. I’ve lived (once) and died (too many times to count) with my beloved Phillies. Maybe it’s because baseball is a lot like grace. You screw up. Things don’t go as you planned. You lose quite a bit. You’re successful at the plate if you hit the ball three out of ten at bats. But the loyal fans keep coming back and cheering you on. You receive grace. You show grace. . . yes, even in Philly! You get wiped off and you start over. It isn’t the best analogy, but it’s what comes to mind as we start another season.
So this year I hope again. I look at the Phillies’ lineup and I like what I see. Sure, I’m missing Aaron Rowand but I think my memory of him will fade fast as speedy Shane Victorino gets his shot in center field. At three-o’clock this afternoon another season begins. I’ve got high hopes. To celebrate, I’ve picked up a copy of our friend Dick Doster’s new baseball novel, Safe at Home. I’ll start reading tonight, hopefully, with a smile on my face as my Phils will still be undefeated.
Just to prove how crazy the world is about baseball, I’ve posted a video that my seven-year-old Cold-War era self would have never thought possible: Russians – that’s right, Russians – in the stands singing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame.” Yes, the impossible does happen from time to time. That’s why I can say today with confidence, the Phillies are going all the way this year!