Last week, on the Best Damn Sports Show Period, Jimmy Rollins told host Chris Rose that Phillie fans were “frontrunners.” Though Rose tried to soften the blow by alluding to the fact that all cities are like that in certain ways, Rollins would not back down. “When you’re doing good, they’re on your side. When you’re doing bad, they’re completely against you.” These comments – from my favorite current Philadelphia athlete – hit me very, very hard.
There is a psychological theory about the stages of grief that human beings experience when they face loss or emotional damage. (Please understand that that I am not, in any way, trying to compare anything that happens in sports to the loss of a loved one or any other major life event that creates immense grief.). And, it seems to be right in line with my experience over the past couple days.
Stage One: Denial & Isolation
At first, I saw the report, but did not hear Jimmy’s words. I figured it was just another media creation. I figured that, because the media absolutely loves to villify Philadelphia fans, they would take anything that remotely sounded like an admonishment of our character from one of our heroes and run with it. I figured that Jimmy was just a little frustrated and just really wants to win. I mean, after all, he loves Philly, and we love him. Then, I heard the actual interview. Then I saw Jimmy’s words…
Stage Two: Anger
I could not believe that Rollins could possibly have the audacity to call out us. I really believed that he understood, that he “got it.” I was irate that he could possibly say such things after all we have been through together. We watched him and cheered him, as he struggled in the beginning of his career. We stuck by him when he was clearly one of the worst leadoff hitters in baseball because we saw potential and we loved his defense. We pushed for him to finally get the much-deserved Gold Glove. We backed him up when he called out the Mets in Spring Training, saying (correctly) that the Phillies were the team to beat. We all felt a collective sense of pride – our little guy was all growned up – last year when he played his heart out, logging an amazing 716 at-bats, winning a much-deserved MVP award and leading this team, physically and emotionally, into the playoffs. And, finally, this year, we have given him all of the breaks he has earned. He is hitting .266, folks. He has 41 strikeouts and only 56 runs scored. He has been difficult to the manager on (at least) two occasions. And, we have given him a break. Hell, he deserves it. So, then, why in the WORLD would he possibly call US out?!? Why?!? Why?!? WHY?!? There are a lot of negative things that can be said about Philly fans. Being “frontrunners” is just plain WRONG. We stick by this team. We sell out the stadium EVERY NIGHT for a team whose fans have to be in their mid-30’s to even remember a championship and has not even won a playoff game in FIFTEEN YEARS. This city, these fans, are loyal – to a fault. We live and die with these teams, which is great if you root for the New York Yankees or the New England Patriots or the Duke Blue Devils or USA Swimming, but it stings and burns and just plain hurts if you root for any team from Philly because there is a whole lot of “dying” and not much “living.” Frontrunners?!? Not even close.
Stage Three: Bargaining (Rationalizing)
Eventually, I settled down and moved into the third stage, which is when I tried to rationalize these comments. Maybe he is just frustrated because the team is struggling right now. Maybe he is irritated because of his nagging injuries that are not allowing him to play at his best. Maybe this is something that will just pass by, as if it never really happened. Maybe if the team just starts winning, this will all forgotten (after all, we are frontrunners, right?). Maybe this will be a spark for a team that seems to desparately need one right now. Maybe… Maybe… Maybe…
Stage Four: Depression
I can honestly say that this whole thing has brought me close to actual tears. I have invested all my emotional capital into this team – this man – and now he calls me a frontrunner? Now, I am accused of being disloyal to a team that has taken me on a roller-coaster with far more down than ups, with me all the while holding on to that one glimmer of hope that this might be the year. Let us be honest, for a second: they are not going to win the World Series. They have one quality starting pitcher, and he has been mediocre for the better part of two months. They have a flawed lineup that strikes out far too much and is downright terrible after the #6 spot in the lineup. They have glaring holes at catcher and third base. They have a patchwork bullpen that is completely overworked and was not even that good to begin with. This team is just not a World Series-caliber team. But, I still believe. I watched the Cardinals win in ’06 and the White Sox in ’05. I saw the Tigers and Rockies both make runs to through their leagues with blatantly flawed teams. I know that the Florida Marlins have never had a team good enough to even win their own division, yet they fly not one, but two World Championship banners in their laughably empty stadium. So, why not us? I still watch. I still follow. I still believe. But, Jimmy Rollins thinks I am disloyal. Jimmy Rollins thinks I only care about the team when they are good (when was that, exactly, Jimmy?). Yes, we may all be just rooting for laundry, but this time, that 5’8″ guy in the #11 shirt has broken my heart.
Stage Five: Acceptance
Maybe I am naive. Maybe I am clinging on to a childish passion. Maybe I should take this as a cue that sports are just entertainment, and that I should not invest as much emotion and passion into a bunch of spoiled, narcissistic, self-serving athletes who have no real connection even to my city, let alone me, personally. Maybe I should continue to watch Olympic sports, where at least the athletes care about the uniforms they wear and want to represent all those that believe in those colors. Maybe, one day, I will reach this fifth stage of grief. Maybe I will understand that what Jimmy Rollins says or thinks or feels matters not at all in my life. Maybe, one day…
Unfortunately, that day is not today, so I am stuck in Stage Four.