One fear of mine is that with this run, we Phillies fans will go the route of the Red Sox fans. The one thing that I want to avoid as much as anything else is a feeling of entitlement, a feeling that we have been chosen to win the National League and probably the World Series, a feeling that those red pinstripes will just keep winning because, well, that’s what they always seem to do. In 6 short years since the miracle title in 2004, it seems as if “Red Sox Nation” has completely forgotten the 86 years of heartache and depression that preceded it. Now, as their team “bumbles” along to a mere 90 wins this year, the fans get turned off and agitated. This is not at all meaning to be an indictment of all Red Sox fans, but more of a reality-check and a reminder of just how lucky we are to be fans of the Philadelphia Phillies. Most people reading this have felt the heartache, felt the pain, suffered many of the 10,000 losses that came before Chase Utley declared the Phils “World F’ing Champions.” And, a couple of things going on in baseball have motivated me to take a quick moment to appreciate what we have with our team, and so I invite you to do the same on this off-day before the second quarter of the season kicks off in CitiField.
I’m sure you’ve all heard by now just how ridiculous Hanley Ramirez behaved on and off the field last week. I’ll save you from having to read yet another opinion on the matter save this: I happened to be watching the play live (on MLB Tonight–maybe the greatest show of all-time) and couldn’t believe what was going on. And, then, I nearly vomited when I heard the utter contempt that Ramirez showed for his manager and, basically, the game of baseball with his post-game comments about how Fredi Gonzalez would understand because he “never played in the big leagues.” You have got to be kidding me. Now, as awful as I want to feel about this and how I want to paint pro athletes in this broad brush of entitled, disrespectful punks who only care about the money they can make, I actually took a lot of positives from this–and it made me want to write this post.
Two weeks ago, our old friend Cliff Lee made his first start of the season for the Mariners, after missing Spring Training and the first month of the season with a minor injury. Lee pitched great (as expected) and appeared to be the perfect gentleman afterwards (as always). However, behind the scenes, the grumblings began. Just seven innings into his Seattle Mariners career, there was already talk (from his agent, primarily…as expected) about him wanting to leave town as soon as possible. Again, we could throw this as another example of how pro athletes are mere mercenaries who follow the almighty dollar, but instead I am choosing to focus on the positive–and put it in this post.
The team next on the Phils schedule is the New York Mets. Not even three years ago, the Mets roster was the envy of baseball GMs around the league. They had superstars in their mid-20s at the incredibly difficult to fill positions of shortstop, third base, centerfield, and #1 starter. And, they had an income stream that enabled them to be big players on the open market. So, what happened? Some people might point to the inadequacy of Omar Minaya at finding the little pieces to make a good team great (the anti-Pat Gillick). Others may point to untimely injuries to key players. Some might even point to the regression of stars such as David Wright and Jose Reyes. And, a whole lot of people might even point to faulty leadership, be it Willie Randolph or Jerry Manuel as manager, or I’ve even heard blame spewed at pitching coach Dan Warthen and hitting coach Howard Johnson. But, if you ask me, I think it’s really simple what happened to the Mets–clubhouse chemistry. Everyone nowadays seems to think that clubhouse chemistry is overrated and overstated, especially in baseball, which is often construed as a collection of individual encounters making up a team sport. But, I don’t agree. For four years now, the Mets just plain don’t like each other. That is why they haven’t done anything with the supreme talents of Wright, Reyes, Beltran, and Santana. Once again, this example could be used to cast the selfish, arrogant stone at pro athletes saying “they’re on the same team–literally–why can’t they work together?” But, instead I choose to look at the positives of this situation–and write this post.
There’s a ying to every yang, an up to every down, a left to every right. And, fortunately for us Phillies fans, we’ve got the best of the best wearing our colors right now. Take a moment to appreciate just who is going to don the red pinstripes tomorrow in Queens.
How many times have you seen Chase Utley dog it after a ball as the other team circled the bases? Never. We only see the opposite–the best player on the team (and maybe in the league) hustling as if he’s a 22-year old rookie trying to make the team out of Spring Training.
How many times have you heard Jimmy Rollins throw his manager under the bus after being benched for not hustling? Never. We only see the opposite–the most outspoken player on the team defending his manager for benching him…twice.
How many times have we heard a Phillie (or their agent) talk about how they can’t wait to leave for free agency? Never. We only hear the opposite–Roy Halladay actually took less money to come and stay here in Philly.
How many times have we heard anything that even resembles the chemistry problems that are prevalent in New York? Never. We only hear the opposite–a bunch of guys that absolutely LOVE playing with one another and bust their butts for the good of the team. David Wright is 27 years old and getting significantly worse. Jayson Werth is 30 years old and getting significantly better. John Maine has been one of the top pitching prospects in baseball for about six years now, but was removed from the game by his manager the other day out after one hitter because of his attitude and genuine disgruntedness. Shane Victorino let go in twice in the Rule V draft, only to lead the NL’s best offense in RBIs. Carlos Beltran had offseason surgery four months after the season ended and still hasn’t returned to the Mets lineup as a result. Chase Utley has had surgery within a week of the the season ending each of the past two years, and hasn’t missed one regular season game because of it. Brad Lidge has had several surgeries immediately after the seasons have ended and the only flaw in his recovery is that he cared so much about his team that he tried to come back too soon. Jose Reyes has as much talent as anyone in the big leagues, but just seems completely unable to address simple flaws that bring his game down from superstar to ordinary. Ryan Howard won the Rookie of the Year in 2005, the MVP in 2006, a World Series title in 2008, the NLCS MVP in 2009, and now the biggest contract in Phillies history in 2010, yet he works tirelessly on the things that he doesn’t do well–his defense, his baserunning, his contact. Oliver Perez refuses to go to AAA after being ineffective as a starter and no one on the team says anything. Brett Myers is asked to take a demotion, doesn’t like it, but is met with such incredible pressure/support from his teammates, that he accepts the demotion, gets his head on straight and comes back to the majors with a new attitude just in time to lead the team to a World Series title.
All of these examples is not at all meant to say “see, our team is awesome, your team sucks.” These examples are intended to do the exact opposite–to keep us Phillies fans humbled and honored that we get to root for not only the most talented group of guys in the National League, but quite possibly the hardest working, most professional, and closest group of guys in all of baseball. In pro sports, the talent level between the best players and the bench players is so minute, that a lot of times it is attitude, camaraderie, and genuine desire that separates mediocre teams from championship teams. And, the ones that achieve greatness because of these things are the truly legendary ones.
So, let us take a moment today to remind ourselves that we, as humble Phillies fans who are not “entitled” to anything, currently have the privilege of not only rooting for a collection of great players, but rooting for a collection of great players that, more importantly, make up one great team. And, that maybe, just maybe, this great team might become legendary.