You might remember, from back at the beginning of the NFL season, when we previewed each team by having a writer we liked write about their favorite team.
Well, we're less than a month away from the start of baseball, so it's time to do the same thing in the baseball world. Every weekday until the start of the season, a different writer will preview his/her team. We asked a gaggle of writers, from the Web, from print, from books, to tell us, in as many or as little words as they need, Where Their Team Stands. This is not meant to be factual, or dispassionate, or even logical: We just asked them to riff on why they love their team so much, or what their team means to them, or whatever.
Today: The Philadelphia Phillies. Your author is A.J. Daulerio.
April 2, 2007. This is not only the kickoff of baseball season in Philadelphia, but also an unofficial "sick" day for kids aged 16- 18 in the Delaware Valley. Even though it was close to, fuck, 16 years ago, this was how the Phillies existed in my mind during those dreary years of the Nick Leyva/Jim Fregosi era. Relevant only through the first two weeks of spring, most of those teams would unceremoniously vanish, and Vet Stadium would once again become a gigantic mausoleum littered with Bruce Ruffin's ashes for most of the summer.
But on opening day, hope and mayhem both sprang eternal. At the pre-North/South Council Rock High School, it was a right of passage. You'd get up at your usual time to go to school, but instead of getting picked up to go to class, you'd wait for your parents to go to work, then raid their liquor cabinet and dump it in a thermos or a flask usually with Hawaiian Punch or some other mixer that you won't find even the dirtiest of slide rails. Then you'd head to Flap Jake's for some pre-game pancakes and eat more than usual because, come 9 a.m., the rest of the day's sustenance would mostly come from Bud Light party balls and skunk weed. Pole 19 was where we met. And suburbia's spoiled trash came by the carload, stumbling out of vehicles, in various states of buzz, wandering around Vet Stadium's parking lot for a couple of hours to, essentially, car hop to find better beer — "Hey, I see Heineken coming from that Camry!" — or the Jewish kid with the nitrous tank.
By the time the third inning rolled around, Vet Stadium's upper deck levels had turned into a Larry Clark film: tin foil bowls being inconspicuously smoked, passed out girls getting felt up, lackluster fistfights, cascading vomit — just a glorious time. The game, of course, well, nobody cared. But now, for the most part, Citizen's Bank Ballpark has established itself as a family friendly environment; even the heckling has become more manicured, almost an amusement park ride as fans can hover over the opposing team's bullpen and spew invective under the close watch of a red-jacketed security guard. It's all so stale and lifeless. It's sad, really. Pretty soon there'll be a dunk tank with Santa Claus where you can throw snowballs at him.
But even without the long-gone grit of Vet Stadium, 2007 is one of the more hope-filled years in a decade. This year, there's more polish, more shine, more hope than usual, about a team that's been a giant tease for five years straight — even though their off season moves resulted in neither a Jim Thome signing or a Billy Wagner trade.
Big additions this year? Freddy Garcia, Adam Eaton and, uh, Wes Helms, who's essentially a less expensive David Bell. However, they kept Aaron Rowand, whose face-plant into the center field wall has secured him a place in Philadelphia hearts, regardless if he hits .260 for the rest of the season and has a pool noodle for an arm. Jimmy Rollins has suddenly established himself as the team's cocksure mouthpiece and, of course, Ryan Howard is here to save the city and baseball with each mighty swat. These "moves," along with fact that they have six starting pitchers and a six-fingered reliever, has almost made the Phillies on the precipice of trumping the Eagles in popularity, which hasn't been the case ever since Buddy Ryan first waddled to the press conference assuring us that we've "got a winner in town."
The biggest jolt to the Phillies lineup this year, however, has to be Pat Burrell's engagement. The stories of Burrell's swordsmanship are legendary in the Philadelphia area. You can't bump into somebody within a 50-mile radius of Philadelphia who doesn't have a story. They all start the same: At a club, usually involving a 20-something stunner sidling up at the bar, then, enter ... the Bat. Next thing you know, she's got herself box seats behind home plate and is hanging out with Burrell and Jason Michaels 'til 4 a.m. doing kamikaze shots down the Jersey Shore. One friend-of-a-friend story included Pat leaving her a present the next day after one drunken libidinous night with The Bat — his Valtrex. But an even more vintage Bat story is this second-hand gem:
The story goes: A few guys were on a business trip in Pittsburgh. A couple of the guys knew the Phils were in town, so when they all spotted Burrell at a club there one night, it wasn't a total surprise. Pat ended up taking a liking to one of the girls in their group. She thought he was hot but didn't follow baseball. He took her back to his hotel room, and a make-out session ensued until she alerted Pat that she would NOT do him. Not fazed by this, Burrell seemed to respect her chastity, and rather than force himself on her or fly into a blueball rage, he asked a simple question, glancing down at his engorged pants: "Mind if I take care of business?"
The horrified woman didn't stay the night, letting Pat, take care of his business on his own.
Without these weekly distractions, there has to be a boost in confidence and plate discipline, no? We'll be able to tell as soon as Burrell sees his first low outside slider. But congratulations on the engagement!
And to make this 2007 Phillies season even better, the fine folks at Mastero's on the Avenue, at 2216 West Pasayunk in South Philly, are offering a new special that starts Opening Day and is available every home game. The "Mamula" sandwich, consisting of pork, sharp provolone, on a soft roll, with a soda and a pickle, for $5.
All you have to do is enter the store (or call: 215-465-2701) and ask "Where's Mamula?" for the deal. Yep.
It's good to be home...