Good ol' spring training. Where every team believes it has a real shot to win the World Series. All the rookies are phenoms. All free agents are the missing pieces and all veterans are going to have career years. The beauty of spring training is the clinging to false optimism. Why do we do this? Probably because we desperately want it all to be true. Also, if you’re like me, you’ve got over thirty years invested and that’s a mighty long time. Other things we tend to hang onto longer then we should are cars, jobs, comic books and relationships. Specifically, bad relationships.
To say that a bad relationship is like rooting for a bad team is missing the point, for no team tortures its fans worse then the Philadelphia Phillies. Beginning in 1883 and continuing to present day, the Phillies have taken their fans on a journey with far more valleys then hills, many more losses then wins and a lot more heartache then joy. And yet, I can’t cut bait. Then it hit me, my irrational love of the Phillies is exactly like being in a bad relationship. Here’s how:
6 They Both Start Off With Such Promise
In the beginning, you can’t wait to see her. You’re constantly thinking about her and your love life is incredible. It’s new, constant and never dull. No one’s put on weight because you want to show each other your best selves. So it was for me in 1977.
The Phillies won 101 games and the National League East. They lost in the play-offs to the Dodgers but it was a great year. Mike Schmidt, Greg Luzinski, Steve Carlton were amazing. Hell, even Larry Christenson and Randy Lerch managed not to stink up the joint too much. Things were looking up and great times were on the way.
And they were. The next year they won 101 games and again lost to the Dodgers in the play-offs. Since the team also lost in the play-offs in ‘76, management decided in ‘79 that something needed to change to get to the next plateau.
5 A New Element Is Introduced
As Woody Allen famously said in Annie Hall, “A relationship is like a shark. It has to constantly move forward or it dies…” So, after a year, you ignore the obvious warning signs and move in together thinking that would fix things which it does…for awhile.
Since it would be impractical for all the ‘79 Phillies to move in together, they do the next big thing and signed Pete Rose. For a while, things are great. The Phils make the play-offs three times, win two pennants and a World Series. Everything’s great, right? Wrong.
4 Bad Decision Begets Bad Decision
What does taking Jeff Jackson over Frank Thomas and going on a long weekend trip to Santa Barbara with your girlfriend’s childhood best friend and her insufferably boring husband, Gabe, have in common? They both seemed like good ideas at the time. They weren’t.
Santa Barbara is beautiful so the last thing you should be thinking about is how many hours until you no longer have to talk to Gabe about variable annuities. You borrow that trick from Seinfeld where you mentally subtract sleeping, showers and meals from the time you actually have to spend with the most boring couple on the planet. Perhaps, the cruelest irony of all is that any number you come up with is way too long.
Meanwhile, Frank Thomas is hitting .318 with 32 home runs in Chicago while Jeff Jackson bats .225 in Spartanburg, South Carolina. From there, the bad decisions pile up like NBC putting together its fall schedule. Picking Rip Rollins over Cal Ripken Jr., signing Lance Parrish as a free-agent, hiring John Felske, trading Ryne Sandberg for magic beans and allowing Ruben Amaro, Jr. any direct authority. Trust me, this list could go on forever.
3 You’re Deceived By The Good Times
You’re driving back from the state fair having had a really good time. You got along great, made each other laugh and for the first time in a long time held hands. Today was so great you forget about how crappy the previous thirty were. How she thinks you’re a lousy boyfriend because you can’t read her mind and how, no matter what, it’s always your fault. But those days are gone. The future looks pretty darn optimistic.
I’ve just described the 1993 National League Champion Philadelphia Phillies. Everything just came together, so there’s no reason to think things wouldn’t continue to be great. Players wouldn’t break down. Everyone would have career years again. What’s that quote about those who forget history are freakin’ morons? Seems pretty apt here because the four years before the ‘93 pennant, the Phillies finished no higher then fourth and the four years after 1993, they finish no higher then fifth. So, sure tell your landlord that you and the little lady would love to sign another year long lease!
2 You’re Supportive Beyond All Reason
Quitting a job as vice-president of a hedge fund to make sock puppets may not seem like the most rational career change but it’s not your life, it’s hers so you try to be supportive. After spending your last four weekends at craft fairs and flea markets, your support wanes but only a little. You listen patiently when she complains about how competitive the sock puppet world is and how you need connections to get the really good socks.
You continue to be supportive even when she wants to chuck the puppets to become a life coach. You think about mentioning that not many people will want to hire a life coach who quit a job in finance to make sock puppets, but don’t because having obligatory sex twice a month is better then zero times. Late at night it finally hits you, you’re no longer being supportive, you’re enabling. It’s exactly the same thing Phillies fan do with their team.
On average, I probably spend around $300 per year combined on Phillies tickets, merch and the TV. package. Where does that money go? In 1996, it went to our lone free-agent signing, Todd Zeile. Shockingly, Zeile is not enough to get us over the hump. The money goes to sign more bad draft picks like Wayne Gomes and Tyler Green. At some point you think to yourself, they’ve got to know what they’re doing, right? Nope. There is no master plan unless it’s finishing third or worse for the next five years. If so, mission accomplished!
1 You Try And Get Out But You Can’t
Unless you’re a complete masochist, you don’t enjoy hurting people’s feelings. Breaking up with your live-in girlfriend is hurting someone’s feelings but for weeks, so you do the only rational thing: you move 3,000 miles.
For all the bagging on Los Angeles, the city does have some things going for it: fantastic weather, a diverse food scene as Mexikosher; the home of the kosher burrito can attest to and it also has the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Dodgers, a class organization with a long tradition of excellence on the field and seems like a perfectly good team to swear allegiance to. The starting pitching lead by Clayton Kershaw, Zach Greinke and Josh Beckett looks outstanding and when Kemp is a hundred percent, the offense should be solid. They should win the National League West and maybe go all the way. Yup, from here on in, the Dodgers are your team but what’s that you‘re hearing from Clearwater, Florida, the home of Hooters, Scientology and the Phillies spring training?
Ryan Howard says he’s healthy and is going to have a great year? Ruben Amaro Jr. predicts that new addition A.J. Burnett will win over twelve games? Papelbon has a good attitude and Carlos Ruiz got a league exemption to take Adderall?
Maybe the 2014 Phillies will shock the baseball world and prove they’re not too old, by winning the organization’s third World Series in one hundred and thirty one years. Maybe you’ll hold off on getting a new team for a few years. Wouldn’t want to jump off the bandwagon now. Why? Because even though the relationship may be tired, you’re not going anywhere because you’re a Phillies fan and there can be no escape.