I recently spent a few days in Philadelphia, admiring the gorgeous Victorian architecture and strangely compelling row houses interspersed with half-demolished liquor stores and vacant churches for sale.
In between all this perverse urban rubbernecking, I managed to catch the Phillies’ mauling of the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park. The experience was pleasant, if not a bit odd – not for the geography lesson or constantly having to remind myself that Ted Luzinski and Dick Allen did in fact play for the Phils, but because Phillies fans are more intense than mere words can describe. Not out of a weird, hive-mind culture like a Cardinals fan, and not out of a prison-informed, cut-me-if-I-don’t-cut-you-first mentality of a Raiders fan, but more in their bare-knuckled, blind hatred of so many other teams for so many reasons.
Keep in mind the Phillies were taking on the Braves and only the Braves that evening. So when Cole Hamels scored on a Jimmy Rollins double to put the home team up 4-0 in the second inning, how does the upper deck respond? Through poetry and chant, of course.
“NEW! YORK! SUCKS! [clap] NEW! YORK! SUCKS! [clap]”
The second inning!
“What’s with all the Mets bashing tonight?” I later asked the guy ahead of me in line at Brewerytown.
“What,” he asks, “you like the Mets or something?”
“No,” I said, “just curious what the Mets have to do with this game.”
“This game?” squawked a woman in a Jim Thome jersey. “It’s got everything to do with this game! You come here, you make a promise to hate the Mets.” Prah-miss.
“Hey, this is the Phillies,” someone else added, “best team in baseball!”
Another voice chimed, “World Series CHAMPION Philadelphia Phillies, thank you very much!” CHAMP-yon.
“You guys had a pretty rough run of it there for a while,” I said.
“Oh God,” said the first guy, “it was awful. Some of those teams almost made me embarrassed to live in this city.” Sommathose. Imbearissed.
“Those days are over!” yelled Ms. Thome. “This is a new day for the Phillies baseball team, you mark my words! Everyone doubts us, we’ll show ’em all!”
When the time the game ended, the crowd made its way back out to Broad Street, chorus hit its full swing: “F*** THE METS! F*** THE METS! F*** THE METS!”
Hateful beyond reproach, spiteful beyond belief and self-appointed underdogs even when they’re on top. They won the World Series seven months ago yet act as though nothing good ever has or will again come their way. Their pride tempered by years and years of shame, their victorious boasting held in check by decades upon decades of losing, all in the name of not becoming the brighter, shinier tribe just down the highway.
They are instantly recognizable and almost familiar; they, it seems, are just now the way we were not too long ago. Those were sweet times, where the world was ours and there were no small enemies, only small annoyances. When the fight was for the top, not the bottom, and this year was going to make last year look like the countless non-events before then.
Happy times, those were. Happy times indeed. And Philadelphia wasn’t so bad, either.