Although solidly entrenched now in Southern California, I grew up in Northern California. An annual pilgrimage takes place whenever I visit family and friends up North. I revisit the places where I was standing when I first heard about the Ruiz steal of home and the Carter home run. Ironically, though spaced by nearly 30 years separation, and a lifetime of experiences, I happened to be standing on streets within a mile of each other when these events occurred. I always wondered if the feeling would change when I revisit these memorable sites after long times of absences. Amazingly, they never do...it is no more a panacea to revisit these sites than if they were suddenly erased from my memory. Which is quite an impossibility because they are memories...forever etched in the space of my mind…and frozen in time. The feelings of sadness, pain and a sense of foreboding reawaken every time I make the visit and I know I will carry these feelings for as long as I live.
I remember vividly the case of Carter… I could not watch the ninth inning, it was as if I knew what would transpire, given Williams propensity to self-destruct during those ‘93 playoffs. As I walked the block, I chanced to see a man in his garage, watching the game. I asked him the score...and when he told me of Carter's home run, the pain and sadness touched every sinew of my body. I knew that the ‘93 team was a once in a generation team...as the '64 team was. That Ruiz memory is of a tiny transistor radio and the sound of Giants announcer Russ Hodges telling the Bay Area fans that Chico Ruiz had just stolen home to give the Reds a 1-0 lead over the Phils. At that moment, a sense of extreme foreboding overcame me, as if I had seen the script already and it was now being reenacted for my benefit. It would be 12 days before the Phils would win another game.... too little, too late! Memories.... frozen in time.
The beauty of sports memories is that they often come when you least expect them, and they often come after great anticipation. Many Phillie fans experienced this euphoric feeling last November when the Phils announced the signing of one Jim Thome after countless days of speculation, rumor and disappointment. This was a Phillie memory.... frozen in time.
Another was the sudden and surprising acquisition of Pitcher Kevin Millwood on Friday, December 21, 2003. Ironically, I remember vividly what I was doing...I was playing Santa Claus for my tiny students on the last day of school. There is a good chance the Thome signing will be a memory...frozen in time… for most Phillie diehards. But the strange and ever changing case of Millwood awaits another story, one that could happen soon and lead to the latest Phillie memory that will be forever… frozen in time. You see, as wonderful and talented Kevin Millwood is for the Phillies, it is widely assumed that he is just being rented for a year, until his free agency period allows him to leave for greener (literally) pastures. Certainly, his love for the South and the Braves, or his fascination with winning championships with the Yankees would supersede any loyalties and love he might develop for our Phillies this year. Add to this the sometimes acrimonious relations between his agent, Scott Boras, and the Phils and you see the painted picture of a man riding off in the sunset.... with Phillie fans resigned to being second best...again.
However, an unusual whisper seems to be riding in the wind this last week, not a shout, certainly not a drumbeat, but rather a quiet hum, and it speaks to the very hearts and minds of Phillie fans everywhere. You see, there are hushed whispers of negotiations taking place between Mr. Boras and GM Ed Wade of the Phillies. Negotiations that speak of a possible deal, a rich one no doubt - but a deal that could make Millwood a Phillie for at least the next five years! And this would undoubtedly become a treasured memory.... frozen in time… for Phillies fans!
It would announce for all to hear that the Phillies, our wonderful, woebegone Phillies finally made it with the big boys...the Yankees, Red Sox, Braves and Dodgers. Oh, Thome was a wonderful catch and it certainly stamped the Phils as a team to examine, even study, but signing Millwood would tell the baseball world that the Phils are here to stay, and ready to match wits with the top teams over the next decade. You see, the Phils were basically negotiating only against themselves and his love for Cleveland when they signed Jim Thome. But Millwood? He is merely the youngest potential ace pitcher on the market and his agent is notorious for steering his players to big market teams. This signing could not be minimized. It would be a statement from Millwood and his agent of their belief in the picture the Phils are desperately trying to paint. A confirmation that its not just a caricature of past portraits.....but a painting imprinted with substance, texture, and beauty.
Suddenly, the painting would have depth, from Millwood and Wolf, to passion, from Rollins and Byrd to strength, from Burrell to Thome. Suddenly, this picture would have purpose, from Abreu and Lieberthal, to potential, from Utley and Madson, to promise, from Floyd and Hamels. Exciting to contemplate and fearful to expect. It is not a secret that to be a Phillie fan is to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Have we not seen and went through them all…for every 1980, there were two 1964s. For every Mike Schmidt division clinching home run, there were two Dusty Baker championship crashing home runs. For every Rose catch, there was a Garry Maddox drop. And for every Richie Allen triple, there was a Dick Allen error.
So, the question that will be asked in the next couple of weeks by Phillie fans everywhere is...whither Kevin Millwood? Will we thank him for a job well done and wish him well as he walks out the door or rather, will Millwood decide he likes the sights and sound of Philadelphia and choose to stay. If so, then prepare yourself. Oh, you may be in a supermarket, or in a mall, or just going for a drive. I highly suspect that if Millwood decides to bleed Phillie red for the next several years... this event will one day be a brilliant memory...forever frozen in time.
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