After carefully noting these and other interesting tidbits that regularly make a baseball schedule a seeming walk through the yellow pages, they noticed one more thing. It stopped them on their tracks…not just because of its length, but because of its timing. The letters and characters were practically jumping out of the pages…. a 14-day, 13 game road trip to end the month of August.
August...the dog days, the days of withering heat, stifling humidity, tired bodies and weak arms. It was obvious from the start that this trip could prove decisive to the Phillies hopes of making the NL playoffs in October. And hopefully onwards to the long-awaited birth in the 2003 World Series.
Well, fellow Phillie fanatics, the trip is upon us. And depending on when you come across this article, our lovable Phillies may be in a hotel room in Milwaukee, at a bus terminal in St. Louis, at an airport in Montreal, or in a taxi in New York. But fear not! Before the Phils make a return to Philadelphia, you can count on the reality that this road trip will be behind them.
Road trip...and not just any ordinary road trip. Try a four city, 6000-mile trip that will take our Phils to the likes of Milwaukee to meet the Brewers, to St. Louis for a three-game battle with the Cards, across the Canadian border for a four-game weekday visit to Montreal's Expos, then on to New York for a leisurely weekend meeting with the Mets! Hoping to catch a baseball game at the Vet in August? Too late for that...the Vet is closed for business until September 1! On trips such as this are championships won...or lost.
So, as we wave goodbye to our Phightins for two weeks, lets take an imaginary trip with them and see just what they might expect on this sightseeing trip across North America. The professional athlete is highly paid and is expected to perform at his best despite obstacles that might make the average fan shake heads with frustration. But a careful examination of this trip may reveal some surprising things.
Think about your last vacation. No matter how enjoyable it was, there were some difficulties. It begins with being away from home. You had to deal with hard and even squeaky beds, unpalatable food, time changes that make sleeping difficult, and just being away from love ones and familiar grounds that make up our comfort zones. Expect the long distance telephone bill to go up, miss out on child's first day back at school, maybe even parent-teacher meetings. Home cooking.... forget it! Hanging out with friends and family... no way. Hostile crowds...absolutely! Terrible weather? You bet!
The humidity in Milwaukee and St. Louis will make it seem like you have just entered a hot box. And these are just the external forces. Pressure...ah, a word we would rather not know. But it is ever present in baseball territory, so yes – there's the pressure that goes with knowing that the Brewers would love to be spoilers, or that the Cards and ‘Spos would love to supplant you in the final wild card spot, or the Mets loving the beating of their interdivision rivals.
After attempting to convince you that this trip is not a ride with the Pirates of the Caribbean, but rather a roller coaster ride on Magic Mountain, lets talk about the Phils chances of success. For although difficult, the focus should still be on the winning, and of that, there can be little room for error.
One of the most treasured ways a fan can be part of the team is playing the "projection game." Admit it, you do it, we all do. Let's see, if we sweep the Brewers, win two-of-three with the Cards.... etc. etc. etc. So much fun...and definitely swimming in dangerous waters. Inevitably, it sets a fan up for disappointment because baseball games just aren't played that way.
Baseball is a marathon, not a sprint, and a wise player looks at each game as a separate event. Each game is to be played with 100% concentration, and total focus on the end goal, to win the game. This allows a player to stay in the here and now, and helps avoid looking too far ahead. That is exactly how the Phils should, and probably will look at this trip. Each game is to be won, and a loss is merely a minor interruption to the resolve of winning the next game. When the trip is over, then a team can examine how they did, and how successful they were.
Sounds great, huh? OK, so forget the projections! What is possible to do is study the opponents to more carefully gauge the chances for overall success. Ironically, this is a trip that has the potential to get more difficult with each stop.
Milwaukee on paper is the easiest of the four stops. A team with a poor home record, the Brewers are among the weakest teams in the NL and a focused and skilled Phils team should handle the Brewers.
The Cards are always difficult under the Gateway Arches, and with ex-Phillie Scott Rolen leading the way, it guarantees a challenge to a Phils team that always struggle in this mid-western city.
After successfully navigating their way through the Midwest, the Phils continue to Canada, which promises to be a tough four-game series against a ‘Spos team fighting for playoff survival. Add to that a talented Livan Hernandez and a healthy Vlad Guerrero and this will be a riveting battle.
Had enough? Hope not, because after a visit to our Northern neighbors, the Phils make their final visit to Shea Stadium to meet a suddenly rejuvenated Mike Piazza and his Mets. A few weeks ago, this visit may have seemed like a walk through Central Park, but not anymore. The Mets, playing with youthful enthusiasm, and pressure-less freedom, will make the Phils final stop a real test of determination and skill.
Exhausted yet? Or perhaps homesick for the Vet and its final regular season month in Philadelphia? Great, because the Red Sox, Braves and Marlins will be stopping by to give their regards to an old friend.
That these games will be nostalgic and heart-warming, is beyond dispute. That more than one Phillie faithful will shed a tear for the ghosts of Schmidt and Luzinski, Carlton and Lonborg, McGraw and Reed, Dykstra and Kruk, is inevitable. That the month of September will be a time of remembrances and saying goodbye to old friends, is guaranteed. What is not assured is how meaningful these games will be.
Will each Kevin Millwood outing be a potential playoff preview? Will Pat Burrell find his stroke in time to lead the team to an October to remember? Will the lights at the Vet go out for good on September 28 or will playoff tickets go on sale the following day?
The answers to these and other open-ended questions will unravel during the next two weeks...when a road trip in August may lead to a road trip to victory in October.
Columnist's Note: Suggestions, questions and comments welcome. Please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will respond! CD