CD's Connect The Dots...Yes!

The word was sweet music to the ears of every Phillie fan… the simple one-syllable word, "Yes"! And yet, to Phillie fans long accustomed to hearing the word, "No," it had the gentle rhapsody of a wonderful song, a song so new, yet one that promises to elevate the spirits of even the most crusty, pessimistic Phillie soul. Kevin Millwood said, "Yes," and with it dawned a whole new era in Philadelphia baseball history.

It was not altogether unexpected. Many, including Manager Larry Bowa, had been hinting at it for days. He had even announced that Millwood would be his starting pitcher on opening day next season if he returned. Yet, to Phillie fans who prepared for the worst while hoping for the best, it seemed almost surreal.

A winter where almost every turn has been the correct one, every decision a wise one, has culminated into a Pre New Year celebration not seen in Phillieland for quite some time. Oh, the 1993 Phils provided us with a season of unending wonderment… but only for a season. Before that, nearly a decade of defeat.

Since then and for a stretch of ten long years, Phillie fans have become expectant of the worst, and accustomed to the word "No," uttered from almost every player that Philadelphia hoped to embrace. Joe Carter said "No", when Phil fanatics prayed for a Mitch Williams miracle strikeout in Game Six of the '93 World Series.

Baseball fates said "No" to a Phillie Encore in '94, first to the tune of cancerous growths on Daren Daulton and John Kruk, and then to a terrible strike that put Philadelphia into a traumatized baseball sleep that lasted a decade.

Through the decade, three players whom Philadelphia hoped to embrace all uttered the fateful but painful words…"No!" First, it was Collegiate All-American JD Drew in 1997, who announced for all to hear that "it would take a princely sum of 10 million dollars for him to even consider gracing the city with his presence".

Then, after recovering from the Drew snub, Phil's fanatics decided to hang their hats on two resident stars, pitcher Curt Schilling and third baseman Scott Rolen. Though cheered and supported as few others have been in recent history, both chose to utter the words "No" when asked to stay and help rebuild that which was broken.

Schilling said "No" and left for the deserts of Arizona, and a 2001 World Series Championship while Phil fans were left to wonder how it came apart so suddenly between the player and team.

Once Schilling left, it was hoped that Rolen would stay and see the vision that GM Ed Wade tried to offer him… through rose-colored glasses, many thought. Wade insisted he had a plan, a plan of unrivaled growth tied to the revenue streams of a new stadium, primed to open in 2004.

Yet Rolen, tired of losing, and distrustful of an organization that he felt was more interested in profits than won-lost percentages said "No" and left for the Gateway Arches of St. Louis in 2002. Once again, like a jilted bridegroom, the Phils were left to lick their wounds and wonder if anyone would ever see the vision as they saw it.

For nine long years, save for a 37-18 start in Bowa's inaugural year of 2001, the Phils have suffered the painful arrows of defeat, disinterest and disgust. Players like Travis Lee, Mike Timlin and Garrett Stephenson made no attempts to hide their dislike of the city and the team.

The downward spiral continued as if on a course of unending misery… until a strange occurrence in the winter of ‘02. Oh, it was a small triumph, no more than a tiny positive blip on a radar screen of seismic negative activity. Yet, when third baseman David Bell uttered those almost foreign words, "Yes" to the Phils' advances during free agency, it was as if a giant cloud, one hanging over Philadelphia for nine long years, had finally lifted.

Not only did Bell utter the magic words "Yes," but he promised that if possible he would assist in bringing other talented players to Philadelphia. Of particular interest was one Jim Thome, late of the Cleveland Indians, and a man capable of putting up huge power numbers to the lucky team that captured his attention.

When Thome came to town to visit, Philadelphia put on its best hard hat face on and showed its true blue collar spirit. Certainly, Thome, a blue-collar sort, won over the masses with his grace, charm and down home spirit. Yet when he left town, torn between his old love, Cleveland, and a potential new love, Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love braced for another disappointment.

For a team and fandom far too accustomed to the word "No," it seemed beyond reality that a mega star like Thome would say, "Yes". And for several days it seemed the familiar sound of "No" would come, as Thome clearly held very real attachments to Cleveland, a team that was seemingly not nearly as attached to him.

Finally, as if in a sudden whirlwind, Thome announced to the baseball world "Yes" to Philadelphia, "Yes" to the Phillies! To be quite honest, Phillie fans held their collective breaths in disbelief. But it was true, and with Thome came credibility. If Bell brought a glance, Thome brought a stare… and the entire baseball world began to watch.

Something mysterious, an almost surreal scenario, was happening in Philadelphia. A team thought of as losers and misfits for a long time, was now being taken very seriously by foes from Atlanta to San Francisco.

Then, when Kevin Millwood was traded to the Phils in a pre-Christmas gift-wrapping, it certainly all seemed too good to be true. And for quite some time, it was. Millwood was talented, young… and a pitcher one year removed from free agency. Certainly, here would be the litmus test for the Phils.

While Bell was won over by his old coach Bowa and his overriding persuasion, Thome was charmed by citizens as hard working as he is. Millwood, on the other hand, was of another stock. A man raised in the comforts of the South and used to the southern charms of Atlanta, how would he take to the city full of zest and passion unseen on Peachtree Street?

It helped not that Millwood was advised by one Scott Boras, he of the historically contentious negotiations with the Phils. And, sure enough, when the Phils made advances to Millwood about a long-term deal last summer, he answered in a word long heard in Philadelphia… "No".

When the '03 season came to a disappointing finish and Millwood made his seeming goodbye gesture, not with kind words but with the toss of a glove, all seemed normal again. It helped not that less than one month before, popular Tyler Houston had left the team in a huff, released for a bad attitude and full of venom in his tongue.

Houston insisted that Bowa was a player's worst nightmare, and that no player would choose to come to Philadelphia, much less stay if given the choice. These words seemed prophetic in regards to Millwood and it was widely accepted that he was gone for good.

Yet Wade would not be deterred and he went to work building his team for 2004. He traded three top pitching prospects for an ace lefty reliever, Billy Wagner. When asked if he was pleased to be in Philadelphia, Wagner responded with a most resonant word…"Yes." Perhaps Millwood would be buoyed by the acquisition of a lefty reliever with a 100 MPH fastball.

Despite the best efforts of GM Wade, all seemed lost when Millwood went away to hunt and Boras refused to return phone calls. For Phillie fans, it seemed like old times once again, the word "No" reverberating form the tops of Independence Hall to the clangs of the Liberty Bell.

Finally, when Wade became convinced that all was lost with Millwood, he found a team that would say "Yes", and acquired lefty Eric Milton from Minnesota. With this "Yes" came a sudden turn of events that must have sent Phillie fans heads spinning.

Almost immediately after the Milton announcement came word from Millwood that he had never said "No" at all… merely a maybe. Suddenly the tide had turned, and it was for Wade to decide to say "Yes" or "No" to an arbitration offering to Millwood.

While it seemed far too good to be true, brave Phillie fans began to envision a pitching staff led by the Mills Boys… if only Wade said "Yes." When Wade made the thumbs up announcement on Sunday, December 7, the ball bounced back to Millwood, and a city braced itself for another snub, another "No".

Suddenly, word began to filter that a standout relief pitcher, one ticketed for Atlanta might be the latest player to utter the "Yes" remark. Todd Worrell, a pitcher with a solid right arm and a sterling resume became the latest to say, "Yes" to Philadelphia, a choice that stunned and surprised Brave fans.

At his welcoming party, Worrell spoke of the vision, a vision that Wade never could convince Rolen to see. It was a vision of 42,000 fans at a new ballpark, and a team on the rise. It was a rebirth vision for a city famous for a timeless birth, the birth of a nation.

David Bell had seen it. Jim Thome had seen it. Billy Wagner, Eric Milton and Todd Worrell all saw it! All had said "Yes" to Philadelphia, "Yes" to the Phillie vision. Yet, for the picture to be complete, for Philadelphia to feel completely exorcised from its past of "No's", it would take an acceptance speech from Millwood, the reluctant one; Millwood, the man who would complete the turnaround.

Finally, Friday, December 19 dawned. On this day Kevin Millwood would make clear his future endeavor, either to stay and help make Philadelphia the powerhouse of the East, or cast his lot elsewhere, anywhere but Phillieland.

The wait that day was not a long one. Unlike the arbitration decision by Wade that lasted until nearly midnight and left consternation and debate on the lips of every Phillie fan, this one was quick. Almost like an afterthought.

Kevin Millwood had made his decision. He felt very good about it, seemed almost surprised that anyone would doubt the ultimate wisdom of it. He had decided to cast his lot to a vision, to a future, to a team that he felt could win, and win big.

His decision was based on his affection for the players, his respect for the coaches, his positive feelings for the city. Gone forever were previous visions of long losing streaks and unhappy players. Gone forever were disenchanted fans and negative images.

Gone were thoughts of Jeff Juden and Rob Ducey. Say good-bye to Bobby Munoz and Gregg Jeffries. No more images of Mark Whiten or Sid Fernandez. Bid farewell at last to Shawn Boskie and Andy Van Slyke.

With one small word the landscape changed from pale grays to bright yellows. A city long thought hopeless had become a city now hopeful. A pennant pretender became a championship contender. Kevin Millwood just said, "YES!" and with one simple word, Philadelphia's decade of frustration was alive "no" more!


P.S. Due to the holidays, this column will take a one-week break and will return next Monday, 12/29th.

Wishing each and every Phillie fan the Happiest of Holidays and the Best of New Years! Take care and God bless!

Sincerely,
CD from the Left Coast

Columnist's Note: I welcome suggestions, questions and comments. Please send them to connectthedots@earthlink.net and I will respond!

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