no mistake about it. If you are a Phillie fan, this is meant to be a feel good
article. Logic dictates that we certainly deserve it. For too long, we viewed
spring training with skepticism borne of too much losing, too little hope, and
too many question marks. Not so this spring.
Oh, we could quibble and mention David Bell's back or Pat Burrell's swing. But those are concerns for another day. Today is a day of faith, an assurance that our greatest hopes will be fulfilled, and the conviction that a wonderful season is about to unfold.
Admit it, Phillie fans. That feeling has been building for some time now. It began shortly after the season ended when GM Ed Wade announced the acquisition of star closer, Billy Wagner. This was a trade of the first magnitude, a player who would give us the faith that a ninth inning lead meant a victory instead of a meltdown.
It continued into the winter, when after the Curt Schilling disappointment, the Phils literally doubled their pleasure with the acquisition of standout lefty starter, Eric Milton, and the retention of a potential wayward son, Kevin Millwood. Suddenly, almost miraculously, the Phils had a group of starters comparable to the best staffs in baseball.
No more would Phillie fans be subject to the sight of Chad Ogea, Mark Leiter or Joe Roa being passed off as potential middle of the rotation starters. Knowledgeable Phil's fanatics knew better, having seen such hurlers as Jim Lonborg, Dick Ruthven and Tommy Greene grace the middle of a sterling rotation.
Faith has replaced despair, the faith that comes from the confidence that a Randy Wolf, Vicente Padilla or Brett Myers will combine with the Mills Boys to strike fear in the hearts of the enemy, instead of the other way around.
Not content to stand still with a great rotation and top of the line closer, the Phils rebuilt the bridge from starter to closer, and brought in Tim Worrell and Roberto Hernandez. Worrell, fresh off a 38 save season in San Francisco, and Hernandez, a former closer of the best kind, add depth, experience and winning resumes to a staff now filled with exclamation points instead of question marks.
Faith speaks of these hurlers, along with standout lefty reliever Rheal Cormier, helping lead the Phils to the promised land of the playoffs, and possibly the World Series. It is a feeling that permeates everywhere!
Still not content to rest on well-deserved laurels, Wade next addressed a bench issue, the lack of a solid right-handed power hitter. When the list of
non-tendered free agents was posted, Phillie fanatics spoke in hushed tones about the possibility of bringing in Shawn Wooten, erstwhile pinch hitter deluxe for the Anaheim Angels.
Past experience spoke of the acquisition of Wooten as merely a pipe dream. Certainly he would opt for greener pastures and the possibility of full time work. Yet faith was at play again and Wooten felt the calling of a Philadelphia Freedom that promised riches in the form of sold out stadiums and meaningful October ballgames.
Even before Wade could wish his family Merry Christmas, Wooten was signed, sealed and delivered, and Philadelphia was aglow in the possibilities of a return to the wonderful summers of the 70's and early 80's. Faith was working overtime now and Phillie frenzy was merely a month away.
That month has come, and the faithful feast is about to begin. Football has been laid to rest again one game too soon, and Philadelphia is once more poised to become a baseball town. Can you feel it? Have you become so hardened by years of losing and hopelessness that it is not obvious?
One senses it in the boyish enthusiasm of Marlon Byrd and Brett Myers when they talk of playing for keeps this year. It is apparent that Wagner, Wolf and Wooten have made the "W" in their last names synonymous with Winning, and not just the casual kind.
Word is spreading of an off-season workout program that has engulfed players from Jim Thome to Bobby Abreu. Kingpins both, they are bound by a certainty that this year is special, one that can compare to all the legacies of Schmidt, Luzinski and Allen. They are determined not to disappoint the faithful, or themselves.
Listen to the talk. It comes from Kevin Millwood and Jimmy Rollins. From Placido Polanco and Mike Lieberthal. It speaks to the hearts and minds of Phillie fans everywhere. It speaks of winning, and recapturing what was once commonplace.
Young fans, too long accustomed to losing, are unfamiliar with the taste of winning. Philadelphia Phillie baseball was once synonymous with it. Talk was not of .500 seasons, or improving daily. Talk was of pennants, playoff triumphs and World Series births. The talk has returned, and it is long overdue.
Faith instructs me to believe that Burrell will hit like the budding superstar of '02. Faith speaks of Millwood recapturing the magic that made him an 18 game winner in Atlanta. Faith promises me that Rollins and Byrd will present images of Pierre and Castillo, that Abreu, Burrell and Thome will rekindle talk of a Murder's Row of Mashers, and that Wagner will allow the Phils the luxury of relaxation and not Rolaids when he enters a late inning ballgame.
Faith holds me to the belief that Phillie caps will adorn the heads of every child and Thome jerseys will be as popular as Iverson's. It tells me that trips to Citizens Bank Park will be as eventful as a trip to Disney World. It reminds me of what was, and will be again.
it is okay to be optimistic. It is a deserved reward for the years of lost
hopes, lost dreams and lost ball games. This year will be different. Instead of
opening the season as the hunters, we are now the hunted. The hushed tones are
now spoken not by the Philadelphia Phyllis, but about them.
You hear it in Atlanta, in New York, and in Miami. They say it in San Francisco, and Los Angeles and San Diego. Word has filtered to Chicago, and Milwaukee and Pittsburgh. The Phils are for real, and they are to be feared once again. No more circling Phillie games as likely victories for the opposition. No more trips to the City of Brotherly Love to fatten batting averages and lower ERA's.
tables have finally turned and it is the Braves who are hoping to compete. It is
the Expos and Mets who speak of season long improvement. It is the Marlins who
hope lightening strikes twice. For the Phils, it is all about winning, and faith
tells me this talk will cease not, all season.
So, Phillie faithful, adorn those red pinstripes and pledge those allegiances. It is once again in style to take Harry Kalas to work with you, and to care who is coming to the plate in the bottom half of the sixth. It is now fashionable to plan your summer vacation around a long Phillie homestand and to take in a Phillie-Mets game while in New York on business.
Faith is working overtime in 2004 and if my faith has its way, we, long starved fanatics, will be cheering our favorites long into October. Baseball has tested our patience, our mettle, our priorities. It is now ready to reward us… believe it.
Columnist's Note: I welcome suggestions, questions and comments. Please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will respond! CD from the Left Coast