CD's Connect the Dots...The Tortoise and the Hare

One of my favorite Aesop's Fables as a child was the tale of the tortoise and the hare. It is story much in need of revisiting as our Phillies, the tortoise, face the unenviable task of chasing a rabbit, the Florida Marlins, who have parlayed their sprinter's start into a somewhat sizeable lead. Far from allowing disillusionment to surface, the Phils must take comfort in the fact that the race is not always won by the swiftest but by the steadiest. In short, the Phils must stay the course.

A black cloud hangs over Philadelphia baseball fans today, a gathering storm brought over from the South Shores of Florida, and courtesy of those pesky, speedy Marlins, the new darlings of baseball. Truth be told, they have earned their spurs, both by the meddle they showed in last autumn's playoffs, and by the way they have refused to acknowledge the naysayers who declared them "one-year" wonders.

In point of fact, it is probably best for all concerned if the Marlins become recognized for what they are, a solid team, blessed with superior starting pitching, stout defense, just enough power… and the best 1-2 top of the order punch in baseball. This is a combination difficult to beat, and it should surprise no one if this group remains at or near the top of the NL East for the foreseeable future.

Yet, the Phils, far from being discouraged, must take heed from the story of the race between the tortoise and the hare, and keep an eye on the finish line…. still over five months away. This will certainly be a difficult task, not only given the slow start of our Phightins, but because of the continued inability of our club to even kick a tiny dent in the victory column in games between the two combatants.

The numbers have become almost staggering, now at 19 wins in 21 contests and counting for the Fish over the Phillets. These statistics border on the surreal, and bring back memories of the 1962 Phils and their amazing 17-1 record against the Houston Colt 45's, a club playing their inaugural season. And, though the record parallels are interesting, that is where the similarity ends.

Those Colt 45's were a woebegone team, led by such luminaries as Roman Mejias, Bob Aspromonte and former Phil, pitcher Turk Farrell. In contrast, Manager Gene Mauch led an up and coming Phillie nine that would within two years challenge for the pennant. This Phillie team is no NL weak sister, but rather a team expected to challenge for the division crown at worst, and the National League pennant at best.

Now the question becomes… what to do seeing that the Rabbit has sprinted to a sizeable advantage? Not only in terms of games behind, which is manageable, but in terms of the mental anguish this team has caused our Phils, a problem not so easily manageable.

Phillie chat lines are alive with restive spirits, eager to offer any and all remedies for what ails our team. From cries of "Fire Bowa" to howls of "Bench Bell", the talk is of massive and quick changes to a team in seeming disarray. Yet, this team was built to stay the course, and the tortoise did not falter when faced with an early and large deficit.

Rather, trust is now needed; trust that Marlon Byrd, Mike Lieberthal and Jimmy Rollins will begin to resemble the solid players of the past. Trust that a five-man rotation of solid, dependable innings eaters will soon display their past form, and give rest to a tired and beleaguered bullpen.

And trust that a Marlin team, fueled by early disrespect given them from most baseball pundits, will soon develop a case of "youthful arrogance", and forget what made them special. For as it is true that youth knows no fear, it is equally true that youth often forgets its weaknesses. It is imperative that the Tortoise [Phillies] continues its march, with an expectation that the Rabbit [Marlins] will eventually decide to take a breather.

The Phils first goal should be to reach the .500 mark, hopefully by the end of April. No team began its quest for greatness without first reaching the north side of the break even spot. From there, the team can begin to build on this and hope that the inevitable Marlin slump will occur. And it will occur, sooner or later. Baseball history tells me so.

Let's be honest, this Marlin team has been on a continual free pass to Disneyland since they swept the Phils last July 4-6. Since then, this team has continually landed on its feet after falling out of a tree, and no team has seen this more than our Phillies. From wild card births, to playoff victories, from World Series triumphs to early '04 success, the Marlin ride has been a smooth one.

Yet, baseball is a game of push and pull, ebb and flow, charge and recharge. And while we have seen how the Marlins perform when they are the pursuer, we have yet to see them withstand the pressures felt as the pursued. This is a test as yet unmet by these Marlins, and rest assured, the test will come sometime this season. Be it our beloved Phils or those perennial division champs, the Atlanta Braves, some team will test the resilience of the World Champion Marlins.

Thus, it is important that the Phils concern themselves less with the psychological problems brought on by their inability to "catch a fish" and worry more about staying the course, and trusting in the talents of their teammates. The Phils will score runs. The Phils will catch the ball. The Phils starters will pitch well. Billy Wagner will anchor a solid bullpen. The Phils will begin to win consistently.

It is a mantra that not only should be believed, but also repeated. The Phils will eventually begin to win consistently. When they do, they should not be surprised if they glance over to the side of a tree and catch a glimpse of a dozing Rabbit, overconfident of its ability to outrun its nearest competitor.

For something tells me that this year, the race will be different, that the Rabbit will become careless and cocky. Something tells me that Manager Jack McKeon, ever the under dog, will be less cordial, and more condescending in his new role as favorite. And something tells me that youngsters Juan Pierre, Miguel Cabrera and Josh Beckett will begin to pay the dues owed a game that eventually catches up with everyone.

Stay the course, slow and steady wins the race. Heed well, beleaguered Phils. "Let not your souls be troubled" is a welcome piece of advice often given by a very popular syndicated talk show host. Wise words indeed for a Phillie fan in need of some light at the end of the tunnel. Just remember Aesop's wonderful and pointed fable.

The tortoise eventually caught the hare.

Columnist's Note: I welcome suggestions, questions and comments. Please send them to connectthedots@earthlink.net and I will respond. CD from the Left Coast

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