Keeping the Phaith


I am a real Phillies fan, one of the diehard Phaithful. Despite last night’s loss, I still love them. And, as a true Philadelphian, I’ve learned quite well by now the Philadelphian mantra, as much as it pains me to say it: there’s always next year.

Growing up in a immigrant household, I wasn’t ever properly introduced to this most American of pastimes, as neither of my parents really understood what guys were doing standing around waiting to catch a ball that may or may not be hit by a guy holding a bat. But there are few things other than the SATs for a suburban kid to do at home over the summer, so I started watching Phillies games. It was easy enough to figure out, especially with Harry Kalas’ (RIP, “The Voice”) fluid commentary. It helped that the Phillies have an adorably strange mascot in the Phanatic: a giant, green, fuzzy creature in who likes to make unsuspecting fans dance on the dugout roof, drive donuts on the field, and belly dance, using his gigantic hips like a hula hoop.

One bored day in 2003, I was watching the Phillies game against the Rockies when theybrought on someone from the minor leagues to fill in for the injured Placido Polanco: Chase Utley. I love the name Chase, so of course I liked him right away (and he’s cute to boot). But damn, did he make an impression. In that game, he got his first major league hit, crushing a homerun to the bleachers. But it wasn’t just a homer; it was a grand freakin’ slam.

Last year, after the victory parade down Broad Street got to Citizens Bank Park, Chase Utley, a humble now four-time All-Star who doesn’t talk much, made a statement. “World champions,” he said, to the roar of the crowd. “World fucking champions!” A few parents were horrified, but for the most part, it electrified the town. We hadn’t heard those words (“world” and “champion,” not the f-word) used in the same sentence without negation in much too long.

Before the Phillies won the World Series last year, a major championship seemed out of reach. We would see it from a distance, and it would wink back flirtatiously. We’d smile with newfound confidence, only to be strung along long enough to watch with tears in our eyes as the trophy went home with someone else.

A major championship, you see, is quite the tease.

The last time we won a major championship, I wasn’t even born yet. In 1983, the 76ers brought home the NBA trophy. I know that a city’s 25-year drought isn’t as bad as some teams’ 100-year curses (sorry, Cubbies), but each time any of our teams (Sixers, Flyers, Eagles, Phillies) made the playoffs, you could feel all of Philadelphia holding its breath. Cheesesteaks went uneaten, Wawa ice teas went undrunk, and Rita’s water ice went unslurped (though crime persisted on South Street) as we became fixated on a dream. We never let ourselves hope too much, to make disappointment easier. Even the quill pens in Independence Hall seemed to quiver with anxiety every time Donovan McNabb threw a pass or Allen Iverson took a shot.

It was completely reasonable, because we always choked. In the 2000-2001 NBA finals, the Sixers won the first game against the Lakers. And then we lost. And lost. And lost some more. After an extraordinary 4th and 26 comeback victory against the Packers in the NFC title game, the Eagles lost to the Patriots in Superbowl XXXVIII.

I can’t claim to know what Philly fans were like before the 1980s, but twenty-five years of bitterness make you pretty mean, no matter how much brotherly love you’ve got. Philly fans are notoriously angry, notoriously vulgar, and unfortunately, notoriously fat. We even booed Santa Claus at an Eagles game once, upset at how horrendously the Eagles were playing (no trophy in the bag for us that year, either. Guess it served us right). But then last year, something magical happened.

The Philadelphia Inquirer celebrates the Phillies' 2008 World Series win, the city's first major championship since 1983. The Phillies were unable to repeat this year, losing to the Yankees four games to two.
The Philadelphia Inquirer celebrates the Phillies’ 2008 World Series win, the city’s first major championship since 1983. The Phillies were unable to repeat this year, losing to the Yankees four games to two.

Last year, the Mets choked worse than we did (thanks, boys!) and the Phillies got to the playoffs. Philly held its breath, as usual. We beat the Brewers, but we only got more nervous as expectations mounted. We defeated the Dodgers, and we were teetering on the edge of insanity, going between ecstasy and panic attacks. But last year, we went all the way. The Phillies beat the Rays in the World Series, destroying poor Floridians’ hopes of a Cinderella story.

That night, scrambling to find a TV to watch the post-rain-delay Game 5, my heart was pounding. We were up three games to one, but it seemed too good to be true. I had to be realistic: Tampa could always win the next three. Chase Utley made a beautiful defensive play, Pedro Feliz hit the game-running RBI, and then Brad Lidge, then perfect, struck out Eric Hinske for the last out. As Lidge sank to his knees and the dugout emptied, I didn’t know what to do with myself — I had never been a fan of a team that had ever won something. I thought about screaming, but I’ve never been much of a screamer. I wanted to hug someone, but I didn’t know any other Phillies fans at Harvard, much less in Dunster. I thought about popping open a bottle of champagne, but I can’t even buy alcohol. I settled for jumping around with glee, hung my Phillies jersey up in my (tiny, walk-through) room, polished my Chase Utley bobblehead, updated my Facebook status to include several exclamation marks, and like the proper Harvard student, went about writing a Gov paper.

To be honest, if I weren’t a Phillies fan, I’d have wanted the Rays to win. I like underdogs, and this is why I don’t like the Yankees (hate is a strong word, reserved for the LA Lakers). Even though the Phillies were the defending champs this year, we were still the underdogs. You can’t play the Yankees and not be the underdogs, I don’t care what your record is. The Yankees payroll, at over $208 million, is almost twice the Phillies’ payroll. They can pretty much get whomever they want. They have history on their side, even though they were too rich to play in the House that Ruth Built anymore (ungrateful wenches!).

Am I disappointed the Phillies lost? Of course. Am I bitter? Like any good Philadelphian, hell yes. Will I punch a Yankees fan in the face tomorrow? If that’s what it takes to make him shut up, maybe. But I’m happy that Chase Utley tied the all-time homerun record for a single World Series, which none of the million-dollar Yankees managed to do, and very, very happy with new addition Cliff Lee (can we clone him?). I was already incredulous last year when a Philadelphia team actually won something, and I can’t imagine what mental state of shock (and euphoria) I would have been in had we — dare I say the word, lest I jinx us forever? — repeated.

The Phillies will always be my boys. They’ll keep working hard, playing scrappy ball, and being paid much, much less than the Yankees. The Phanatic will still hula his belly, and Philly fans will probably still boo Santa Claus. As for me, I’m keeping the phaith. There is, after all, always next year.

Susan Zhu ’11 (szhu@fas) has a bag of dark chocolate to help herself cope, but really just wants a cheesesteak from Geno’s.