Like most acts of stunning betrayal, I can still tell you exactly where I was when it happened — on the Schuylkill Expressway, on that steep bank overlooking Manayunk that always moves at 5 mph — and the exact time of day: 1:30 p.m. That this was April Fools’ Day — April 1, 2002 — was perhaps ironic, because what was about to transpire was no joke.
I was about to say farewell to the one real constant in my life for the last 35 years — through the cruelties of human love, the indignities of the modern workplace, all the moves to western Pa.’s coal country to Alabama and back again. And my implement of “goodbye” was even colder than a text message: one click of a car radio button.
And yet like most affairs, it … just happened. Like every other year, I’d waited through an icy winter for baseball’s Opening Day with Santa levels of anticipation. Now it was here and I stared at the dashboard, at the button on the far left that still connected me — at 50,000 static-filled watts — to my past life as a New Yorker, 660, WFAN. And with my right index finger, I jabbed instead at a button to the right: Philadelphia’s WPHT, 1210.
With literally one fell swoop, Tom Terrific, Mookie, Early Lenny (before he sold out) and the Tug of “Ya Gotta Believe” were tossed down an Orwellian memory hole. Goodbye to all that, as Joan Didion said famously when she ditched the Big Apple. I was ghosting the New York Mets. I was a Philadelphia Phillies fan now.
I was now a cheater, a baseball home-wrecker. And for the 2002 Phillies? They weren’t even that good looking!
But why? It made no sense, least of all to me. In American culture, the sanctity of lifelong fandom — no matter where the winds of career and romantic fate take us — is taken much more seriously than the sanctity of marriage. I was now a cheater, a baseball home-wrecker. And for the 2002 Phillies? They weren’t even that good looking!
But there was no calculation. I didn’t spend months scheming that rooting for the Phillies would somehow help my career as a journalist at the Daily News. Trust me, there was no rational thought at all. I was roaming the Appalachian Trail, an affair of the heart.
The reality was that — at age 43, in an era of ever-earlier midlife crises — I was “going through some things,” as our president likes to say. That 9/11 had happened just seven months earlier only confirmed a sense that everything was suddenly up for grabs. I was a shelter dog searching for a “forever home,” and a piece of my heart knew I’d never find it without the Phillies, because I was making a commitment to “here,” even if “here” at that moment was a traffic jam on the Schuylkill.
It’s weird now. My past isn’t gone — I still get goose bumps hearing Vin Scully call the 10th inning of 1986’s amazing Game 6 — but when the Mets come to Citizens Bank Park in 2020, I’ll be booing them with the battery-throwing zeal of my adopted family. And I’ll be home.