As you may have noticed, the Phillies are good again.
This was not an unforeseen development, given all the additions and improvements they made over the offseason, but it is a relatively unfamiliar one. They haven’t had a winning season since 2011, and with the exception of a monthlong torrent of Rhys Hoskins home runs in 2017 and Gabe Kapler’s mixing and matching last year, there hasn’t been all that much interesting about them since, say, 2012.
Plus, during these last seven years, the Eagles have won a Super Bowl, the 76ers have transformed from a tanking bottom-feeder to an Eastern Conference contender, Villanova has won two national championships, and the Flyers have cycled through four head coaches, three general managers, 210 goaltenders, and one giant, demented mascot. There’s been other stuff to occupy people’s attention.
We at The Inquirer are here to serve, though. So we’ve provided a few reminders for fans about what it’s like to follow and root for a competitive Major League Baseball team around here. You don’t have to thank us for this refresher course now. Feel free to wait until October.
Baseball is not football. It’s not even basketball or hockey.
After the Phillies’ 9-8 loss Wednesday to the Nationals — in which the Phils rallied from a four-run deficit to take an 8-6 lead, only to see their bullpen burp up three runs in the eighth and ninth innings — apoplexy spread throughout the greater Philadelphia area.
It did not matter that it was the Phillies’ first loss of the season, that their record was 4-1, or that they had completed exactly 3.1 percent of their regular season. The collective frustration and anger over the loss was as fevered as the joyful intensity that had characterized the team’s first four games, when Bryce Harper was hitting home runs and Phillies fans swarmed to Nationals Park for his return there.
Those unique circumstances go a long way to accounting for why those five games reached such a pitch. But it’s pretty much impossible to maintain that intensity, that heightened awareness and emotion, over an entire summer of baseball, though we’re more incentivized than ever to try.
Social media, Twitter in particular, and the demand for content on websites, regional sports networks and their postgame shows, and sports-talk radio can amplify even a game’s smallest moment into the basis for a nationwide referendum.
There are nearly twice as many games in an MLB regular season (162) as there are in an NBA or NHL regular season (82), and there are more than 10 times as many as there are in an NFL regular season (16). If you treat every Phillies game like a Monday night Eagles-Cowboys matchup, you will lose all perspective and drive yourself insane. It’s nothing but a downward spiral, regardless of how much you enjoy the ride.
One of the Phillies’ most important players — maybe their most important — will play once every five games.
In that regard, Aaron Nola would be a perfect Sixer.
The Eagles’ offseason could become an actual offseason again.
The Phillies’ irrelevance in recent years only increased the anticipation for Week 1 of each Eagles season. With that anticipation came a sea of coverage of, information about, and interest in topics, people, and developments that otherwise might not have merited mention at all.
Me, I still can’t come up with a reason that someone would care about how many passes Nate Sudfeld completes during seven-on-seven drills, and I’m inclined to tell anyone who does care to set up a tall ladder outside the NovaCare Complex’s practice fields, climb to the top of it, and calculate Sudfeld’s OTA quarterback rating himself.
But at least now there’s a viable alternative: watching a team that (presumably) will be in a pennant race.
Dan Baker is still the Phillies’ public-address announcer.
A Philadelphia institution, Baker has been the team’s PA voice, at Veterans Stadium and Citizens Bank Park, since 1972. It’s comforting to hear him; he ties together the Phillies’ past and present.
Fans might have particular players whom they loved hearing Baker introduce — Mickey Morandini, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley — but my favorite Baker moment is always just before the national anthem: “Please rise and help us honor … the United States of America!” He makes it sound as if the United States of America is about to take the field.
The Phanatic is still more entertaining than Gritty.
Sure, Gritty is the cool, trendy, social-media influencer, but this is less about preferring one mascot over the other than it is differentiating between their work environments.
Baseball is intrinsically a better fit for mascots. The Phanatic’s fifth-inning skits don’t disrupt a game’s momentum or draw too much attention away from the action on the field, in part because the languid pace of a baseball game lends itself to a few distractions. When the Phillies are good, the Phanatic makes a night at the park more enjoyable. When they’re bad, he’s a welcome respite.
An NHL game is something else entirely. Attending an NHL game, at its best, is akin to sitting inside a pot of boiling water. In that context, Gritty’s presence at the Wells Fargo Center this season has felt contrived, as if the Flyers are telling their fans, Avert your eyes from the product on the ice, and instead laugh at this hairy orange monster. The Flyers have been bad, but Gritty hasn’t been a respite from their awfulness. He’s been their biggest star, which only makes him a reminder of how bad they’ve been.