Earlier this season, when the Phillies were struggling, I was startled to see manager Charlie Manuel sharing a somber and amazingly candid view of the big picture.

He said it was possible the team was just lucky enough to end last season on an upswing and never was playing consistently at the level of a World Series champion for any length of time.

That kind of clear-eyed realism (or was he just cleverly goading his players into proving him wrong?) came as a welcome jolt in a game that veers so easily off its base paths thanks to dunderheadedness on the part of the players - see A-Rod cavorting with Kate Hudson in Miami Beach nightclubs until 2:30 a.m. the night after the Yankees benched him for fatigue - and especially the fans.

Holding the championship helps lift that curse because it supersedes a particularly troubling legacy.

The Phillies' most recent high-water mark since the 1980 world championship had been winning the National League pennant in 1993.

The enduring image of that postseason was Mitch Williams' blown save in Game 6 of the World Series, which gave the Blue Jays the enchilada grande. Curt Schilling with the towel over his head sums it up.

The story making the rounds was that manager Jim Fregosi had a private commitment to send Wild Thing to the mound. In that case, the idiot fans should have egged Fregosi's house and issued the death threats against him. Williams never asked to be a head-case wild pitcher - as everyone knew he was.

To make matters worse, allegations of widespread steroid abuse on the team in 1993 intensified over the years. And the reputation of the Dykstra-Kruk-Daulton crew for physically intimidating opposing players didn't always sit well.

Finally, redemption came in last fall's World Series. The signature moment for me was seeing pitcher Joe Blanton hit the first homer of his professional career - at any level - in Game 4 against Tampa Bay.

If we're going to hold that thought, I'd much rather settle in with that one.

It takes me back to the pure love of the game I had as a young boy in the Baltimore area, rooting for the Orioles in the early- and mid-1960s, an intoxicating era that culminated in their four-game World Series sweep of the Dodgers in 1966.

I was often on the scene at Memorial Stadium, cheering on titans who included Brooks Robinson and Boog Powell, but my personal hero was the slippery shortstop Luis Aparicio, who led the American League in stolen bases for nine straight seasons.

To put this spectacle into perspective, my elementary school was a grim brick pillbox jammed right up on congested Harford Road, and the recreation area was a small asphalt patch surrounded by tall fences.

The only game we played was kickball. A teacher once heard us grumbling about all kickball, all the time and singled me out to offer an alternative suggestion. I said, "I'd rather play duck, duck, goose," referring to the preschoolers' game. Everyone laughed, and I played along as if I had been joking, but sadly enough, I had been serious and found myself thrown off-balance by the response.

So for me and the other kids, Memorial Stadium was a dazzling, dizzying fantasy world - open spaces that seemed almost limitless, searing lights, and players gliding about confidently in crisp uniforms on the crisp infield.

Probably inspired by the heroics and pageantry, I once showed up at a pickup game of mostly older boys with a catcher's mitt. Someone said, "Look who's going to be the catcher," and they all gave me the horse laugh. I hadn't realized that playing catcher requires special toughness, even though the main O's catcher then was a big, scary-looking guy named Andy Etchebarren.

As the years passed, I drifted away from the Orioles mania.

Then in the late 1970s, I found myself inexplicably getting swept along with friends into the crazy party scene in Memorial Stadium's Section 34, in the general-admission upper deck, out near the right-field foul pole.

The guards would tolerate almost any level of rowdiness with the understanding that it would stay contained in Section 34, the way you might corral an oil slick with floating booms. The smoke from joints being passed down the rows was so thick, your eyes would smart.

If the 1960s were an intoxicating era, the late '70s were an intoxicated era.

You could bring your own beer in a cooler jug but not in cans or bottles. We all brought our own large coolers, and I once wore jeans over boots on a hot afternoon so I could stuff a Rolling Rock pony bottle down the top of each boot - the guards wouldn't think to look there - but it didn't matter. It was never enough. Before the seventh-inning stretch, we would run out and select someone to buy us beer from the vendors.

Every so often, someone returning with a floppy cardboard tray filled with tall cups of beer would slip on the steep concrete steps, maybe disoriented by the blinding field lights that yawning distance below, and take a header, launching the cups and drenching those seated along the stairs.

Think of it as a skin-on-concrete luge event. One time, such a person - whose identity is irrelevant here - who was doing the headfirst slow-mo ballet toward the balcony's precipice, with its potential for a much more serious header, felt mortified until he realized that people barely noticed and didn't care. But, yes, it hurt like hell.

We resented buying beer at what we perceived as ridiculously inflated prices. Little did we know what was to come with the advent of prefab Disney-theme-park stadiums.

General admission was $2.50, and we would pile five or six people into a car and park in oddball places a little ways off for free. A party in someone's living room would just flow over to the stadium without any real thought or planning going into the decision, aside from filling the coolers.

The long bleacher benches were made of resilient aluminum shells, and the older brother of a friend of mine would drum furiously on them while wearing rings, setting up an unbelievable din. It was like something you would expect to see at the primate house at the zoo. You couldn't hear the announcer or even compose your thoughts enough to follow the game well visually.

When this older brother spotted a certain offending umpire (I forget his sins, if I ever knew them), he would stand on his seat and scream "Brinkmaaan!" at the top of his lungs over and over. That's all he would say. The name itself must have been a self-contained indictment.

This was the heyday of the Section 34 cheerleader Wild Bill Hagy, a tall cabdriver with a long beard and a beer belly who is probably the only person to appear regularly on national television wearing an oversize white cowboy hat and white tube socks. People are still trying to adjust their sets.

Meanwhile, the Orioles reached the World Series in 1979, and across the aisle, the Phillies were on their run-up to the world championship in 1980, so beyond the stale spilled beer, hoarse voices, and bulging neck veins, the wheels of the game were still turning and my then and future home teams were marching toward glory.

But it was hard to stay focused in that spin cycle otherwise known as Section 34, at least with the company I kept and the priorities I had drifted into at the time.

So as I look back, it's gratifying to see the Phillies working so tirelessly to keep the championship momentum going.

It's not exactly like old times again - more like real old times again.

And for that, thank you, Charlie Manuel and Joe Blanton.