5 years of memories, even with an uncertain future, make it great to be a Phillies fan

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Memories.

I still kick myself for not taking Halloween 2008 off of work to go to the Phillies World Series championship parade. I was too young to be anywhere near Philly in 1983 when the Sixers won the NBA championship, and up to 2008, that was Philadelphia, PA’s last major sports champion.  But due to the reality of my profession as a sports writer and the newspaper I worked for demanding my total attention, I missed out on the parade and it will probably a long time before the Phillies have another one. However, the memories of 2008 are still fresh, especially five years to the day of the clinching game, which took two days to finish.

Before we get to October 29, 2008, the story of my love for the Phillies goes back to the summer of 1989. 7 year-old me caught a Sunday afternoon Phillies game on my grandma’s black and white TV shortly after Mike Schmidt, the greatest third baseman ever, retired and the team was left to guys like Von Hayes, John Kruk, Steve Jeltz, Dickie Thon and Ricky Jordan. I learned about baseball watching a bad team and I’m grateful for the experience, because I knew I would know how to act (for the most part) when the Phils got good.

They were awful up until a star-crossed 1993 season when the original “Bunch of idiots” known as Macho Row bashed and scrapped their way to the NL pennant and lost a hard fought World Series to the Toronto Blue Jays on a Joe Carter walk-off home run that moved 12 year-old me to tears…and not the good kind.

After seven more terrible seasons, the Phils started building around slugger Pat Burrell and several members of the eventual champs would join him soon.

A diminutive shortstop with eternal jets and a youthful love for the game of baseball – Jimmy Rollins.

A gritty, gutty second baseman from Southern California who really just always seemed to be in the right place at the right time with his glove and/or bat – Chase Utley.

One husky kid from St. Louis who could take your breath away with one swing of his bat – Ryan Howard

And the pitching ace, also from Southern California, but with a more detached, cool, effortless persona – Cole Hamels.

The Phils also had their share of role players – Jayson Werth, the lanky catching prospect-turned-right fielder who learned to play the position on the fly while swinging a mean bat. Pesky little Shane Victorino, the unquestioned sparkplug who had come to the Phils in the Rule 5 draft late in 2005 and made manager Charlie Manuel fall in love with his hustle, fire and determination.

Catching duties were split between Chris Coste, a 35-year old career minor leaguer who made the most of his chances with the Phils and Carlos Ruiz, a lovable Panamanian pudge who would earn the nickname Chooch eventually. Brett Myers, the guy who would unselfishly go from starting pitcher to reliever to closer and back again in those days. Jamie Moyer, the 46 year-old (so he said) pitcher who baffled EVERYONE with his slow but effective pitching style to a team-high 16 wins in 2008.

By the 2008 postseason, these guys were ready. The city was ready and after winning a second straight NL East crown, the sky was the limit. The NLDS saw them facing the Milwaukee Brewers, who had acquired star pitcher C.C. Sabathia from the Cleveland Indians and in Game 2, Sabathia was charged with salvaging a split on the way back to Milwaukee.

Much like Victorino cranked a grand slam that lifted the Boston Red Sox to the World Series this year, he turned on a Sabathia pitch with the bases loaded that found its way over the left field fence. The Brewers never recovered and the Phils took the series 3-1 on their way to an NLCS date with the Dodgers.

The Dodgers and Phillies rivalry went back to NLCS battles in 1977, 1978 and 1983, but this one was especially fierce, especially with Victorino inciting a near riot in Game 4 and then tying the contest with a home run. Later in the 7th inning came Matt Stairs, a Canadian-born slugger with a grip and rip style who was a waiver wire pick-up by the Phils. With Eric Bruntlett pinch running, Stairs took a Jonathon Broxton pitch to a place unknown by any human being to win Game 4 and with Cole Hamels shutting the door in Game 5, the Phillies were off to their first World Series in 15 years.

I just remember feeling that no matter how young and talented the Tampa Bay Rays were, it just wouldn’t matter. The script had already been written that the Phillies were going to be champions and with the Phils leading 3-1, Mother Nature interrupted play for two days, leaving even the most optimistic Phillies fan wondering if there was some kind of jinx going on.

I remember leaving work Wednesday October 29, 2008 to go home and eat and I wasn’t going to watch the resumed Game 5 (I didn’t have cable). I tossed and turned on my bed until 15 minutes before game time and said “To hell with this,” got in my car and drove BACK to the office to watch on the office TV. I was alone, but it didn’t matter – I waited my entire life for this and I needed all the privacy to lose my mind.

Pat Burrell’s double, Eric Bruntlett pinch running for him, Pedro Feliz’s solid single back up the middle to score Bruntlett, they didn’t do much to change my thoughts, but when Brad Lidge, 53 for 53 in save opportunities up to that point came out for the top of the 9th, I don’t remember how I even breathed. He got the first two outs easily, walked one guy and Joe Maddon called on Eric Hinske, a former big-time prospect with some thunder still left in his bat. Lidge got him on two fastballs and Hinske fouled off the curveball. I knew the slider was coming. It was Brad Lidge’s go to in a spot like that.

Chooch called for it.

Lidge didn’t hesitate.

Hinske never had a chance.

50,000 screaming fans.

One Phillies fan in rural Maryland silent.

And then lost his shit.

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Lidge and Ruiz rejoiced and embraced while I went nuts.

In an office where only I could hear my whooping and cheering and roaring, I celebrated a Philadelphia Phillies World Series championship. Without a doubt one of the happier moments in my life.

2013 just ended and it doesn’t look like the Phillies will be repeating that glory anytime soon. Howard, Utley and Rollins are aging rapidly. Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee desperately need two pitching buddies to join them in the rotation. Domonic Brown is the only major league-ready outfielder after being jerked around the minors for years. It’s looking like another long stretch of futility on deck, but at least 2008 was fairly recent. It’s been 5 years, but the memories are still fresh for myself and millions of Phillies fans who remember when the dream come true.

I’m just hoping it won’t be another 28 years before I get the chance to go to a championship parade.

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