Take Me Out to the Fall Game

Or, Why September Should be a Hell of a Lot of Fun in Philadelphia

nolahoskinskapler

ON THE LAST OF 2018’S DOG DAYS, they’re only three games out of the division lead. There’s a whole month of baseball left to play. But conventional wisdom has it that the Phillies are toast.

The pessimism is understandable. After their surprising surge to the top of the National League East, they’ve become an inconsistent, stumbling team. Losers of 7 of their last 10, the Phils, with a few notable exceptions (hi, Aaron and Rhys!), suddenly look lost.

Inexcusable base running mistakes. Bullpen implosions. Head-scratching managerial moves.

In other words, the usual for a young team that found itself where no one, probably them included, expected them to be — first place — and didn’t know how to play once they got there.

I’ve found my emotions pinballing back and forth since the beginning of the season. There were enough flashes of decent play last year to warrant some modest hope for 2018. The Phillies stumbled out of the gate, with manager Gabe Kapler floating around in his own private Idaho, and I took care to keep my optimism at reasonable levels. Then came the summer run, the sprint to the division lead, and I could envision playoff baseball at Citizens Bank Park. I dared to hope more intentionally and visibly.

The past few weeks have served as a reality check. That’s one of baseball’s defining features — the sample size of games is large enough produce accurate results. In the Phillies’ case, that means their contention in the division race is no fluke; they’re legitimately good enough to be where they are. It also means they may not be quite good enough. Yet.

I’ve made my peace with that, I think. They’ve given us more fun than we had reason to expect this season, and they’re clearly on the upswing. September will bring meaningful baseball, and hopefully more fans, to Citizens Bank Park for the first time in quite a few years.

If they recover their mojo and chase down the Braves, that’ll be great. But if not, 2018 will remain a successful year for the Phillies. They’re young, they’re fun to watch, and they’re talented. General manager Matt Klentak has done a fine job rebuilding a team that had fallen hard from its lofty perch of the late aughts, and there’s no reason to think he can’t or won’t land the necessary supplemental pieces in the off-season. Imagine this year’s team with a consistently big bat in the middle of the lineup, someone to give Rhys Hoskins and friends a little cover, and a consistently big arm at the back of the bullpen.

Be bold, as Kapler likes to say — in September, over the winter, and in 2019.

Can’t wait to see what happens. | DL

Rants and Faves, or Why Modern Sports Introduces Cynicism to Fans Far Earlier Than It Should

ShadyTHE WORST PART of the Eagles’ purge of LeSean McCoy and Jeremy Maclin (and, last year, DeSean Jackson) isn’t the torrent of drivel it has unleashed on sports talk radio and Twitter. It’s having to explain it to the girls.

“Why would the Eagles get rid of those players? I thought they were good!”

Well, they are, but their cap hits were too big–

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‘Silver Linings Playbook’: A Struggling Pair Face Their Own 4th-and-26

SILVER LININGS Playbook is about football in the same way that Bull Durham is about baseball. Each sport plays an important role — it’s almost a secondary character — but never obscures the larger themes of relationships between damaged people. You don’t even have to be a fan to enjoy each film for the achievement it is.

Bradley Cooper’s Pat is just out of a mental health facility, where he spent eight months being treated for bipolar disorder after he kicked the ass of the guy bonking his wife. He’s living in his parents’ house in the Philadelphia suburbs, trying to jump-start his life and win back his wife. Jennifer Lawrence’s Tiffany is a young widow trapped by her own demons. She, too, is back with her folks; her salvation is a dance competition for which she’s training. Their uneasy alliance stumbles haltingly into a wobbly friendship in which each tries to help the other.

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Other Things for Which I’m Thankful

Yes, of course I’m thankful for my family, my health, my friends, my job, and my house. But there are other, less obvious things for which I am grateful on Thanksgiving Day 2012:

  • “Lonely Boy.” The guitar-crunching, beat-driving, blessedly economic anthem celebrating unrequited love was my gateway to the Black Keys, and the best rock song of the year. (Yes, I know it was released in 2011, but I didn’t hear it until this year.) A staple on my iPod.
  • Cole Hamels. The suave southpaw would have commanded a massive contract on the free-agent market, but instead signed a massive extension to stay with the Phillies. No, he won’t be hurting, but Hamels’s deep ties to Philadelphia–he and his wife are among the most visible and outspoken philanthropists in the region–seem to be genuine. Here’s hoping a few Cy Young Awards and World Series titles are in No. 35’s future.
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Put Me In, Coach! I’m Ready to Pl–Oh, Wait, Is That a Butterfly?

They still sometimes need to be told to run to first base. They still sometimes need to be told where first base is. They still sometimes need to be reminded that the game they’re here to play is t-ball, not “Play With the Stray Leaf on the Ground.”

But a funny thing happened over the last couple of months. The seven 5- and 6-year-olds I coach have become better ballplayers.

Now, as noted above, they are still very much athletic works in progress. But where they are doesn’t matter; how far they’ve come does.

Firecracker is one of my players, and as much as I want her to approach the game with Utley-level intensity and focus, she’s among those who need to reminded that staring at the game two fields over is a good way to whacked in the coconut by a ball she should have been prepared to catch. Nevertheless, she, too, has begun picking up how things go.

Our last practice of the season was last night; our final game is tomorrow night. By the time we exchange the final high-fives, I’ll be ready for the break. But I’ll also be damned proud that a group of little girls most concerned with whose mom was bringing the post-game snack somehow learned a little bit about playing ball. | DL