The W Column (daily practice)

Of all the daily offenses that could bring my blood to boil, why is a Phillies loss felt to be the most aggravating of all? From April to September (and if we’re lucky, October), whether in the wildcard hunt, World Series, or tanking, I dread nothing more than taking another L. (Conversely, it goes without saying, a win feels like an early bonus payout. I fall asleep rich and rise with the pride of a champion.) Maybe it’s a uniquely Philly thing, but any shakiness in performance – bullpen shits itself in the 9th; an overthrow at first; failure to turn a double play – comes as a personal affront. Even personal affronts, to the extent that I think I’ve experienced them, vibrate at a lower reactive frequency. I’ve never responded to an insult with as much bile as I’ve spit Hector’s way after giving up a hanging curveball meatball into South Philly oblivion.

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I can liken it to getting robbed or ripped off, not that I’ve been a sucker much, if that helps you imagine what Herrera losing a high flyball in the July sun feels like. (If you think I’m exaggerating, feel free to check the replies to the official Phillies Twitter any weekday between, say, 10:30 and 11PM EST.) But oddly, Herrera’s the shlemiel in this scenario, right? Shouldn’t I have a laugh? Isn’t this whole baseball thing supposed to be fun after all? Maybe for some people, but you and your neighbors, the collective shlemazel of the American athletic world, are not some people. (I know very few Yiddish words, but the schlemiel/schlemazel relationship sticks with me for the very reason that it so accurately captures what being a Philadelphia sports fan means, of course discounting an aberration in the sportstime continuum, circa February 2018.)

The truly odd part of this whole attitude – or maybe it’s better described as a lifestyle, which I’m getting at – is that we have 1980 and 2008. True highlights in Phillies – nay,  sports! – history. We have Mike Schmidt (asshole) and Halladay (saint), Robin Roberts, the beautifully populist John Kruk and the mullet miracles of 1993. Hasn’t it all been enough? Consider the Cubs! Consider the Yankees! You’re neither all time great losers, nor the overly privileged trustfund babies of the League. You’re right there in the lower middle of the pack, consistent, a solidly losing record over 20k+ games across the oldest franchise in history, sure, but you’re known as fighters, working class heroes at that. Give the whole chip on yer shoulder pretense a break and finally chuckle off the battery-pelted Santa jokes. Try quiet pride for once, less open vitriol.

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For any reasonably self-controlled adult, that should be easy enough to accept, but only if you express the oddity of it all in terms of a W-L percentage. Being a sports fan, particularly of the Phils variety, isn’t at all about winning or losing, and my proof of it is my own integral desire of underdoggedness (and evidently the whole city’s, if you take The Times’ view). Of needing, at the core of one’s being, to scream at the Manager as though you had a paid position in Kapler’s dugout. There’s the attachment to place, of course, and it’s right there – everywhere, worldwide – that you have the obvious answer to one’s agony & ecstasy of an otherwise completely meaningless relationship to a game. Apart from that, there’s the the very real, very meaningful hope that our collective grumbling will somehow reach the ears of the higher beings in the Front Office. As the ritual meeting place where this hoagie-mouthed praying happens, Citizen’s Bank Park and the Vet before it are – without any figurative sense of the word – the basilicas in the orthodoxy of working class experience in Philadelphia and its parishes in South Jersey / Delco. An image of Silver Linings Playbook‘s Deniro just flashed in my mind as illustrative here, though his character’s limit case superstition doesn’t capture the normally spiritual aspects of fandom. By “normal” I mean… you know, as normal as your grandma’s going to church on Sunday and expecting a Catholic spell to cure cancer.

One expectation of an hour’s worth of focused reflection on this topic – this obsession, really – is that one would take a step back and quit baseball, ye fickle boring game, for an evening.

But nah The Phillies are losing 7-2 to the Rockies and everyone seated in the Twitter pews are going evangelical on ’em:

Kapler has lost the clubhouse
Thank god it’s over
Same shit different day

Welp.

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Stakes (daily practice)

Most of the day is spent waiting: In lines, on benches, smoking, eating overly expensive crusted slop, baking in the sun or drenched in the stable stenches outside if you’re unlucky. (Doubly, I mean, in weather and pocket.) Even the sober feel tempted to drink passing the time between races. I see them vicariously eyeing the straw-hatted Long Island youth in the bar queue, they haven’t much else to do.

Pink shirts sweated through on all the fatty parts, neon cocktails with too much ice, cigar smoke mixed with thick popcorn stink, a pair of hairy legs in dirty sneakers sharing a stall with a high-heeled companion. Belmont: Bastion of Progress on Bathroom Norms?  (Answer: no, they’re only a little transgressive when expedient; I have firsthand knowledge that these folks call line-cutters “queers.”)

Only the true handicappers seem at peace amid the mass restlessness. The rest of us arrived too early, carrying the profoundly deluded hope that this year would be different. We wouldn’t fade or wither in dehydration before the main event. We wouldn’t waste bets on exotic Hail Mary Superfectas or forget the math on a 4-factoral when boxing it. Four times three times two. No. This year it’s the easy stuff. Place, Show, Win: Can’t Lose! I’ll read the fucking book on the train. Jimmy Tipkins at Horse Knower Weekly picked the Preakness spot-on. Fuck Justify, I’m listening to Jimmy….

But of course, this year isn’t different. At best, you didn’t lose, but you also couldn’t win big, like the trustfund loafer bros and Gronks upstairs betting on their namesakes. The stakes are truly only for those with the pockets deep enough to make ironic throwaway bets ($69… nice), but the Stakes is ours. It’s church, a cure for the masses. Only with a little more people slipping around in their own shit and vomit.

…I got the cover image from a nice gal who said her friends never take good pictures of her, so “Would you mind taking one of me?” Sure, I said. Then I showed it to her and she exclaimed, in glee: “Oh, the lip gloss!”