The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.
– F. Scott Fitzgerald
I am inherently fond of polarity. I discover balance by immersing myself in the extremes of any argument or genre, whatever the case may be. The exploration of contradiction in any subject, I find, lends a person an advanced sense of empathy, and facilitates the sort of intellectual antagonism that forges new schools of thought. And I’m fairly certain it explains why I love the Philly sports scene as psychotically as I do.
Because, with optimism at an all-time high for the approaching Phillies season, one question has bullied its way to the forefront of radio shows and newspaper columns.
What should we be worried about?
Is it Cole Hamels’ elbow that should have our hopes feeling noodley? Will Raul Ibanez make us yearn for Pat Burrell and Elvis? Will the bullpen remain the deft matadors they were last year, fooling opponents who dared to attempt a late-game charge? Or will they regress, leaving the Phillies gored? Can Brad Lidge remain our savior? Which reminds me – can we survive (50 games) without J.C.? Is Chase F. Utley going to remain healthy? Has Brett Myers really exorcised the demons?
Be afraid. Be very afraid.
But wait – just about everyone thinks the Phillies will win the division again. Many think they are fully equipped to make another World Series run. Their core is intact, the ninth inning appears to be safe so long as Brad Lidge stays within the vicinity of last year’s success, and in Charlie We Trust. Mostly ‘cuz, um, well, you know, his decisions last year, uh, well, they were money, if you, um, know what I mean and all.
Sure, the Braves and Marlins appear to be sneaky challengers to the throne, but neither should be quite ready to challenge the incumbents. And as for the Mets, well…accccchhhhkkkkkbleahhhhh.
Why, excuse me – I choked before I could finish the sentence.
But all joshing aside, the Mets did drastically improve the weakness of last year’s squad, that being their enabling back-end of the bullpen. As in, they enabled other teams to win. Consistently. Sure, the one guy is a Putz – but he is a marked improvement over the rest of the putzes they threw out there last year. And let’s not forget about K-Rod, the fallen Angel come to save the Mets.
Add them to a mix already including uber-talents such as Reyes, Wright and Beltran, escalating frustrations from the fan base after two straight collapses, a burgeoning resentment of anything having to do with the Phillies, and the dire need for success so that Mets players may engage in 17-part, congratulatory hand-shakes, and you have yourself a dangerous team.
But never fear, Phillies fans, for this Pundit suspects they may also have developed a inferiority complex, bred by the late-season heroics of our Phils. A complex which, if you actually take the time to humor the egos of a particular contingent of Big Apple fans, is normally reserved for their “little brothers” to the south.
I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling pretty damn smug right now.
But see, that’s the thing about being smug – it means you are feeling a bit too good about yourself. Maybe even a little bit surprised. You aren’t on your toes, because you don’t have to be – nobody can touch you, perched atop the tall horse you ride about town. (Editor’s note: The worst part of those tall horses is the tall heaping piles of dung they leave in their wake).
And there is no worse feeling than the crash that comes after the intoxication of a smug high. And there probably isn’t a better feeling for the defeated then watching the crash and burn of another person on an arrogance trip.
So we brace ourselves. Optimism laced with doubt, hope littered with caution. We have a good feeling about this team – we sense an atmosphere of success, observe a lineup heaped with talent – but we aren’t going to just go along for the ride, not quite yet.
It is the contradictions that make us addicts – it is harboring within our sports psyches the divergent truth that, while this team has the potential to win another title, they may also fall victim to a number of pitfalls that shape a season of 162 games. Baseball is sublime because, more than any other sport, it is tragically fickle – success is often had and lost on the strangest strokes of chance. To find the beauty in Baseball is to find beauty in the whimsical nature of its Gods.
And so on we march, boldly asserting our team’s championship potential, all the while reserving respect for the fancies of the Gods. In my mind, that is a true display of first-rate Baseball intelligence. And enduring it for 162 games?
We call that first-rate fandom.