Oh, what a fantastic night it was. The Phillies handled their business one last time against the Dodgers, and are awaiting the winner of the Red Sox / Rays series. Truth is, I can’t give a full recount of the game, but what I can do is give a complete recount of the awesome evening I had watching it. And it was a truly special night, one I will remember until the day I die. Unless I get Alzheimer’s, I suppose. Actually, I’ll probably still remember it even if I get the Alzheimer’s. I may forget how to wipe my ass, or where my own bed is, but I’m fairly certain I’ll remember last night.(Editor’s note: I hope he doesn’t expect me to wipe his ass someday).
Our fateful evening started as a few of us made a trek to Chickies and Pete’s. We had a simple plan: those of us that lived close and got off of work early would go over an hour or so early and reserve a table, and the rest, who worked later or lived further away, would meet us over there. Yeah, that was a lapse in judgement. First of all, I’m fairly certain that there is no “early” arrival at Chickies and Pete’s – the place was probably hopping at about noon with a sea of red and white Fightins’ fans. And it was so busy, they wouldn’t even let you reserve a table unless your entire party was standing in front of them. It was so packed, they closed the doors about 40 minutes before the game even started – we had to haggle just to get a couple of our friends in. And, we were about 10,000 names down on the list to get a table. We were told, rather politely, that we could be expected to be seated by about the ninth inning.
But persistent we remained. We planted ourselves right next to the receptionist, and continued to playfully act like we were every single party that she called over the loudspeaker. Saddam H, party of one? Oh yeah, that’s us all right. Our hope was waning, and we began to discuss what the hell we were going to do to watch the game, especially as the first pitch grew frightfully close. And then, literally as the starting lineups were being announced, a girl walked by and told us she had our table ready. The receptionist (actually, I’m fairly certain she was an angel in disguise) winked to my buddy and said, “You’re welcome.”
Was this night meant to be?
I’ve got to say, Chickies and Pete’s is a friggin’ sweet place to catch the game. They had the Phillies PA announcer introducing every batter. The Phillies Post-Game Live crew was hanging out. Multiple news channels were getting footage. Hell, Mayor Nutter showed up. C & P’s knows how to throw a party, people.
So we sat down, and promptly ordered pitchers and crab fries, and got ready for the game. The excitement was beyond palpable – it was electric, infectious, it grabbed you by the shoulders and shook you until you were dizzy and exuberant and utterly ready to explode. And when Jimmy worked the count full, and lined a shot into the right field stands, the place erupted like the cork off of a bottle of champagne, only instead of sticky liquid oozing from the bottle, it was ecstatic Phillies’ fans standing and slapping five and chanting in utter joy. In that moment, I think we all felt that this night was going to be a celebration.
In that moment, we knew that this night was meant to be.
And when Rafael Furcal suddenly became confused and started kicking the ball like Pele and bouncing the ball like Kobe, and the Phillies took a five run lead, we realized that this night was a celebration. Suddenly, the tension started to diminish, the beer kept on coming, and the chants never stopped. LET’S GO PHILLIES, clap clap clap-clap-clap. BEAT LA! BEAT LA! 16 PITCHERS! Clap clap clap-clap-clap. Ok, so maybe that last one was just my crew of seven chanting at the end of the night, but who’s counting?
And even when the Dodgers got on the board off of the bat of Manny Ramirez, panic never settled in, fear never reared it’s cynical head. Instead, we did the only thing that made any sense. We chanted.
MANNY SUCKS! MANNY SUCKS!
When Cole got in trouble in the 7th, and Charlie came out to the mound, with what we all thought was the intention of pulling him, but instead left him in the game, we cheered and yelled because this was Cole’s masterpiece, and it just wouldn’t be fitting for him to not close the inning. And when he took care of business, well, we yelled even louder, hoping that, somehow, on the other side of the country, Cole could hear just how much we appreciated his superb performance.
And suddenly, we were six outs away. There wasn’t a face that wasn’t smiling, but I promise you, there also wasn’t a smile not valiantly trying to push the anxiety of piled failures back into the pits of the stomachs it was rising from. Not this year, we said between gulps of lager from plastic cups. We’re only six outs away, we reminded one other. There is going to be a party on these streets, we said, nonchalantly nibbling our fingernails to the skin.
And then, there were only three outs. And Brad Lidge stepped to the mound. Truthfully, I don’t even remember everything that happened in the inning, though I recall two men reaching base. What I remember was people standing on tables and chairs, peering with brimming exuberance at the televisions lining the walls. I remember friends with their arms around one another, swaying from side to side with the tune of victory softly playing through their heads. I remember the hair on my arm slowly rising as we were one out away.
And when that last pop-up slowly fell into the glove of Carlos Ruiz, well, you’ve never seen a more beautiful scene of celebration in all your life. Music blared, and people danced with no regard or shame. People who had never spoken and likely never would again were hugging and slapping five like they were the oldest of friends. The chants reverberated throughout the building, shaking the entirety of South Philadelphia. And everywhere you looked, people were smiling and laughing as wide and as hard as they possibly could. You just didn’t want to leave the place, and it was a while before people started streaming to the door. Maybe we were a bit drunk, and maybe it’s just a game, and some may say that its more than a tad ridiculous to take such things so heavily, but the celebration was pure, and true, and anybody there would tell you it was an amazing moment in their life.
As we poured out of the door, flickering cigarettes lighting the sky like fireflies, the air remained electric, and the sounds all around were those of joy. Even the cops, mindfully watching to ensure that the scene remained in control, couldn’t help but smile. You’ve never heard a more jubilant throng of car horns in your life, as people politely let one another go ahead of them and walkers slapped the outstretched hands of passengers in the car. Everywhere, people were on their cellphones, texting and calling the people they wished they had been able to watch the game with. I had to call my Dad – truthfully, I was kind of sad that he wasn’t with me. After all, I don’t think I’ve watched any more of the Phillies with anyone than him. When they last went in ’93, he let me stay up to watch the games.
Sure, we were pumped that the Phillies had won, and many of us may have been a bit drunk, but I don’t think that really compared to the camaraderie we were all feeling. These were our Phillies, and we were watching and experiencing this with one another, with the people that, win or lose, we wanted to be in our dugout at the end of the day. Our friends and family, neighbors and coworkers, and, of course, all of the new friends we had made throughout the evening. Surely, we always want our teams to win – after all, this is Philly. This ain’t nobody else’s city, and we don’t do things any other city’s way, and we fight like hell to make sure that nobody changes that. We take pride in what it means to be from or live in Philly, and we expect our team’s to take that same pride and handle their business accordingly.
But, underneath it all, behind the games and the city and the beer and the food and the honking horns and the cell phones and cigarette’s and chants and dances and laughter, the driving force behind it all was that we were just so damn happy to have an excuse to celebrate. And, most importantly, to celebrate with the people we care about.
Because, when the last pitch is thrown, and they put the cover over the field, and the lights go dim, and the stadium becomes nothing more than a lifeless shell…well, isn’t that what this game is really all about?