The two kids, maybe 12 years old, were hanging out at the mall, one of them wearing a Jimmy Rollins jersey. They were talking about the Phillies and how much better they’ve played since Chase Utley returned and how much better Domonic Brown looks than he did last season and how well the bullpen has pitched without Brad Lidge.
My first thought was: “Man, these kids really know their baseball.’’
My second thought was: “Man, these kids are really spoiled.’’
That’s because they’ve never had to root for a bad Phillies team. By the time they were old enough to realize what was going on and to care about what was going on, the Phils had one of the best teams and one of the premier franchises in baseball.
We older fans, of course, know better (and “older,’’ means anybody who remembers when there was just one Grotto Pizza). Those young fans probably aren’t even aware that the Phillies were really bad back in the good old days. Oh, there were occasional rays of sunshine in the dark clouds that hung over this franchise for an entire century, including that memorable team that won the 1980 World Series. But, for the most part, generation after generation of Phillies fans expected the worst and got it.
However, that’s ancient history to those young fans. They never had to deal with all of those last-place finishes and pennant races that were over before Memorial Day. All they’ve ever known is a team that has All-Stars at every position and a pitching staff loaded with aces. They yawn when the Phillies win the NL East pennant and then leave a wake-up call for the World Series.
And it’s not just the talent on the field, but also the perception around the country that has changed so dramatically. Fans in other cities see the Phillies’ galaxy of stars on television and see another sellout crowd cheer them onto another division title and they’re jealous.
Players see it, too. It used to be that being traded to the Phillies was like being sentenced to Devil’s Island. Those young fans probably never heard of Curt Flood, an All-Star outfielder who was so distraught over being traded to the Phillies in 1969 that he refused to report to the team, a decision that eventually changed baseball forever – Flood went to court and that set the stage for free agency in baseball and, ultimately, all professional sports.
Now, young Phillies fans see the best pitcher in baseball, Roy Halladay, campaign like mad to get traded to Philadelphia. They see the hottest free agent in all of baseball, Cliff Lee, not only chose to sign with the Phillies for less money than he could have gotten elsewhere, but also chose the Phillies over the damn Yankees.
There are other reasons why being a Phillies fan in the 21st century is a lot more fun than it was in the 20th.
Today’s fans get to sit in one of the newest and nicest parks in baseball and be part of enthusiastic sellout crowds. They never had to sit in dreary Veterans Stadium among 8,000 fans who were outnumbered by empty seats by about 7-to-1. Maybe we didn’t have to smell the “cat stink’’ in the dugout that Mike Schmidt complained about or listen to rats scurrying around on ceiling tiles like Phillies coaches and executives did, but we did have to deal with a cold, barren stadium that was home to a lot of cold, barren teams.
And today’s fans have something else yesterday’s fans did not – the chance to watch their heroes every day, because every game is televised. Back in the day, most games weren’t televised because teams didn’t want to hurt the home gate, but that was before television starting throwing billions of dollars at them.
Of course, some things were better back then, including the fact that we got to listen to Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn, the best announcing team in the history of sports. Today’s kids have to listen to Tom McCarthy and Chris Wheeler, the most annoying announcing team in the history of sports.
There was something special about lying in bed on a hot summer night and listening to the radio and the soothing voices of Ashburn and By Saam, and later Kalas. They didn’t shout at you and sometimes they didn’t even say anything, which, of course made what they did say more meaningful.
Still, on balance, today’s kids have it much better than we did, because the team they follow is much better than the ones we followed. And they should enjoy it as much as possible, because it won’t last forever. What goes up eventually must come down, and sooner or later the Phillies will be bad again, just like they were in the good old days.
Contact Kevin Noonan at firstname.lastname@example.org