by Kevin Franklin
It’s a Tuesday night folding over into Wednesday morning and I’m sick. I’m sick because there was no Phillies game tonight. Due to fears of an Opening Day rain out, Major League Baseball inserts an open date on the second day of the season. To baseball fans, it’s a tease. It’s the no-touch lap dance, the Twinkie without the cream filling, the expired coupon at the register. Normally, I would have taken the opportunity to watch the Flyers game tonight, but they have driven me into a clench-fisted lather and I’d really like to avoid as many heart attacks as I can before I turn 45.
On Monday, the Phillies bullied the Washington Nationals, 11-1. It wasn’t a fair fight. It reminded me of the times my older brother would take my hands and slap my face with them, saying, “Stop hitting yourself.” Watching Willie Harris’s desperate leap at Jimmy Rollins’s sixth inning triple and subsequent crumpling at the base of the fence made me feel slightly bad for the Nationals. It encapsulated their entire existence to date. Don’t get me wrong, Washington has some fine young players, not the least of which is uber-talented third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, but it was like watching your good friend’s son getting a wedgie in front of the rest of the student body. The Phillies won the game. Sure, they’re supposed to win. They might have the best team they have ever assembled since they bloomed into existence in the compost of the decade after the Civil War. They are a runaway cruise liner headed for the National League pier. Beating the Nationals is collateral damage.
I have The Fever. You have The Fever. We all have it; had it for a few years now. When the champagne and parade sprayed all over the Delaware Valley in 2008 it almost felt unreal. A simple look at a YouTube video showing some celebrating yahoo falling ass-over-tea-kettle onto his coconut off a moving taxi brought it into focus. Hearing Chase Utley irreparably damage the precious little eardrums of schoolkids at the celebration in Citizens Bank Park cemented it. It was ours and no one could take it away. We toasted each other in the afterglow the entire following year. Coming two victories short of yet another parade last year, and yet more videos of future Darwin Award winners, did nothing to quench our thirst. If anything, it percolated like rotgut in our bellies , making us seethe and wring our hands at what our Phillies were going to do in 2010.
Now 2010 has arrived. The games cannot get here quick enough. We’re checking the clock at work every five minutes, jimmy-legged, not hearing what the other guy in the office is saying about his weekend with the in-laws. The drive home is a blur. We have no memory of how we got from Point A to Point B. All family commitments and obligations are gathered and executed. We suffer through another Dei Lynam story about the Sixers on Comcast, position our laptops in preparation for the Live Updates for our Fantasy Baseball teams and crack that first beverage. There’s nothing like the first drag of the first cigarette from a fresh pack and there’s nothing as refreshing as the first tug of beer from a newly-opened can of suds. It’s The Fever talking. It’s your master.
Cole Hamels will be starting the second game of this season, just like he always has. Will we be getting the fractured psyche of the 2009 Hamels or the world-beating whipsaw from 2008? With All-Universe Roy Halladay pegged into the No. 1 slot, many fans rightfully believe the success or failure of this year’s team relies solely on Cole. Even if he is somewhere in the middle of his 2008 Dr. Jeckyl and 2009’s Mr. “Hide,” this team should be even better than the clubs of the past two seasons. The exact same thing could be said for Brad Lidge. Let’s not kid ourselves, this lineup is loaded for bear. Seeing the off-season acquisition of the prodigal Placido Polanco crank six RBI, including a grand slam, into the spine of the Nationals only whets our appetite for more, more, more. Jimmy Rollins can’t hit only .250 again, can he? We don’t need to see the Rauuuul Ibanez of the first four months of 2009 as long as we don’t see the aching old man of the latter half of the year. There are more stars in this cast than a Robert Altman movie.
Monday’s game was not perfect. It was damned good, but I am sure I was not alone in pacing the floor when Washington scored in the bottom of the first inning. Ghosts of Opening Days Past dragged their chains through my mind. After a slightly rocky second inning, Roy Halladay became Roy ****-ing Halladay and the Phillies’ bats erupted, blowing the minority population of home fans into a muted agony. When Ryan Howard strode to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth inning, toting a Paul Bunyan-esque axe handle, any residual sympathy for the home team dissolved into a bloodthirsty, primordial savagery for the final kill. It was real Roman Colosseum stuff. We half expected our first baseman to come out of the dugout with a fishnet and trident. Alas, he flied out and our eyes de-bulged and throats de-veined. The score was 11-1, after all.
We can expect this pretty much all year long. Wins are nothing more than appetizers for the main course in late October. Losses steel our resolve and grind our collective teeth into paving stones. We know a rally is just around the corner, a clutch catch is a pitch away, a big strike out moments from happening. It’s Jayson Werth ripping a fastball into a sea of red, Shane Victorino tearing around second base and Carlos Ruiz fist-pumping a third strike. It’s a pitching staff staying healthy, a bench coming through in the clutch and a manager calmly standing on the deck of the ship, unbowed and confident. You want more cowbell? Yeah, we have more damned cowbell!
Because we have The Fever and it’s time to call in sick.