It is not a beautiful day in Philadelphia, so we’ll have to settle for the promise that one is coming. Then another and another. All around us things are reborn this time of year and baseball is no exception.
While so much of the changing of the seasons comes with brilliant colors or new life, baseball’s rebirth is an explosion of zeros. Zero wins. Zero hits and errors. Zero games played and 162 left to go. Zero games behind. Put them all together and you get the simple reality that whatever is supposed to happen doesn’t matter until it actually does. With the reset brings another day, another year to prove yourself again or prove yourself for the first time. It doesn’t matter if you’re the superstar making $20 million a year or the guy everybody thought was going to be sent to minor league camp three weeks ago — with the first pitch of the first game you finally become, for the 2008 season at least, the quantifiable sum of your actions. Your incarnation that existed only in expectation is gone forever. And whether what replaces it is magnificent or heartbreaking, at least it’s real.
It’s not just that something new is taking shape. It’s also that something that was false, that existed only in your mind, is dying.
Pretty much since the moment the World Series ended people have been letting you know what they think. And what you should think. About everything. What the teams should do in the off-season. What they did wrong. What the players could do to make themselves better. If any of that ever mattered there isn’t much question that it doesn’t matter now. What happens next is so pure it’s uncorruptable. They’re going to play baseball for a long, long, seemingly unbearably long time. About four hours a day 162 times. And one team is going to win and a lot of teams are going to lose. But there’s no appellate court.
The Phillies didn’t have the off-season many of their fans were hoping for. They screwed up with Kyle Lohse. Their pitching staff is a frustrating mess like it has been for years. There’s a lot of optimism that after nearly 3,000 career at-bats Pedro Feliz is about to turn into an elite hitter before our very eyes. But he isn’t.
Uninspired off-season or not, though, the Phillies were good before and they’re good now. For every Phillies’ flaw found and analyzed to death there are two on the teams they’ll be competing against that we didn’t understand or missed completely. Imperfect people make up imperfect teams and then they all play each other. There’s something wrong with every one of them. Being a fan is blinding. It’s the exact opposite of being an impartial observer.
There’s something right with every one of them as well, and the Phillies are no exception. They have more than their share of talent.
There are a lot of ways you can spend your time these days. Just sitting in front of your computer you have access to an amount of information and entertainment so fantastic it is almost incomprehensible. It makes it a little hard to know what’s worthwhile. In his collection of essays, Songbook, Nick Hornby writes about the music that has touched his life. He says that he doesn’t care what music his children listen to, but he does hope that whoever it is you get the feeling that their very existence depends on their ability to communicate whatever it is they have to say.
As standards go, that one is almost impossible for anyone to live up to. But I think that the Phillies are worthwhile for the same reason that so much of what is available to you isn’t. Say what you will about the short-comings of the 2008 Phils. There are a lot of them. But if Charlie Manuel doesn’t have his team playing like they care, can’t make them the very best they can be, I’ll be stunned. I think what we’ve seen over the past couple of years is a group of guys that really do play like their lives depend on it. And with good reason. Cause all those zeros aren’t going to change themselves.