This Phillies postseason, I’m not scared

My sixth graders gathered for a photo in front of the church, next to the statue of St. John Neumann. We went there to take a picture and send it to Mitch Williams. At the time, Williams wasn’t that popular in Philly. He had just given up the game-winning home run against Joe Carter in the World Series, and some fans called the team to say they were going to murder him. He received police protection at his home, which is how the police caught the two teenagers raiding William’s home.

I suppose the photo should teach us a lesson in forgiveness or the importance of being kind to others in bad moments. But it taught me otherwise. We were told to dress in Phillies gear for the photo. I was given a blank headband and wrote “NO FEAR” on it to make it look like the one Williams was wearing. I probably spent more time preparing for my Confirmation this year. And when I put it on for the photo, I was murdered myself. Kids made fun of me well into seventh grade. As far as I know, they still laugh at me. I also blamed Mitch Williams for it.

Williams eventually earned forgiveness from more than just my sixth grade. “Nobody’s going to make me hide from what I’ve done,” he said, and people eventually appreciated his attitude. Williams later sued a website I worked for. (The site’s then-owner won summary judgment; another former owner later deleted the articles.) Some time later, someone chopped off the head of the statue of St. John Neumann in my childhood church. The pastor blamed the devil’s music, but of course it was just some kid.

That was the Phillies’ only playoff appearance when I was a kid (they won the pennant the year I was born, which doesn’t count). Most other years, the Phils were so bad that fans only showed up on opening day or bobbleheads night. (Those 2001 Larry Bowa bobbleheads aren’t the investment many of the 38,602 there that night were hoping for.) For most games, Veterans Stadium’s upper deck was empty enough for a game of tag, which we did also did. The excitement came from things like the time Jim Thome visited the site for the team’s new stadium and decided to sign with the team. (“There’s guys here who do their jobs every day, and they want you to come over here,” Thome later said. “That was special, man.”)

I remember where I was when the Phillies ended the playoff drought: I was there, baby! I bought a general admission ticket for the final game of the 2007 season when the Phillies won and the Mets lost and they won the division for the first time in the year I made this No Fear headband. As we walked to the subway, I loudly asked my friend Johnny Goodtimes if we could buy fake shirts. A man sauntered up to us, pulled up his pant leg and unraveled several, still wet from the pressure. I paid $10 for a leg shirt and put it on straight away. We later joined, or maybe even started, a crowd partying in the middle of Broad Street. Then-Senator Vince Fumo spun around several times; He was later convicted on all 137 counts in his corruption trial. I think I went to Locust Rendezvous after that, a bar that later ran at least two commercials about people watching 9/11 on TVs in the bar.

The 2007 season began with coach and former Phillies outfielder Milt Thompson stopping Charlie Manuel from attacking longtime local radio blowhard Howard Eskin, who had been wondering when the Phillies would start winning. “We’re going to win!” Manuel shouted, and he kept his word. This 2007 season began the longest streak of sustained success in Philadelphia baseball history. They won five division titles, two pennants, and a World Series. But most importantly, for a brief moment, the team was amazing Cold. They’ve been winning all along in their beautiful new stadium. People wanted to go to the games. Things were going so well that Phillies principal owner John Middleton set his sights on a bigger project: ending homelessness in Philadelphia.

There’s still not enough housing in Philadelphia, and the Middleton baseball team hasn’t been this hot in a long time either. The Phillies won a record 102 games in 2011 and did not have another winning season until last year. They came close to the playoffs a few times and didn’t make it. They have lost 7 of their last 8 in 2020. Last year they first zoomed in NL East in August and then immediately slipped out of the playoffs. Their division rivals, the Nationals and Braves, each won a World Series, and the Mets even competed in one in 2015. The Phillies free-fall back to their late days at Veterans Stadium; A recent highlight was a local electrician who welcomed Manny Machado on his visit to the Phillies in 2018 before signing elsewhere. In the meantime, the son of one of my sixth-grader teachers has made it into the premier league.

But a guy who actually did Sign with the Phillies this offseason, Bryce Harper has finally helped the Phillies back into the postseason. A win over the Astros yesterday secured a wildcard spot for the Phillies. I know deep down that the real hero here is the MLB owners voting for a sixth playoff team, but I’m still excited to see the Phillies returning to the postseason after such a long drought. I was partying alone last night and texted some friends how long it’s been. We all agreed that it felt really long.

I shouldn’t be greedy. Many Phillies fans throughout history — some of my ancestors, in fact — have never seen the team win anything at all. You’ve seen her once, maybe twice in the postseason. Things have been better for the last 40+ years and I was alive and young for her World Series win. I still have a pair of pajama bottoms to commemorate the 2008 World Series. Historically, the odds have been very much against it.

But the Phillies’ recent stretch has been marked by that drought. It wasn’t as long as the stretch between 1993 and 2007, but for me it was felt longer. That’s probably because during the previous drought I also had to cope with puberty and high school and looking for a job and such. But in the period from 2011 to 2022 I got married! I moved into a house! I quit my job and started a company! I now have a cat!

For this year’s Baseball Prospectus, I wrote about how exciting and interesting the 2022 Phillies were and how much fans seemed to hate that about them. Something about the team just wasn’t right, right down to the presence of a fake Phanatic in the stands. That feeling stayed with me this year. Kyle Schwarber killed the ball. Bryce Harper was an MVP candidate prior to his injury. One commercial takeover, Edmundo Sosa, was electrifying for a while. The pitching was even passable. This season there was a rookie whose last name is my middle name who crushed the ball and I still couldn’t get into the Phillies too much. Then the Phillies sent Darick Hall back to the minors anyway.

But now the Phillies are in the playoffs and I think I’m starting to feel a little excited. I mean, look at those losers in the video: Waiting in the rain to buy shirts that say the wearer is a fan of the team that was the third-best non-divisional winner in the National League that season . Ridiculous! And yet I want to join these losers. Why wasn’t I there?!

I can feel that excitement building not even though but because this feeling was so rare. And I know the only way I can approach this playoffs is with one attitude: Don’t worry. This Phillies postseason, I’m not scared

John Verrall

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