It’s hard to fathom why anybody in their right mind would want to leave beautiful, sunny Florida for the cold in the northeast. But it doesn’t take long to warm up to the idea of what 2011 has in store for the reigning NL East Division Champs. I would sit through negative degrees and snow just to see Opening Day this Friday! And well looking at the five day forecast we just may have to. Friday!? Yea it sounds pretty flipping ridiculous to talk about Opening Day as in this week!
Opening Day is not just another day on the calendar. Not just another mundane Friday where you can’t think of anything new and exciting to do. In South Philly it’s a Halladay, it’s practically Cliffmas! It’s bigger than the American flag that spans the entire length of the field. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s bigger than America. In fact it is America! It is America’s pastime. It has been and always will be America’s sport. Regardless of how dominant the NFL may seem in the sports world baseball is historic and iconic.
Baseball is a thinking man’s game. It is the chess of the sports world. So much strategy involved with every pitch, every at bat. So overflowing with intricate moves, always trying to stay one step ahead of your opponent. Now not knocking football because I am a huge football fan but come on all you do is smash into each other hoping you will be the last guy standing. The only intricate move involved is how can I steal the other team’s signs without getting caught, i.e. Bill Belichick. And quite frankly this whole lockout deal is not helping the NFL’s future as America’s sport. Ok, enough “bashing” football because I have been a diehard Eagles phan since I can remember but baseball stole my heart (ok, let’s not gay it up).
So Grapefruit League action has officially commenced with the Phillies 7-6 victory Monday over their Opening Day opponent the Houston Astros. Our freshly crowned right fielder, Ben Francisco, continued to prove his “Werth” as he belted a three-run home run Monday in the fifth inning. It is downright impossible not to be excited about what this new year holds.
I can already anticipate the walk into the park, the trees that line Citizens Bank blooming with the hint of spring and the dawn of baseball. The satisfied stomach of the charcoal-grilled burger and Italian marinated chicken breast I scarfed down during my FDR tailgate extravaganza. Still the smell of those crab fries is intense enough to wipe away any sense of fullness. The tailgating can-jam may get so intense I might lose my train of thought of where I actually am. Standing across Broad Street from the most epic ballpark in the world. Ready to walk into the most anticipated season in Philadelphia sports history. On the verge of witnessing greatness in its infancy. Doc Halladay throwing the first regular season pitch from the greatest rotation ever assembled.
I can’t wait to see the familiar faces of the old guys that take my ticket. The chatter of the vendors, the sounds of the park, and the buzz that cannot be explained unless you have felt it yourself. The patriotism that takes place; the humongous American flag, the fireworks, the Navy Seals floating out of nowhere into the park to deliver the game ball, the flyover. And you can’t mention Opening Day in Philadelphia without talking about the Red Phanatic, the greatest mascot who has ever lived!
So the Phillies are officially back to reality, back to business. Although leaving the warmth for the cold is never phun, what lies ahead is phunner! After awhile the meaningless box scores and extra reps become old hat and the thought of a game that counts becomes that more enticing. This Phillies team has always been about its business and always focused on the goals that lie ahead. It is Championship or bust and every single player on that team knows that and feels that.
The Phillies open up a two-game exhibition series Tuesday night at 7:05 against the Pittsburg Pirates at Citizens Bank Park. Sadly I had to give up my tickets for Wednesday night (enjoy Jeremy!) But Friday will more than make up for that. Country Roy Oswalt being the tough southern boy that he is will start Tuesday night after getting drilled in the neck by a line drive in his last start versus Tampa Bay.
Spring may not have played out like we would have liked. Dom Brown lost his right field battle too soon due to an injury. The Chase Utley drama definitely soured the early expectations of what was to come. But we all know that this team knows how to phight and Chase Utley has always been the leader and warrior who commands that vision.
There have been recent positive signs regarding Chase Utley. Finally signs of progression, he recently started fielding ground balls and has developed some special stretching exercises that seem to be improving his knee. Only time will tell but we all know Chase will be back soon because that’s what he does, that is all he knows.
Brad Lidge starting the season on the DL has clouded our closer situation and makes you wonder what the bullpen will be capable of to begin the year. But then again we have the most absurd collection of starting pitchers that baseball has seen in a long time! That is enough to get anybody with a pulse excited for the season.
Questions of what is to come and pessimism seemingly coincide with being a Philly sports phan. That gut feeling of never quite being able to obtain that championship and the painful feeling of failure that ensues. But with the Phillies that just doesn’t exist. 2008 transformed a city and a phan base. It brought realization to the fact that WE can be Champions, we are Champions! That championship mentality has been established and continues aggressively from Ruben Amaro Jr. down to the clubhouse. Win at all costs. This team knows how to win and they have it in their heads that they WILL win! And every single Phillies phan alive believes that same sentiment whole heartedly. Friday is the beginning of something amazing in South Philly, enjoy!