A Philadelphia Story

    Photo by Emily Chow / North by Northwestern.

    It’s pretty safe to say baseball is my favorite sport. Nothing brings up better memories. For 17 years I’ve been watching the Phillies get so close and choke at the very end. It was heartbreaking, but unifying at the same time. I’m from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, prime Phils real estate, and when they lost and let us down at least we could turn to each other. I could look to my best buddy and know we were both feeling exactly the same thing. Disappointment. Heartache. Depression. But a depression that united us all. We were Phillies fans in Pennsylvania. We were part of a community. I was part of a family.

    This went on for 17 years. In the autumn of my 18th year I moved to Chicago. I tried to keep up with the Phils, but it was tough. I remember being pissed off and hating the Midwest when the local cable providers would play something like the Cubs and the Pirates, a game that never matters, over the Phillies and Mets, a bitter rivalry and a game the entire Eastern Seaboard was watching that could decide the NL East.

    I just wasn’t used to being the only Phillies fan in a land of apathetic, displaced baseball fans, or worse, Cubs fans. Back home, everyone loved the Phils and you could make a new friend by talking about Chase Utley’s homer last night. Out here, you have a grand mix of students from all over the country and world who like different teams and feel no unity toward one another. Northwestern students tend to take to the Cubs as a second team, a home away from home, but it’s not the same – it’s almost out of obligation, out of pity, living so close to North Chicago. Might as well root for the Northsiders, they’re not actually going anywhere, so it’s not really blasphemy against my true team.

    I remember October 29, 2008 was at once the happiest and saddest day of my life. The Phillies finally won the World Series again, their first in 28 years, only their second in history. The entire city of Philadelphia had gone without a championship for 25 years since the Sixers won the NBA championship in ’83 – there’s a long urban legend about the curse of Billy Penn I’ve tried to explain to friends out here, just another in a long list of Philadelphia idiosyncrasies that fall on deaf ears so far from home.

    A good friend of mine and one of the truest Philly fans I’ve ever met, Jon Gonzales, shot me an email when I told him about this story idea. About last year’s win, he wrote, “Beating the Dodgers, a team who almost everyone picked to beat us, and making it to the World Series seemed to wake the city from it’s dormant sleep it had held for almost 30 years. People really began to believe in the team and there was a sense of camaraderie among everyone living in Philadelphia. It was like the underdog had finally overcome every possible obstacle and this underdog was a team that had an entire city pushing it across the finish line.”

    I remember watching game five (like all of the games before it) in the basement in the dark, alone. And I remember when Brad Lidge threw that last signature slider to cap the perfect season, my emotions got the better of me and I cried. A lot. The day I’d been waiting for for 18 years was finally here. It was about damn time.

    Was I embarrassed? I would have been, if anybody had seen me. Instead, the dorm was quiet, the school was dead and Evanston was abandoned. The day I had been waiting for for 18 years was finally here, but it came just two months after I left home. I was an emotional wreck that night in the basement, at once the happiest and most alone I’d ever been. I called everyone I knew that night – friends of mine still in the city, parading down Broad Street, like I should have been doing. I called one of my best friends who didn’t answer so I left a rambling, six-minute long stream-of-consciousness voicemail about how much I missed her and the Phillies and Philadelphia and everything and how I made the worst decision of my life coming all the way out here for school in a land where nobody cares about anything and how everyone’s a robot who likes shitty Chicago baseball teams and how I felt so utterly and hopelessly alone, a voicemail she apparently saved and still listens to when she’s feeling down.

    It was the most alone I’d ever felt. In Philadelphia one and a half million people were dancing; in Chicago I was alone. Going into the playoffs this year and facing the insurmountable task of beating the Yankees, I thought I had finally gotten a leg-up on my friends back home – I’d be able to suffer the eventual heartbreak by myself, away from the epicenter of the pain. I thought it would somehow deaden the effect, make it easier to bear.

    I should have known it was going to be just as bad as last year. The Phillies lost the World Series, and I felt like crawling into bed for the next month, but the world kept turning out here. Students kept doing their work and I was expected to keep up with mine. What made it worse, though, was knowing that in my depression and apathy I was, once again, alone.

    I thought it would be easier to take the pain of the loss away from Philadelphia, but the camaraderie and general sentiments in the city, any city, are what unite people and make it so special in the first place. Last year I missed celebrating with 2 million people on Broad Street; this year I missed the pervading disappointment and sorrow that lingers in the air in center city. This pervading, unifying sorrow, though, is what makes it easier to bear — not being away from it all, like I previously thought — being right in the middle of it, bumping up against one another, reaching down to your fellow fallen man and helping him regain his footing. I was once again away from it all. Never mind what “it” is exactly or how to best classify “it.” I was just away from it: the general “it” of Philadelphia.

    I think Jon hit the nail on the head. Chicago just doesn’t have this “it.” They have a different “it,” a distinct Chicago “it” I’m sure I would miss if I were a displaced Chicagoan, but I’m not. I’m a Philadelphian 700 miles from home, and I’m all alone out here. Jon concluded, “Overall I think Phillies fans may have gotten a little too high on the team, expected a little too much…. But unlike a lot of fans, this city never gave up on this team. Even down 3-1 there was the belief it wasn’t over; even when we were behind by four, down to two outs with Victorino two strikes in the hole against the best closer in the game. That’s what’s great about this city to me. We never give up on our team.”


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