No doubt I'm rooting for the Rays in the World Series for every obvious reason. They're not the Phillies. They've got Steve Henderson. They've got Cliff Floyd. They're the closest thing we'll ever see again to the '69 Mets. The '69 Mets are into them. They play up the road from Al Lang. I went to college in Tampa.
They're not the Phillies.
But a word on behalf of the Phillies. No, not these Phillies. Not the Phillies of ancient dubious history (Ben Chapman, et al), but of my flirtation with the Phillies for one season and my heartbreak in empathy for the Phillies on one October night, in Florida.
This was 1993, the year the Mets sucked as I had never seen them suck before and I adopted as my second team the first-place Phillies. Not against the Mets, mind you, but we were in seventh (the only year the National League East had a seventh) and they were roguishly charming. They had Lenny Dykstra and a bunch of fellows who seemed Dykstraish. We didn't play them 'til June that year and by then we were literally 20 games out. It didn't seem a conflict of interest to pull for the Phillies in a non-Mets vacuum. It didn't even seem bizarre to have bought at Shea, when you could buy this sort of thing there, a Phillies cap.
Sounds a lot worse now than it felt then (though it wasn't the worst cap I ever tried on for size). It made perfect sense to me in '93. I needed an outlet for my competitive rooting. The Mets I rooted on institutionally. The Phillies I hoped would go all the way. One night in August when the Mets were rained out, I tuned in the Phillies station and listened surprisingly intently. Man, I thought, if the Mets ever ceased to exist, is this what I'd be doing on summer nights?
I was excited when they held off a late charge by the Expos to win the East. I was thrilled when they upset the Braves in the NLCS (back when I also thought well of the Western Division Braves…how fucking bad was 1993 anyway?). I was psyched for them to take on the Blue Jays. They were down three games to two in a slam-bang Series when I found myself in Fort Lauderdale on business. An old friend from college was living in Miami, so I gave him a call after having fallen out of touch with him for a while. He was never much of a baseball fan but in the mid-'80s when we were close he was highly supportive of me and the Mets. It felt like kismet that the Phillies were in the World Series that week and I was in the area because he was originally from Philadelphia. When we goofed around playing Wiffle Ball back in the day, I wore my mesh Mets cap from Cap Night 1981 and he wore an old-school Phillies cap, the pre-Schmidt model on which the new retro Phillies caps were based. If he could get behind the Mets for my sake in '85 and '86, it was the right thing to do in '93 to return the favor.
We hooked up on the Saturday afternoon before Game Six was to be played at SkyDome. We went mini-golfing and to a batting cage like we used to in Tampa. After a nice meal at an Italian joint I knew from when my parents had a place in Hallandale, we headed back up to Lauderdale to my hotel to join the game in progress. We had trouble finding it on the radio because the station that had been airing the World Series bumped it in favor of the Miami-Syracuse football game (reminding me how glad I was to be living in New York where priorities weren't askew).
We turned on the TV in the seventh. Dykstra was up with the Jays leading by four. He was traded to the Phillies from the Mets the day after my buddy got married. I had flown down to Miami for the wedding on short notice to be the best man and got word when I arrived in New York that night: Dykstra and McDowell for Juan Samuel. (Samuel…he's pretty good, I instantly decided.) Four years later, two on, nobody out, Dave Stewart pitching. Lenny swings and makes it 5-4. It’s his fourth homer of the Series. By the end of the inning, Al Leiter is pitching for Toronto and gives up the sac fly to make it 6-5 Phillies. My friend and I are high-fiving and yelling and looking forward to a seventh game. I’ll be flying home in the morning, but this will be great. I’ll call him tomorrow night after the Phillies beat the Blue Jays, having been down three games to one. There's going to be a seventh game. Lenny and the Phillies still have a chance!
In the bottom of the ninth, Joe Carter goes Bill Mazeroski on Mitch Williams. Wild Thing, he made our hearts sink. My old friend and I sat on opposite sides of the bed, saying nothing for the longest time as the Blue Jays celebrated. He was from Philadelphia but not the biggest Phillies fan by any means. I was from New York and every other year of their existence except that one hated the Phillies. But for a few minutes in Florida we were both crushed by this turn of events.
The Phillies reverted to anathema to me the next spring. I eventually discarded their cap. I haven't heard from my friend since 1996. He lives in Tampa now. I wonder if he even knows who's in the World Series this year.