Photo: Jeff Robertson / AP © 2012
Aloha, Shane Victorino!
I'm a few weeks late in bidding a fond farewell to the Flyin' Hawaiian, traded by the Phillies on July 31st to the LA Dodgers — the team that drafted him back in 1999, although his Major League debut came with San Diego. The Padres got him as a Rule 5 selection, just as the Phils did a couple of years later. During his Phillies tenure the goofy, hardscrabble Victorino was sent to two All-Star Games, rode in one World Series parade, and got lodged in the hearts of thousands if not millions of fans.
This is my first post about baseball all year outside of a Top Ten list. And despite my Phils having their worst season by far in some time, I'd like to think that the reason why has more to do with me than with the team's losses. My baseball musings usually come later in the season as it is, and blogging has been pretty light this summer; also, I've already written about such phenomena as Opening Day, designated hitters and interleague play, and the World Series, which don't really merit writing about again unless specifics warrant it.
Yet there's no denying that the enthusiasm of all Phillies fans has waned this year, injuries and subpar performances having made the roster all but unrecognizable at times. Over the past month the team has stacked losses upon losses, not just languishing with an under-.500 record but trading away a longstanding fan favorite in Victorino and a newer one in Hunter Pence, who spent exactly one year and two days with the Phils. I can't argue that roster moves are part of the game, that the Phils' once-mighty farm system needs replenishing, that the core of the team responsible for bringing postseason baseball to the Greater Philadelphia area year after year is aging. But I'll miss watching Pence's swing at the plate just as I'll miss Victorino's presence in the outfield and clubhouse both, because as electrifying as midseason additions like Pence and Cliff Lee (Vol. I) can be they work best against a backdrop of familiarity.
Joe Blanton, who left for the Dodgers on Aug. 3rd, I won't miss so much; no offense to the guy in the least, but some players you get stuck on — for reasons obvious or arcane — and some you don't.
Sadly, I'm not gonna be following Pence now that he's with the Giants, even if they've kinda-sorta replaced the Padres as my West Coast team since my sister moved to San Francisco. Ditto with Victorino, although I wish him well. It's all I can do to keep up with the Phillies. While I'd love to follow more of baseball at large, there are precious few hours in the day and I have precious little attention to distribute amongst them.
Even in a losing season there are milestones with a positive bent, of course. One week ago, on Aug. 14th, Charlie Manuel's 700th win as Phillies manager was recorded. In the same game, Jimmy Rollins became the longest-serving shortstop in Phillies history in terms of games played at that position, with 1,731, passing Larry Bowa. They're marks of inevitability to an extent — certainly no more reflective of the disappointing 2012 season than the fact that the Phils became the first franchise in any sport to have lost 10,000 games was of the winning 2007 season* — but they do indicate that the current crop of Phillies has been, overall, quite good for quite some time. [*I admit that it hurt to be swept out of contention in the opening round of the playoffs. On the other hand, though, Rollins' prediction of the Phils as the team to beat in the National League East was borne out and they sure came back with a vengeance in 2008.]
When I began this post, the night Manuel's milestone was reached, we'd had some nice wins lately and my heart was warmed by some video of the Aug. 10th induction of Mike Lieberthal to the Phillies' Wall of Fame at Citizens Bank Park. I love seeing those ceremonies, not only because the inductees are usually icons of some order by dint of both their talent and their personality but because other inductees attend. It's sorta like when all the living Presidents get together, except it happens a little more often and it's baseball players (and/or managers) I've rooted on instead.
That brings me back to a point that I've made before, which is that if you're a Phillies fan — or a fan of any particular club, due to family history or geographical ties — you're a fan through thick and thin; it doesn't mean that you're ignorant of stupid moves, poor talent, or bad attitudes, but it does mean that you cling to the banner above all else. Absolutely nothing's wrong with rooting for a particular team or athlete in a particular event for a particular reason, be it baseball or football or some Olympic sport, because circumstances can be wildly compelling. I find giving my heart over to a club something different and perhaps something deeper, however, a mixture of tradition and civic pride, a feeling not unlike in broad strokes what one feels for family: Not every single member of the clan is going to be someone you'd click with individually, but they're all of them yours.
My Phillies will lose some and win some, hopefully more of the latter and hopefully soon. We might be headed into a bit of a downturn and the biggest shakeups we've had in a while, in the roster and at the helm, a couple of years from now. I've been watching not only through the Charlie Manuel years but through the Larry Bowa years and Terry Francona years and the Jim Fregosi years before that, when the unlikely World Series scrappers of Macho Row reinvigorated my interest in baseball after college. So I'm certainly going to be watching whatever comes next.