The fifth grade of St. Ann Regional School, Wildwood, show their excitement for the World Series.
As I write this, before the first pitch of the 2009 World Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and the New York Yankees, it’s great to be able to say that the Phightins’ are in the World Series for the second year in a row.
Remember how beautiful it sounded when, last year, we could just say they were in the World Series?
Phillies fans’ faith over the 28 years since the last world championship, and 15 years after the last World Series appearance, was rewarded last year when they brought home the championship and threw a Halloween parade for everybody.
But when this season started, doubt inevitably crept into some fans’ minds: was last year a mirage? Could they make it to the fall classic again, minus Pat Burrell, plus 36-year-old Raul Ibanez?
Now, 171 games later, the answer is a resounding yes.
Now, the myriad seasons of hopelessness and doubt in the Phillies baseball team has turned a new leaf, into the brighter hue of optimism. Every day brings a day of hope, shining possibilities. At least for this humble writer.
Ever since I was a tee-ball player for Barclay Baseball in South Jersey, I have been a Philadelphia Phillies fan. I went to, and still go to, many games with my father, who introduced the sport to me. I remember the walk-off World Series hit by Joe Carter, piercing the Toronto sky and the hearts of every Phillies fan.
From 1994 until 2008, we didn’t have much reason to root, root, root for the home team. If names like Jeff Juden, Roberto Hernandez, Travis Lee and Jon Lieber ring a bell, you can see why.
But still during those years, every February when spring training started and the players got ready for the new season in Florida’s sun and on its freshly-cut grass, I believed that things could turn for the better. I had faith.
Faith, to me, is believing that, as my parents taught me at an early age, “God will never put anything on your plate that you can’t handle.” Times may get rough and uncertain, but God will always be there, guiding you from the darkness into the light.
It hasn’t always been easy for the Phillies, of course. They have struggled, and some players have even been booed out of the city. But these last three years, starting with 2007’s National League East title, loyal fans have been rewarded for their enduring loyalty, their faith in the team.
I have relatives in northern New Jersey who are diehard Yankees fans, and they remember the storied years from the late 1990s-2000, when they won four championships. Along with this, the team has 26 world championships in its history, compared to the Phillies’ two. As such, my relatives have always had a confidence in their team; the Yankees, with all of their successes, are expected to win it all, every year.
With the Phillies’ record of futility (they were the first professional sports franchise with 10,000 losses), and their recent success, it goes to show that hard work and faith do pay off. Their losses proved that the game of baseball wasn’t easy, but the consummate, dedicated, hardworking players such as Chase Utley, Ibanez, Jamie Moyer and Brad Lidge on the current team have made the current squad one of the best the franchise and the city has ever known.
Maybe there is something to be said about disappointment, and the fact that, the harder the struggle, the sweeter the success. The Phillies’ World Series opponent, the New York Yankees, and their fans have been America’s team for a long-time, the crown jewel of Major League Baseball. The legends of the game — Mantle, Ruth, Berra, Gehrig, DiMaggio — all wore Yankee pinstripes. Failure has never been in the team’s vocabulary.
For the Phillies, all the struggles over the years have led to their second championship last year, and, we hope, another one this year. The Phillies and their fans can look back at their disappointments as character-builders, strengthening the heart, the will, the spirit. We realize just how much blood, how much sweat, how many tears it took to climb that mountain. We realize that with effort and persistence, great things can happen. And, like Phillies players such as Lidge or Ibanez, we thank the Lord.
Matthew says in his Gospel that “with God all things are possible” (19:26). Through everyone’s life there will be missteps, disappointments and losses at some point, but we must keep our eyes fixed on God, and our hearts fixed on faith. Just as every February brings a fresh start to the baseball season, so every day brings a fresh start in our journey toward heaven.
With these tests designed to strengthen our faith, we will better be prepared to enter the kingdom of God. And when we do, nothing will be sweeter. But a nice bottle of champagne in one hand, and the Commissioner’s Trophy in the other, would be a close second.
Peter Sánchez is a Catholic Star Herald staff writer.