Wednesday, September 2, 2009


I was reading a review of a book about the Spanish experience during the Crusades - and yes, that is a sentence that has never appeared on any other sports blog. Anyway, give me a little rope.

What you had was the victorious forces of crusading Christians coming through, and giving the resident Jews the choice of conversion or death. Not surprisingly, most opted for the former, even with the permission of pragmatic rabbis, and there were suddenly hundreds of thousands of New Believers.

But racism dies hard, as does a lack of respect for the vanquished, and the suspicion that the faith was of a lesser quality. So for generations afterward, even for the descendants of converts, the same disdain and discrimination would go on. These marannos, as they were called, were also at greater risk for future Inquisitions. Let's just say that the Holocaust wasn't just a unique fever dream of the Nazis, and leave it at that, because I've got a walkback to make to, um, sports.

We are now in what may be the best era ever to be a Phillies fan. That doesn't mean as much as it should, considering just how awful the franchise has been historically, but so be it; you take your Good Times when you get them. They are the defending World Series Champions, closing in on their third straight playoff qualification, and they will be back to back division winners in another couple of weeks.

Even better, they appear to be peaking at the right time. If Cole Hamels' recent crushing of the Giants is to be taken on face value, and they get some late game relief from Brett Myers and/or Brad Lidge, combined with the smooth sailing Cliff Lee, you've even got the presumptive NL playoff favorite. Even the back end of the rotation, with second-half rock Joe Blanton, Rookie of the Year candidate J.A. Happ, and 80 years and 500 wins of fifth starter in the Pedro Martinez / Jamie Moyer tag team, looks really good right now.

The park is losing its newness, but not its appreciation from the locals. Philly Fan now fills the empty seats at other teams' stadiums, instead of the other way around. The infield defense is exceptional, the farm system has prospects, and every other team in the division has serious long-term issues that make a threat to dominance unlikely in the near term. The front office has spent much of 2009 putting its ass in ice cream with moments like Raul Ibanez over Milton Bradley, Cliff Lee over Roy Halladay, and moving on from Pat Burrell. If Lidge hadn't spent the year making everyone cringe, they'd be the clear #1 team in the NL.

Meanwhile on the West Coast, my Oakland A's might be the most unwatchable team in baseball. Their best everyday player is either Kurt Suzuki, a defense-first catcher who dreams of having Jason Kendall's career, or cast-off Adam Kennedy, who has ridden a few hot streaks into a probably overexposed role in 2010 and beyond. The starting pitching has either been good or maddening, the bullpen's mostly irrelevant because the team can't score enough runs to actually mount comebacks, and after the sell-off of players like Dan Haren, Rich Harden, Marco Scutaro, Blanton and others, it doesn't seem to matter if the young pitchers are good or not. They'll go to some other town as soon as they become expensive, for some other collection of not quite good enough everyday offensive talent, and the 85 to 90 loss a year treadmill will continue.

From a clear utilitarian viewpoint, I should just accept the inevitable and go back to my first team. It's not like I'm going to move back to the Bay Area, and hey presto, this Phillies team is actually fun to watch, notwithstanding the loss of play-by-play announcer Harry Kalas. As they play in different leagues, there's really no conflict at all here.

And yet... there is still that sense that once you've turned your back on a team, you really shouldn't be able to come back. I gave up on baseball so totally that I didn't watch the game for years and years, ostensibly due to the strike, but mostly from the fact that continuing to care about a team that simply wasn't trying to win (aka, the mid '90s Phillies, who airlifted Curt Schilling and Scott Rolen out for no discernible talent, all while crying poverty as the only game in town in one of the five largest media markets in the U.S.) just seemed like a pointless use of my time.

But well, that describes the A's now, and it's been years since I felt any hope that situation was going to change. Maybe they haven't had as many years in the wilderness as those awful Phillies teams had. But there comes a certain lack of patience as you get older and time gets limited, not so much from end-of-life issues as from the simple fact that you'd rather, well, spend time with your kids or work or house or hobbies. Jack Cust inspires me to clean my gutters.

There's also the silly but very true fact that if I root for a team with my whole heart, it's pretty much doomed to failure. My fandom is much more effective in sidewise glances, like rooting for the Phillies last year out of the corner of my heart, or the small meh fist pumps and utter rest of the sport obliviousness that marked the Carmelo Anthony run for my alma mater's college basketball title fun.

So, Phillies? You've won. I'm converting. Pass the pork rinds and milkshakes, the non-halal pretzels, and the green Phanatic Kool-Aid. I'll take the far seat at the table and the wheelwell of the bandwagon, near the quiet people who don't even remember 1993, let alone 1983, or that Bloggy McBloggermouth was ever in pinstripes.

And when the Inquisition comes, I'll take what's coming to me.

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