In the annals of great vacations, my recent seven-day jag wouldn't rank very high.
Last summer, I made my first visit to Italy, where I hooked up with a cousin I had never met - his name is Filippo Missanelli, I kid you not - and toured Rome, Florence, Naples with a carafe of Vino Rosso and a wood-fired pizza always close by my side. This year, it was the Jersey Shore, a Bed Bath &Beyond lounge chair, a bottle of Snapple, and a slice of frozen Ellio's.
But it was all good. Sometimes the most uneventful vacations can turn into the most meaningful. When you keep the activities to a minimum, there's not much more to do but think.
And what I mostly thought about were Philadelphia sports fans. I couldn't move three feet without seeing a man or a woman in some kind of Philadelphia sports gear. Phillies T-shirts with "Utley," "Lee," and "Rollins" on the back. Eagles jerseys and caps. And it amazed me to see how many SUVs had Phillies and Eagles decals, sometimes both at the same time, glued to the back of their cars. Now that's dedication, when a family cares more about their hometown teams than their vehicle's resale value.
That made me wonder: What would we do in this town without our daily sports fix? It has become as important a part of our lives as going to work in the morning for the biweekly paycheck, or planning the kid's high school graduation party. We live it and breathe it on a daily basis. If the God of Sports were to come down and tell us he was taking all those sports teams away from us and delivering them to, say, Arkansas, we'd all fall into the black hole. In Philadelphia, sports are us. They are a daily exercise of interest, intrigue, and entertainment.
On that note, here is a list of my five current most entertaining and important sports story lines.
1. Jimmy Rollins. Let's face it, the Phillies are in no position not to sign J-Roll to another long-term deal. I don't know what they'll have to pay. At least three years and perhaps four years (at about $12 mil a year) because I think the San Francisco Giants would give him that in a heartbeat. Rollins is having a solid year. His on-base percentage and OPS are the highest they've been in four years. He's been consistently good in the field. You can make the case that he's still one of the top five shortstops in the game. Reyes, Tulowitzki, Asdrubal Cabrera, Hanley Ramirez maybe, and then J-Roll.
But more than that, he's been the face and engine for this team for about a decade. You just can't shrug that off. He's Brian Dawkins - but bigger than Dawkins, because Rollins can still play. And if that weren't enough, consider that the Phillies just don't have any viable alternative. The kid in triple A, Freddy Galvis, isn't ready. You comfortable with signing a rent-a-shortstop for the short term from a list of mediocrity to replace Jimmy Rollins? You do that, and the structure of your entire offensive lineup breaks down.
2. DeSean Jackson. The fleet Eagles wide receiver isn't signed to a new contract yet and I'm trying to figure out what's going on here. Is it possible that Eagles management is trying to milk the final year - payout of $560,000 - of Jackson's contract in order to see if he can remain healthy enough to actually earn another big contract, or secure him for one more year with the franchise tag? If so, that would be harsh.
I'm certain that Jackson bought into the Eagles' corporate mantra that they would be amenable to rewarding new deals as long as the player shows up first to camp. Since then, there has been nothing. I don't know if you've noticed or not, but Jackson hasn't exactly played with his hair on fire in the preseason. He looks like a player trying not to get hurt. I'd hate to see that happen when the games begin for real. Gee, Drew Rosenhaus, maybe those push-ups in the driveway weren't such a bad idea.
3. Gary Matthews. I confess, I love the Sarge. So many people I hear from via e-mail are bugged out that he's really not that great an analyst or postgame interviewer. But he really doesn't have to be, does he? He's the Sarge. He's not in a broadcasting booth because he's technically impeccable. He's in there because he's that unique, ballplayer character. It cracks me up when he's doing a postgame interview and he calls the player by his last name. "So . . . Polanco, it looks like you were trying to punch the ball to right field."
I love the way Sarge puts the punchy voice inflection on the wrong word or syllable in the sentence. "You see Chipper Jones grab that ground ball and step right on the bag!" Here's Sarge doing the Gettysburg Address: "Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition . . . " The man is a classic.
4. Howie Roseman. I'm already on record as saying that this man is my favorite sports executive in the city. Imagine what it must be like to be Eagles GM Roseman. Here's a guy whose entire life may have been defined by an interest in fantasy football and now he gets to do it for real? How many of us, as we fuel our football obsession year after year by studying the league and its players, preparing ourselves for our fantasy drafts and utilizing that knowledge to build the ultimate fantasy team, aspire to be in Howie's shoes? Not only does he have a pitcher of beer on his table, he's got a real live financial budget! It's like being weaned on the board game Stratego and then be given the chance to command a real army.
And I don't mean to shortchange Howie Roseman. He has worked for various NFL teams and learned his craft and paid his dues. But a kid with no football-playing experience ascends to be the general manager of a football team? America, what a country.
5. Philadelphia as the World's Sports Mecca. All right, the last straw was the Union's signing Freddy Adu. I know nothing about the Union, or about professional soccer in general. But I know that The Inquirer has a fine beat writer for the sport and dedicates an entire weekly page to the Union, so I therefore know that this Freddy Adu thing is a pretty big deal.
See, they all want to come to Philadelphia these days. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Nnamdi Asomugha, Freddy Adu. Philadelphia has become the cool destination. Sports pundits have even stopped writing about what a bad and nasty sports town Philadelphia is, what with the stabbings and shootings that go on in other places these days.
I got a kick out of the Jim Thome story last week where teams were all in a twist about the possibility that Thome would end up in Philadelphia. Hah! My friends, we are living in Bizarro World. Just appreciate it.
Contact Mike Missanelli at firstname.lastname@example.org.