Christine M. Flowers: Those Phabulous Phils: Here's lookin' at ya, Tugger!

ISWEAR I SAW him Wednesday night, glove in hand, jumping with a supernatural joy 10 feet above the pitcher's mound. He was there, soaring with Brad and J.C. and Cole and, especially, Jamie, reminding them how to celebrate.

Tugger had come back, if only for a few bittersweet seconds, to cheer on the city that loved him with the kind of affection that comes around only once or twice a century.

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The first thing I thought of when Eric Hinske struck out was how happy Tug would be up in that celestial dugout. I've felt his presence every time I watched a Phillies game over the past two-and-a-half decades, seeing his irrepressible twinkle reflected in other players' eyes (though not as brightly), heard his Southern twang echoed in other voices, sensed his goodness in other hearts.

But it wasn't until Wednesday night under the skies filled with red sparkling fireworks and amid the roar of an uncontainable crowd that I saw him dancing on the field once more.

This is what it means to be a Philadelphia fan: remembrance.

Tampa Bay is a young team, a good team, an honorable team. The players didn't deserve the boos we rained down on their heads, although after 28 years I suppose we earned the right to be a little boorish.

But Tampa Bay doesn't understand what it means to live for so many years without a championship, to start each season with a hope you dare not fully acknowledge and end it with yet another resigned sigh. Its fans bask in the sunshine of the present and the future, while we sit in the rain, drowning, hoping that our past will count for something.

And this year, it did. Our past got us to this moment, our small victories like a two-game lead over the hated Mets or bigger victories like the 1993 NL pennant or the glowing holy grail of Wednesday night. But the past is woven out of personalities, some of whom are seared into our memory.

And Tugger is the one that made the deepest impression of all the Phillies who ever put on the red-striped uniform - because he reminded us of ourselves.

That's not to say that the Carltons and Schmidts and Bowas and Luzinskis and Daultons and Schillings and the great Richie Ashburn don't count. Far from it - they are the reason we still bleed Phillies-red.

But there was something special about Tug McGraw that everyone sensed, and no one could quite put their finger on until he was no longer with us. And it was his absolute, unsophisticated, goofy-smile-on-your-face love of this game and these fans.

When you looked at Tug, you didn't envision him saying, "I'm going to Disney World." You didn't picture him on the cover of a Wheaties box or with his name emblazoned on some newfangled pair of shoes that promised to help you soar. And while I might be wrong (28 years since the last Phils' championship is a long time and my memory is dimming), I don't think Tug ever made a lot of money on his name.

His treasure, his real talent, was ripping his heart out of his chest and giving it to the fans. And we gave ours back to him, ten-, a thousandfold.

It's been a very, very long time since I've been whipped up into a Philly frenzy. I'm an Eagles chick.

Green is my favorite color (but not the godawful shade that Lurie picked). Still, I jumped on this bandwagon so quickly, I sprained my ankle.

And that's because this team, this year, reminded me of the 1980 Phillies with their devotion to the fans and their joy in the game.

Of course, these guys make a lot of money, much more than Joe the Plumber or Jill the Nurse or Jack the Public-Interest Lawyer. But they managed to help us believe, as Tug taught us, that we were all in this together. They attended the Tug McGraw School of Fan Management. And graduated, each of them, magna cum laude.

And so that's why I saw Tug dancing on Wednesday night. He may not have been the greatest pitcher in the storied history of the game. He wouldn't ever be mentioned in the same breath as a Cy Young or a Steve Carlton or a Nolan Ryan. But he had a championship heart, and showed all of us in this city that it's the heart that finally gets you to the promised land.

Thanks, Tugger. Phinally! *

Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer.

E-mail cflowers1961@yahoo.com.