The ballfield at Citizens Bank Park seemed smaller to me when I attended last Wednesday’s game against the Seattle Mariners. Growing up, I usually sat in the nosebleeds with my dad, looking down with awe at the giant masterpiece of green and brown in the middle of South Philly’s urban landscape. I was mesmerized whenever the players hit thunderous line drives and colossal home runs. They seemed like ants when I sat on the terrace deck. Their actions on the playing field weren’t only admirable – they were heroic.
But last Wednesday, something was different about the game.
My dad got really good seats, three rows from the visitors’ dugout. I replayed my favorite moments in my head as we sat down. I thought of Jimmy Rollins’ hitting streak in 2005 and 2006. I remembered Shane Victorino’s grand slam in Game 2 of the 2008 National League Division Series against Brewers ace CC Sabathia. I laughed as I recalled Chase Utley’s not-so-infamous World Series speech. And I grimaced when I thought of Ryan Howard’s torn Achilles’ tendon to bring the Phillies’ 2011 (and last) playoff run to an end.
And I realized I had lost touch with my boyhood idols.
After they stopped getting in the playoffs, I paid less and less attention to the Phillies. I grew up with a winning team. Following a club with a mediocre win-loss record didn’t seem worth it to me.
I was shocked when I looked at the Phillies roster that day, and saw that no one from the 2008 world championship team was on it. But one member of that ’08 team – Carlos Ruiz – started for the Mariners that day.
Ruiz (many call him by his nickname – Chooch) was my favorite player growing up. I was a catcher just like him. I wanted to be a leader by example, a persona he demonstrated every day behind the plate. His no-nonsense, no-boasting attitude on the field was what shaped me as a baseball player. That’s why I wore the same number that he did, 51, on my youth tournament team.
Now a 38 year-old with a career that seems to be wrapping up, his glory days in baseball are over.
His first two at-bats Wednesday, Chooch struck out looking. And both times, he silently put his head down as he walked back to his dugout. He had to shake off the anger he felt because of his lackluster performance. After all, baseball is a game of failure. His .111 entering the game was proof that even good players eventually lose their edge.
But in the seventh inning, Chooch came to the plate with one out and the bases loaded. On a 1-0 count, he nailed an outside fastball to centerfield. It ricocheted off the fence, mere feet away from being a home run.
Chooch slid into second base as Jarrod Dyson slid into home plate. Ruiz had cleared the bases and driven in three runs.
He looked around the crowd as Phillies fans applauded him without pause. The double had solidified a Phillies loss. But it didn’t matter to them, and it didn’t matter that Chooch wasn’t a Phillie anymore. They saw their hero playing well, and they loved him all the same.
I was thrust back into boyhood as I stood up and applauded him. I had never seen the 2008 world champions up close in action like this. I felt smaller than ever as everyone around me joined in a standing ovation. And I was reminded of that feeling I always had when Chooch doubled as I watched from the nosebleeds. I always wore a Ruiz jersey back then, and I was wearing one now, too.
Philadelphia doesn’t forget about its heroes, even when they’ve left.
And I shouldn’t forget about them, either.
Peter Kashatus is a history major at Earlham College.