Friday, May 22, 2015

Bill Lyon | Faithful to a fault

Phillies fans remind their team of the notorious milestone at a game against the Rockies.
Phillies fans remind their team of the notorious milestone at a game against the Rockies. DAVID ZALUBOWSKI / Associated Press
Phillies fans remind their team of the notorious milestone at a game against the Rockies.
DAVID ZALUBOWSKI / Associated Press
Phillies fans remind their team of the notorious milestone at a game against the Rockies.
 
This is for you.

You who have endured defeat after numbing defeat and never defected, who stayed on even when there was no good reason for doing so.

This is for you and your patient-beyond-all-understanding ancestors, who have remained truer-than-the-bluest-sky true . . . to the very end . . . and beyond.

You and the generations that came before you, redefining what loyalty means, handing over your hearts and your money even while knowing the first will get broken and the second comes without a refund.

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This is for all of you, for the more than 120 million of you, who have slogged resolutely along this trail of tears, who have sworn passionate pledges of allegiance and bought tickets to see the major-league franchise of Philadelphia attempt to commit baseball for the last century and a quarter.

One-hundred-and-twenty-some-million of you paying your way in, keeping the turnstiles clicking merrily. And that is the number that matters. That is the number that is, in its own way, far more meaningful than 10,000 defeats.

That is the number that we should be celebrating in the midst of The 10 Grand Mourning.

Because that is the number that speaks to the heart of the Phillies fan, a curious, ambivalent mixture of idealism and fatalism, at once demanding and yet forgiving, and above all, resilient, durable, refusing to yield, for whom surrender is unthinkable.

Has there ever lived a creature to rival the Phillies fan? Harder to discourage than a sidewalk weed. Always coming back for more. Go ahead, load up and take another shot. We endure, we persevere, we do not discourage.

The passion runs bone deep, sometimes so deep that it pushes a fan over the edge. A few years ago, a distressed Phillies fan and hacker broke into the computers of some Philadelphia writers and began to flood the country with messages of vitriol about the people who run his beloved baseball team.

I was one of the hacker's victims. For days his e-mails flowed in unstoppable torrents from my laptop to people I had never met, and vice versa. The messages were always an assault on Phillies management and frequently were laced with profanity.

They went to complete strangers, who replied to me with puzzlement ("Who are you and why are you doing this?") and with litigious threats ("You'll be hearing from my attorney") and with dark rage ("I know a man named Guido who can make you walk funny").

The hacker eventually was caught by the FBI, stood trial, and was convicted of 79 charges.

I now admit, from the comfort of time elapsed, to a slight stab of sympathy - all the misguided soul wanted, as his attorney argued, was the widest possible audience for his screeds of frustration against Phillies management. He was, to borrow from the movie Network, mad as hell and he wasn't going to take it anymore. It may have been the only time in history when a man went to jail because he loved his baseball team way, way too much.

Ten thousand of anything qualifies as a group effort. So Phillies fans love wisely, if not well, and it may be argued that, in an ironic and perverse way, their eternal devotion works against the improvement of their team.

Boycott the Fightin's, goes a popular refrain, and force management to spend. Hit 'em where they'll feel it most, at the turnstile.

Ultimately, though, these calls for revolt fall on deaf ears, because true fans of the Fightin's simply cannot exorcise whatever it is that possesses them. For better or worse . . . in sickness and in another season of gut-shot agony and fading finish . . . they are wedded and they will not be put asunder.

Besides, there is an irresistible pull. We are tied to the game by a common umbilical, a rite of passage that is handed down. It goes from "Wanna have a catch?" to "Wanna go to a game?"

Remember your first time? Has the grass ever been as impossibly green?

So then, Ten Thousand is about to be reached. It will be a while, 1,200 of them or so, before they approach 10,000 wins. Until then, they will continue to be rooted along by those who, disgruntled after another galling loss, swear they are through. Never watch them again. Never. Never. Never.

And, of course, that vow will melt silently away. The Fightin's are our guilty pleasure.

On celebrate10000.com, one of the Web sites that has chronicled the trail of tears, a fan wrote of a grandfather, a Mr. Julian Thomas, who, upon reaching his 100th birthday, was asked the obligatory question. And his reply to the secret of his longevity was this:

"Waiting for the Phillies to win another World Series."

Mr. Thomas, this one is for you.


Bill Lyon is a retired Inquirer columnist.

For The Inquirer
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