First, we need to admit that Freddy Galvis' parents provided him with a first-name that is eminently chantable. Things probably would not have played out as they did if the rookie hitting eighth was named Ezekiel or Sam or, hell, Domonic.
Somebody asked Roy Halladay last night if he had ever heard his name chanted by a stadium of 45,000 people and he smiled when he admitted he hadn't. But that's what he gets for going by Roy instead of Harry or Leroy. Give people a two-syllable word and some beer and chances are good that you will end up with a chant. Throw in some short shorts and a speckled ball and you will end up with soccer.
That being said, the folks who witnessed last night's victory over the Marlins did not start chanting "Jim-my," even though the Phillies' new three-hole hitter went 2-for-5 with two runs and an RBI. Nor did they chant "Pol-ly," even though the veteran two-hole hitter went 2-for-5 with a run and an RBI. With the bases loaded and two out in the third inning of a 3-1 game, the 206th consecutive sell-out crowd at Citizens Bank Park made a collective decision to rally behind a 22-year-old rookie who entered the at-bat with one career hit.
It was a fascinating look inside the psyche of the Philadelphia sports fan. As Halladay noted afterward, the national definition of folks from these parts tends to focus on the more cringe-worthy manifestations of sports fanaticism. Even the compliment that area athletes often dole out includes a qualifier: It's a great place to play. . .when you are winning.
But that's what made last night's eruptions of "Fred-dy" so noteworthy. This wasn't an outbreak of post-production affirmation. As Galvis dug into the batters box to face Josh Johnson with the bases juiced, he was hitting exactly .077 on the young season. For the better part of four games, he had looked completely over-matched by a big-league fastball. The only reason he had a chance to break the game open was the Marlins' decision to walk the bases loaded in order to face him.
When Galvis left the on-deck circle and walked toward home plate, every logical synapse in your brain told you to bet on the Cy Young-caliber starter who stared in from the mound. Yet as he dug his cleats into the dirt, the chant took hold: a murmur at first, barely distinguishable from the white roar of a crowd that was still attempting to come to grips with a two-run lead. Galvis took a change-up for a ball, and the words began to coalesce. By the time he fouled back a 2-2 fastball, the entire stadium had found its rhythm. The kid was right on a 94 mile-per-hour fastball that has made plenty of major league sluggers look foolish. El Guante had a bat.
Johnson delivered his sixth pitch to Galvis, and the imminent unfolded: a line drive to right field, two runs sprinting home, and entire stadium roaring its approval. He stood on second base, and the chant continued.
Fred-dy! Fred-dy! Fred-dy!
It was not a race thing or an age thing or a performance thing. It was a Philadelphia thing. Any fan with an ounce of self-awareness will recognize the city's tendency to crush the spirit of a superstar. Mike Schmidt, Donovan McNabb -- even Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard have felt the sting of unfulfilled expectation. There was a time when Cole Hamels was booed in his first start of the season. That time was last year.
Philadelphia loves an underdog because Philadelphia is an underdog. The Buccaneers and Lightning may have cost the city more parades than New York, but hating Tampa Bay isn't much fun because we know we are better than Tampa Bay. You can't even buy a good sandwich in Tampa Bay. New York, though? We hate New York because New Yorkers think they are better than us.
Look at the athletes that remain a part of the Philadelphia sports scene. Ike Reese was a special teams player. Hugh Douglas was an undersized defensive end from a no-name school. Ron Jaworski is known more for the punishment he took than the punishment he doled out. In Rod Barajas' one season with the Phillies he posted a higher OPS than Chris Coste posted in his major league career.
What we witnessed last night might end up being the first unforeseen plot point of the sprawling epic that is a 162-game baseball season. In Galvis, the Phillies and their fans have their new underdog. We saw it in 2009 with J.A. Happ, and in 2011 with Vance Worley. This time, though, we might see it in the line-up. And that's an important thing. Not since Jayson Werth burst onto the scene has this team and this fan base had an opportunity to rally around a great story. Nobody expects Galvis to do what Werth did, or even to do what he did last night on a consistent basis. Whenever Chase Utley returns to the line-up, Galvis will either head back to Triple-A or, more likely, rotate to the next position that succumbs to injury's inescapable bite.
But whatever he lacks at the plate, Galvis has the potential to off-set with his injection of a quality that has often eluded the Phillies line-up in the years after 2008: the energy of an underdog. A simple statement of his age does not do him justice. Mike Stanton is six days older than Freddy Galvis. But Mike Stanton looks like a Transformer. Galvis looks like Ryan Howard's son.
Besides, Mike Stanton changed his name to Giancarlo. . .after hitting 34 home runs and slugging .537. Freddy was Freddy when he slugged .311 at Double-A Reading, and he is still Freddy today, a baby-fat-boasting, high-sock-wearing, exuberantly-chattering Venezuelan playing a new position opposite a potential Hall of Fame shortstop while weighing in at 180 pounds. You'd buy Freddy Galvis a beer if you weren't so worried about the LCB swarming your ass. Hell, the kid might need a back-up I.D. just to gain entrance to a visitor's clubhouse.
In 1993, back before the Phillies began their Decade of Suck, a first-place team called up a 23-year-old shortstop who was hitting .233 with a .313 slugging percentage in his first season at Triple-A. Kevin Stocker would play just seven more seasons in the big leagues, finishing his career at the age of 30 with a .254 batting average and .682 OPS. That first year, though, he hit .324/.409/.417 while starting 70 games for the eventual National League champs.
While the early returns suggest that Galvis will not approach those numbers, they also suggest that the presence of a likable and defensively-sound young adult might awaken the selfless and refining paternal instincts of a line-up that at times seems to lose itself in the existential struggle to repeat success. The image that stuck with me most from last night's game was captured by a Comcast SportsNet camera focused on the Phillies dugout. As Galvis grabbed a bat and prepared to walk up the steps for his short stay in the on-deck circle -- the Marlins were already indicating that they would intentionally-walk Carlos Ruiz -- Jimmy Rollins approached the rookie from behind and gave him a wrap-around pound on the chest. As he offered some verbal form of, "You got this!," the veteran shortstop's face was alive with the kind of focused enthusiasm that can only arrive when your desire to see somebody else succeed matches the desire you feel for yourself.
Rooting for Galvis is like rooting for Squints at the swimming pool: you put logic aside and yell like hell, even if you think he is out of his league. The Phillies line-up features a legion of high-priced veterans who can serve as a repository for fans frustrations. Galvis is the little kid inside of all of us that still dreams about the day when an entire stadium chants our name.