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Friday, October 8, 2010

Doctor No or the Hunt for the RedOctober

These sound like Cold War era movie titles, but they're not. Indeed, unless you believe the Soviet era propaganda that claimed that the Russians invented baseball, or are a historian of the Red Scare in the US and know that the Cincinnati Reds briefly renamed themselves the Cincinnati Red Legs during the McCarthy Era so as to be avoid being mistaken for Bolsheviks (and consequently hauled in to testify en masse before the House UnAmerican Committee), there is really little in the way of a connection between my professional life as a Russian historian and my hobby as a baseball, and more specifically, Phillies enthusiast. Which brings me to the real subject at hand:

On a complete whim and in an uncharacteristic act of spontaneity, Sharon and I decided to go to the first game of the NLDS in which our beloved "Baseball Phillies" (as Hallie likes to call them) were playing the Cincinnati Reds.  I had entered a lottery for a chance to win the right to purchase tickets for the post-season and sadly had not been chosen the first time around.  But the second time is the charm; at 3pm on Tuesday I had a five-hour window of opportunity to snatch up a couple of tickets to the big game, which was to be Roy Halladay's debut in the post-season.  A few well-placed babysitting calls later and the deal was sealed.

Boy was that a great idea.  As a historian, I really appreciate the fact that we got to witness a fabulous part of baseball history:  Halladay pitched only the second ever no-hitter in the post-season and the first one since Don Larsen pitched a no-hitter for the Yankees in their victory against the Brooklyn Dodgers on October 8, 1956 in one of their many "Subway Series" that decade.

No doubt my dad had money on that game; my dad lived in Brooklyn --which is where I am from, too--and was one of the few stalwart Yankees fans in that borough.  He bet on the Series against his friend Henry during the formidable run that the two teams had against one another -- the two teams met up seven times during the period that spanned 1941 and 1956.  The Dodgers lost all but one of those contests--the one held in 1955, which was also the only one in which my dad, taking pity on poor Henry, opted to put his money on the Dodgers. When the Dodgers managed to pull off a hard-earned win in game 7, Henry responded by tossing my dad's radio out the window.  No passersby were wounded and I can only assume that my dad spent his earnings on a replacement for it.

Anyway, I digress.   Sharon and I managed to get out to the stadium and to our seats just before the first pitch of the game, which was one of many strikes (79 to be exact, of a total of 104 pitches).  The seats themselves, which were located along the third base line, were none too shoddy; at first I was covetous of those sitting closer down toward the field but that was before the rain started and I realized that we were protected by an overhang.  The two of us settled in to watch the game and Sharon kept poking me every now and then and uttering something along the lines of, "how is the inning over already?  The Reds just came up to the plate!  Did he really get all three out already?"  This happened at least three times before the sixth inning.

By the sixth inning, a sacred hush befell the crowd (well, as much as a hush as can really exist when over 46,000 people are screaming things like "Go Doc!" "Go Phillies!"  and hurling various invectives at the Reds players who came up to the plate).   The previous inning, Halladay had walked the one and only Reds batter who made it on base last night and so there was to be no reprise of his May 29, 2010 perfect game against the Florida Marlins.  But Halladay was painting the corners of the plate so well and working so effectively that all of us there last night knew that he really had a chance to make some history at the Bank.  We held our breath in the eighth, and still no hits.

And then came the ninth:  Ramon Hernandez was the first batman up and he popped out to Chase Utley at second.  Then Miguel Cairo hit a foul caught by Wilson Valdez, who was filling in for our regular third baseman Placido Polanco, who was out with a sore back.  Valdez has been a surprisingly proficient journeyman; the Phils picked him up in the off-season and he's made a real contribution to the team this year playing at shortstop, second- and third-base during what has turned out to be an epic year for injuries.  He really should be considered for team MVP or some other sort of award (never mind his penchant to hit into many, many double plays).

Just one more out was all that Halladay needed.  And catcher Carlos Ruiz, who is amazing and only getting better every day, was going to make sure that he did everything he could to close this game out for Doc.  Reds hitter Brandon Phillips tapped a ball back to the plate, shattering his bat in the process.  Pieces of bat were flying (this was not, of course, visible from our seats, alas, but I saw the whole thing on replay), and between that and the moving ball, there were plenty of obstacles.  Phillips is a fast runner, and Chooch pounced on the ball, smothered it, but did not have time to get into a stable position to make his throw.  So he threw from his knees, which is always a dangerous thing to do.  He didn't want to overthrow first base and create a potential for Phillips to get extra bases.  But he also did not want to be responsible for blowing Halladay's chance at making history.  And so he tossed it over to Ryan Howard, who made the final out, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I don't think a single person left Citizen's Bank Park early last night.   The fans erupted in cheers, the park erupted in fireworks, and the Phillies jumped all over one another like extremely well paid, grown up bear cubs.

As always, Halladay was quietly professional and gave a ton of credit to Chooch.  And Charlie Manuel, the manager, was funny (at least insofar as I could understand him) in his post game interview when he noted to reporters that a lot of the credit should go to the good managing that the Phillies have.

Speaking of credit, we can't take a lot of credit yet.  There's still a long way to go in the baseball post-season and hopefully the Phillies will play a prominent role in it.

I know that Lea, at least, feels that way.  We got home last night around 9pm (it was a quick game and even with the nightmarish traffic situation that leaving the stadium entails, especially when the atmosphere is a lot like a post-game tailgate party, we got home pretty fast) and the kids were still up.

Sharon brought Hallie upstairs shortly thereafter but Lea was showing no real signs of wanting to go to sleep any time soon.  So I asked her if she wanted to watch Classical Baby, which is her wind-down DVD.  She replied, "No!  Watch baseball!"

Since I was interested in finding out what was going on in the Yankees/Twins game anyway, I happily obliged her.  She then grabbed two of the Phillies caps that we always seem to have hanging around this time of year and placed one on my head and one on hers.  She then requested that I bring her "-attic", which is how she says Phanatic.  I handed her one of our Phanatics and then, upon further request, the other.  The four of us (me, Lea, and the two stuffed green difficult-to-identify-species with big red noses) then sat on the couch and watched the game.  When the crowd on TV got noisy, Lea began to shout, "Go Phillies!  Go Phillies!" and clapped her hands with joy.  I did not have the heart to point out the distinction between red and black pinstripes.  I'm sure she'll figure out her colors at some point down the road.

Between Hallie being able to identify the key players on the Phillies by sight (I am not sure how I am going to break it to her that we are not terribly likely to re-sign her beloved Jayson Werth whom she calls by his first name) and Lea just being enthusiastic about the game, I am pretty sure that I can carry on our baseball-loving family tradition.  I still remain sad that I never got to go to the (old) Yankee Stadium with my dad, who was obviously a baseball fanatic in his own right, but I do hope that he forgives my indiscretion at jettisoning my attachment to the old home team in favor of Phanaticism of a very different spelling.


Kirsten Wood said...

Were you a baseball fan in grad school?? This just doesn't sound like the Abby I knew then. Gifted writer, yes, but gifted sports writer?? :)

abby said...

I have always been pretty passionate about baseball, but I think was lacking a team orientation back in grad school. Which I suppose makes sense given the temporal and geographical limbo that grad school represents. Anyway, I was still rooting for the Yankees but didn't identify with them the way that I had as a kid. I am not exaggerating when I say that if he did not have access to a TV or we weren't in the car, my dad listened to every single game on a transistor radio no matter where we were or what we were doing. He would have gone crazy for MLB At Bat live television for the iPhone. Anyway, I wasn't quite that nutty about baseball in grad school, though we went to a few Phillies games here and there. But I've followed the Phillies fairly closely for the last seven to ten years and I've always loved going to games. Now that the kids are getting into it, it's going to be super fun and thank goodness the price point for tickets here in Philly is somewhat reasonable. I nearly fell out of my chair when I saw what Yankees season tickets were going for.

Jo said...

Ben has our girls trained to shout, "Go Panthers!". He's already pulled out the Panthers Santa hat and had them wearing it around!