[11/12] The Phillies: The Unexpected Champions

November 12, 2008
Getty Images
Getty Images

When this season started, not many people predicted the Philadelphia Phillies to go all the way. Even when they were in the playoffs, they were not a favorite. Even after convincing series wins over Milwaukee and Los Angeles, Philadelphia was still considered an underdog. Who would have guessed this would be the team of destiny?

To be honest, they really are a group of ragtag players, who come from all different places. There’s the 71-year old general manager, who is in his last year with the team. There is the manager, who has been dubbed a “baseball lifer,” who, just a little over a week after his mother died, led his team to the ultimate victory. There is the 45-year old pitcher, who, in his 22nd season, has never won a World Series. Then there is the 2006 NL MVP, and the one day NL MVP, who are in their 1st World Series after growing up in the minor leagues together. There is the Game 2 starter, who earlier this year, was sent back down to the minor leagues because his stuff wasn’t clicking. There is the Game 4 starter, who just a few months ago, was on a team that finished with a record below .500. There is the closer, who was all but exiled from major league baseball. He was perfect in save situations this year, including the playoffs. There is the NLCS MVP, who, on his wife’s birthday, watched his bullpen finish what he started 2 days earlier. There is the 33-year old rookie, who is in the World Series for the first time after spending much of his career in the minor leagues. There are the Phillies fans, who have been waiting 28 years for this moment. Then there is the City of Philadelphia, who has been waiting 23 years, and a combined 100 sports seasons for this day.

The 45-year old
Jamie Moyer was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 1984. He pitched with them through the 1988 season. After that, he went on to play for Texas, St. Louis, Baltimore, Boston, Seattle, and now Philadelphia. He had been to a Championship series only once before. He never made it to a World Series. In perhaps his last chance, Moyer pitched 6 innings in a Game 4 victory. Philadelphia pounded the Rays, 10-2. The best thing about Moyer is that if he decides to retire, he can go out on top. He doesn’t have 300 wins, and he might not be a lock for the Hall of Fame, but he does have the coveted ring, after 22 long years.

The MVP’s
Ryan Howard won the award in 2006. Chase Utley seemed to be on a pace to win it in 2007 and 2008, but nevertheless will win one someday. These men are the faces of the Phillies franchise. They rose through the minor league system together. Utley debuted a year before Howard, but have spent the majority of their careers together. They are all-stars. They are award winners. They are the future of baseball. Yet they lacked the thing that mattered most. The ring. After driving in 10 runs together, they continued to play the game well enough to get the victory.

The Closer
Brad Lidge all but lost his credibility following the 2007 season. The team he spent his entire career with let him go. His reputation was diminishing, and he was considered a joke when it came to the postseason. After joining the Phillies, Lidge did what last year was unthinkable for him. He was perfect in save opportunities, converting 41 saves on 41 chances. He kept that up in the postseason, going 8-for-8. He was so lights out, that the Phillies were 89-0 when they were leading after the 8th inning. While he provided some white knuckle moments, Lidge redeemed himself at the grandest of stages. To add to his lore, Lidge bore resemblances to Tug McGraw, the great Phillies closer who ended the 1980 World Series with a strikeout. Lidge did the same thing, 25 years later.

The 33-year old Rookie
Chris Coste entered the baseball spectrum in 1998. He didn’t make his professional debut until 2006, at the age of 33. He wrote a book about his struggles, entitled, “The 33-year old Rookie.” He went to the playoffs last year with Philadelphia, but their season ended shortly after that. This time, he got to stay for the whole show. All though he had only 4 at bats in the World Series, you can’t imagine that he would be disappointed with his 0 hits. His dream was realized just a few years ago, and now his team is the holder of the Commissioner’s Trophy.

The City of Philadelphia
There have been many tragic things to happen to Philadelphia sports teams over the past 23 years. The loss in the 2002 NFC Championship game. The 1993 World Series loss. Reggie White joining the Packers. Charles Barkley getting traded to the Suns. The loss of Allen Iverson. Terrell Owens. Smarty Jones losing the Triple Crown. Larry Brown. Donovan McNabb’s injuries. The Phillies 10,000th loss. I could go on and on. In fact, here is a list of the 100 worst things to happen to Philadelphia sports. Despite all the heartbreak and humiliation, these fans stuck by their teams. I think it says more to the city than just the Phillies fans. They are no longer a joke. They can now point their fingers and laugh at the other unfortunate cities. Why not? 100 seasons is a long time to wait.

Now that is done and over, the Phillies get to take it all in. They ended a historic drought, broke the Curse of Billy Penn, and declared themselves World F***ing Champions. The team might not remain the same next season, but at least the 2008 Phillies will always be in the record books.

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Hockey Is On The Horizon. Does Anyone Care?

September 19, 2008
Detroit News
Detroit News

I received an email today from Yahoo Sports, inviting me to join a fantasy hockey league. Is it that time already? Yes sports fans, the hockey season is less than a month away. As an avid hockey fan, I have to wonder: Does anyone care?

We all remember the fallout following the 2004 lockout. Hockey was lost for a whole season, and those who were barely hanging onto the game, lost interest all together. The sport that had been struggling in the lexicon of American sports, had seemingly breathed its last breath. While 2005 didn’t present much promise, there was a bright spot in a miserable season.

Sidney Crosby, a highly touted star, made his debut in the National Hockey League. While his first season quietly went under the radar, so did the 2005 hockey season. But the future was starting to build, while the past was fading away. Not only did Crosby make his debut, but so did Alexander Ovechkin, Henrik Lundqvist, and Cam Ward. Among those playing their final seasons were Hall of Famers Brett Hull, Mario Lemieux, and Steve Yzerman. Even the Carolina Hurricanes made their debut, on the Stanley Cup that is. Still, it seemed as if nobody was paying attention.

The 2006-07 season came and went just as quick. Maybe the thing that stuck out the most that season, was when Chris Simon of the New York Islanders was suspended an NHL-record 25 games for striking a New York Rangers player in the face with his stick. Hockey was again frowned upon. Perhaps the biggest slap in the face was the rating for the Stanley Cup Finals. It was the lowest rated Finals in history. Overall, the ratings were down 20% from the 2006 Finals.

In 2007-08, there was a little bit of solace in the Winter Classic. On New Year’s Day of 2008, the NHL hosted the first ever outdoor hockey game in the United States. Hosted in Ralph Wilson Stadium in New York, the Buffalo Sabres took on the Pittsburgh Penguins. Tied at 1 through three periods, the game went to overtime, and eventually a shootout. Sidney Crosby won the game for the Penguins in front of an NHL-record 71,217 fans. Despite competing with College Bowl Games, the Winter Classic drew a 2.6 rating, the highest rating for an NHL regular season game since 1996.

The 2008 season drew a little more attention, thanks to the goals chase between Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin. The two were the highest scorers in the league, and were ultimately battling for the MVP Award. Because of an injury to Malkin, Ovechkin ran away with the title, scoring an astonishing 65 goals. He was the first player to score 60 or more goals since the 1995-96 season. Hockey was starting to get noticed a little bit more.

The NHL Finals were some of the more riveting in recent history. The Detroit Red Wings battled the Pittsburgh Penguins for 6 games, with many comebacks and spectacular plays in between. The Finals drew one of the highest ratings ever for an NHL game, a respective 4.4 out of 5. However, it didn’t take long before people forgot about hockey again.

So now the 2008-09 season is getting ready to begin. With games hosted on Versus and OLN, will anybody take the time to notice? The game is entering a new era, complete with the next line of superstars, lead by Sidney Crosby, the face of the league. Another Winter Classic will be held, this time in historic Wrigley Field in Chicago. Whether people will take notice is another thing.

Hockey is coming. The stage is set. Do you care?

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