Game Faces

I’m a few weeks late in bidding aloha to the Flyin’ Hawaiian, Shane Victorino.

Shane Victorino of the Phillies finishing a swing of the bat
Photo: Jeff Robertson for The Associated Press © 2012.

He was traded by the Phillies on July 31st to the LA Dodgers — who drafted him
back in 1999, although his Major League debut came with San Diego. The Padres got him as a Rule 5 selection, just as the Phils did in 2005. In the past seven years the goofy, hardscrabble Victorino was sent to two All-Star Games, rode in one World
Series parade, and got lodged in the hearts of thousands if not millions of fans.

This is my first post about baseball all year outside of a Top Ten list. And despite my Phils having their worst season by far in some time, I’d like to think that the reason why has more to do with me than with the team’s losses. My baseball musings usually come later in the season as it is, and blogging has been pretty light this summer; also, I’ve already written about such phenomena as Opening Day, designated hitters and interleague play, and the World Series, which don’t really merit writing about again unless specifics warrant it.

Yet there’s no denying that the enthusiasm of all Phillies fans has waned this season, injuries and subpar performances having made the roster nearly unrecognizable at times. Over the past month the team has stacked losses upon losses, not just languishing with an under-.500 record but trading away a longstanding fan favorite in Victorino and a newer one in Hunter Pence, who spent exactly one year and two days with the Phils. I know that roster moves are part of the game, that the Phils’ once-mighty farm system needs replenishing, and that the core of the team responsible for bringing postseason baseball to the Greater Philadelphia area year after year is aging. But I’ll miss watching Pence’s swing at the plate just as I’ll miss Victorino’s presence in the outfield and clubhouse both, because as electrifying as midseason additions like Pence and Cliff Lee (Vol. I) can be they work best against a backdrop of familiarity.

Joe Blanton, who left for the Dodgers on Aug. 3rd, I won’t miss so much; no offense to the guy in the least, but some players you get stuck on — for reasons apparent or arcane — and some you don’t.

Sadly, I’m not gonna be following Pence now that he’s with the Giants, even if they’ve kinda replaced the Padres as my West Coast team since my sister moved to San Francisco. Ditto re Victorino, although I wish him well. It’s all I can do to keep up with the Phillies. While I’d love to follow more of baseball at large, there are precious few hours in the day and I have precious little attention to distribute amongst them.

Even in a losing season, of course, there are milestones with a positive bent. One week ago, on Aug. 14th, Charlie Manuel’s 700th win as Phillies manager was recorded. In the same game, Jimmy Rollins became the longest-serving shortstop in Phillies history in terms of games played at that position, with 1,731, passing Larry Bowa. They’re marks of inevitability to an extent — certainly no more reflective of the disappointing 2012 season than the fact that the Phils became the first franchise in any sport to have lost 10,000 games was of the winning 2007 season* — but they do indicate that the current crop of Phillies has been, overall, quite good for quite some time. [*I admit that it hurt to be swept out of contention in the opening round of the playoffs. On the other hand, Rollins’ prediction of the Phils as the team to beat in the National League East was borne out and they sure came back with a vengeance in 2008.]

When I began this post, the night Manuel’s milestone was reached, we’d had some
nice wins lately and my heart was warmed by video of the Aug. 10th induction of Mike Lieberthal to the Phillies’ Wall of Fame at Citizens Bank Park. Those ceremonies are fun not only because the inductees are usually icons by dint of both their talent and their personality but because previous inductees attend. It’s sorta like when all the living Presidents get together, except it happens a little more often and it's baseball players I’ve rooted on instead.

That brings me back to a point that I’ve made before, which is that if you’re a Phillies fan — or a fan of any particular club, due to family history or geographical ties — you’re a fan through thick and thin; it doesn’t mean that you’re ignorant of stupid moves, poor talent, or bad attitudes, but it does mean that you cling to the banner above all else. Absolutely nothing’s wrong with rooting for a particular team or athlete in a particular event for a particular reason, because circumstances can be wildly compelling. I find giving my heart over to a club a different and perhaps deeper feeling, however, a mixture of tradition and civic pride akin to family ties: You won’t click with every single member of the clan individually, but they’re all of them yours.

My Phillies will lose some and win some, hopefully more of the latter and hopefully soon. We might be headed into a bit of a downturn and the biggest shakeups we’ve had in a while, in the roster and at the helm, a couple of seasons from now. I’ve been watching through the Charlie Manuel years and through the Larry Bowa years and Terry Francona years and the Jim Fregosi years before that, when the unlikely World Series scrappers of Macho Row reinvigorated my interest in baseball after college. So I’m certainly going to be watching whatever comes next.

Related: Play Right Harry Kalas 1936-2009 Short Fall


  1. Just realized that I never responded to this...

    I do hate to see Victorino and Pence go, because they (one for much longer than the other) really defined the current team for me, but on the other hand I really understand why these trades have to be made. The core is definitely aging. We're in for a much bigger turnover within the next, oh, 5 years at the outside for sure.

    How about Kendrick, though, and us being just one game away from at least a numerically redemptive .500 on the season given how things had been going? Maybe even a Wild Card berth — weird!


  2. No Wild Card berth, which is fine (given, as you say, how the first half of the season went), but I'd really like to go 2-2 at worst over the last 4 games to avoid a losing season.

    And, yeah, I'm bracing for a very different core Phillies team, likely with a new skipper, not too long from now.