The outfield walls in Citizen's Bank Park must seem imaginary. That's how close, how real, how human this Phillies team feels.
You wonder what would happen if you pricked most players' fingers. Would they even bleed?
Shane Victorino bled yesterday, sharing his struggle with attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) on The Herd with Colin Cowherd. It's rare that athletes own their baggage, behaviors, choices and consequences that are within their control.
It's another entirely when they advertise congenital deficiencies.
It's unheard of.
With most clubs, you wonder why jerseys aren't sprinkled with dollar-sign insignia. The guys wearing them are practically consumerism personified.
But not the Phillies.
Not with Cliff Lee. Item No. 1 on Lee's 2010 winter wish list wasn't mega bucks. It wasn't even geography. Granted, there were other non-baseball factors, like Yankee fans badgering someone they didn't realize was Kristen Lee, Cliff's wife. That, and the appeal of a Phillie locker room of mostly former Lee teammates.
But at the top was access to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), among the nation's best research facilities for treating rare child illnesses, like the leukemia that struck Lee's son, Jaxon, when he was five months old, boding a 30 percent chance of survival.
Do you think the Phillies feel more human than the average pro sports team?
Granted, Lee got his, and inked a six-year, $120 million deal with his formerly-former club. But with the offers held under his nose—the Yankees threw a seventh year and at least $20 million on top—you realize this wasn't a hometown discount.
It was a human discount.
It was exactly what former-Phil Jayson Werth wouldn't take. Seven years and $126 million was too much to walk away from, even if it meant willingly filing into to baseball's glue factory, where pennant hopes, hot Junes and, in Werth's case, above-average talent go to wilt. All you need to know: Manager John Riggleman retired yesterday after the Nationals won their 11th of 12 games, because management wouldn't pick up his option.
That's a trade-off 99 percent of this roster doesn't go for.
This are real people, with real problems and considerations and impulses. When a tornado tore through his hometown in Chotcaw County, Miss., Roy Oswalt flung the chalk bag and contractual obligations on the mound, tending to his scared-stiff wife and kids.
“Baseball is a gift...but this comes third or fourth on my list,” he said. “I could walk away from the game today and be happy. As long as you have your family, they're going to be there a lot longer than the game will be. A lot of people don't look it that way, a lot of people think this is who you are as a person. It's not....Baseball doesn't mean more than my family for sure.”
That quote was what happens when life gets too heavy to lift (At least for the few more authentic than a Beverly Hills bust line). If there is an exception, a model for how anyone might act—like the New Orleans Saints in the Katrina aftermath; or Haitian first, Indianapolis Colt second, Pierre Garçon---that's it.
But even Oswalt's known for being somewhat homey. His player card makes you wonder whether he kicks up dirt after balls, or lets an "aw, shucks," slip after walks. He just seems that outstandingly regular.
If you want a reason feels easier to get into President Obama's laptop than Citizen's Bank—couldn't even find out how many consecutive sellouts it's had—that's why. Or why a Facebook poll tapped the Fightins as baseball's most endeared franchise.
It's because Philadephians can relate. I'm not about to go all "American Dream" on you, but for a franchise so hapless for so long to take off, it makes us wonder what's in store for our lives. What's unexpected. What's immeasurable. What's invaluable.
Bluest-collar hand of all the major cities, meet your (baseball) glove. That's how this team fits.
Granted, Philly hammers who it dubs underachievers. When Ryan Howard's bat took a nap on his shoulder on the last pitch of Game 6 of the NLCS, he got killed for buckling in the clutch. For a city who labors and scraps and bleeds for its money, it expects the same of stars who bank five-year, $125 million extensions on top of three-year, $54 million deals.
In other words: It likens stars to streetwalkers.
For some, it's space-shuttle-touching-down-to-earth coolness, like Chase Utley's humility that spews quotes like these:
“I know it sounds stupid and cliche, but I just want to get better," he said, well after he was Chase Utley. "I want to keep improving.”
For others, it's simpler, maybe even more superficial. Cole Hamels can deal—he's 9-3 and tied for third in the National League with a 2.51 ERA—but that's not what makes a certain demographic fall over themselves.
And for every heartthrob, there's a machine, the Phillies' being Roy Halladay, tied with Hamels in both wins and ERA and self-prided for pulling into the stadium at 4:30 a.m. most mornings.
But no one, not even the Nikon focused Halladay, gets too big for his red pinstripes. Not at the top, with a Jimmy Rollins who opened contract talks with a more reasonable three-year, $39 million ask than Derek Jeter did for his twilight deal. Not on the bottom-most rung, either. Dom Brown knows that until he hits, he's just hype.
There's just no room for it. Or fillers. Or pomp. Or pretense.
Not with so much that's so real.