Phillies 2011: End of Season and Grief Counseling Advice
Yeah, what’s so good about it?
Hopefully, at least some of you recognize this rather quaint expression popularized by good ol' Charlie Brown—that lovable loser from Charles Schulz’s Peanuts strip.
We all know Master Brown, who pitched for a baseball team that never won a game. They were the kiddie, amateur version of the Chicago Cubs, but much more lovable—and without any of the excessive payroll.
d) You decide
To dispense with some word play, the Phillies, baseball’s best team in the regular season with a record of 102-60, were not playing for peanuts.
They had the second-highest player payroll in MLB (at $173 million, behind the New York Yankees) and Phillies Nation (as rabid a fan base as exists) shelled out a lot of money for tickets, concessions, parking and merchandise this year.
So, do I really need to explain or analyze the grief experienced by Phillies fans who suffered through that cruel loss that ended our baseball season and our dream-goal of another world championship?
The team lost, and we fans experienced an almost palpable, tangible loss.
So, what did we lose? That all depends on what our perceived stake was, and that’s something that is very hard to define.
How about all of these—in no particular order:
- Collective sense of self-esteem
- Bragging rights
- A psychic victory for our city, and for ourselves
- Money (for those who bet)
- Vindication of a sort
- The chance to watch our team play more games
- A true sense of loss for a group of players we’ve really come to…watch it now…love.
- A chance to get drunk—on suds and/or life—at the championship parade.
In truth, it’s hard to do justice to everything we may have lost last Friday night. There’s an element of exaggeration to this essay, but there’s also one of understatement.
To be a sports fan is to experience both invigorating triumphs and dispiriting losses. It’s all about being elevated by breathtaking plays, surreal performances and laudable accomplishments, but also being deflated and humiliated by crushing plays and stinging defeats.
As a Philly sports fan, it’s sometimes about being slapped in the face and being kicked in the nuts at the same time. Hard to manage, and hard to endure, yet we manage to endure.
When it comes to the Phillies and the end of the baseball season, there is also an element of being left in the cold. Baseball ends right as the weather is turning colder.
Please consider this quote from A. Bartlett Giamatti, poet supreme and former commissioner of MLB:
“[Baseball] breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall all alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.”
― A. Bartlett Giamatti, Take Time for Paradise: Americans and Their Games
So, add to my list what he said, and you almost don’t have to be a sports fan to identify with what Phillies Nation (and other fan bases) are going through.
Where do we turn to give voice to our baseball-related grief? How about the writings of a recently deceased Swiss psychiatrist named Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Why, of course.
In her 1969 (the year of the Amazin’ Mets, but I digress) book, On Death and Dying, Kubler-Ross identified five stages of grief, which are:
To simplify Kubler-Ross’ groundbreaking, seminal work, she noted that individuals who are trying to recover from such a loss may not all go through these exact five stages in this exact order.
So, what about those losses experienced by sports fans? They seem kind of inconsequential compared to death and dying in the real world.
Yet, the grief is still palpable, and many sports fans also feel more control over this kind of loss. We certainly need a way to process our grief.
Kubler-Ross gave us DABDA; Goldberg offers you SPORTS.
Check out the following guideline, and feel free to move through it at your own pace. It’s only been six days since the unceremonious end to the Phillies’ season, and I’m not sure where I am in this whole process, either.
Immediately, Phillies fans went into a sense of shock as their once-potent offense could not find a way to score a single run in their bandbox of a field when it mattered most.
“This can’t be happening again” is likely to be voiced in this stage, if we truly can find our voices in these moments. Most of us had no words for the site of slugger Ryan Howard grounding out to second to make the last out of the season two years in a row, and then crumbling to the ground halfway down the first baseline.
Sometimes words are not needed to express these moments of exasperation. Good grief may have been an option for a kid…in the 1960s…in Minnesota. Not now, not yet.
Immediately after the event, many fans offered up a prayer that their team would get a mulligan and earn another shot at Game 5. Right now!
“This didn’t just happen…what the ___?!”
You get the idea. Some of us were more philosophical shortly after the disaster, and sought refuge and comfort in statistics that prove that the best team usually does not win in baseball’s postseason, especially in a best-of-five format.
Yeah, like that helps us ease the pain.
Some of us are so oblivious to the loss that we are still matching up the Phillies and the Milwaukee Brewers in our mind—and on paper. Who would do such a thing? By the way, I have the Phillies winning in six.
Many of us are not exactly oblivious to the loss, but may be oblivious to everything else in life. All that real stuff we’re just not ready to face yet. I’d make a list if I could think straight.
This is Philly. We get pissed off when our cereal’s too soggy.
Many were the chairs I've broken and holes I’ve punched in walls after my teams lost crucial games. But that was then.
Now, I just go ballistic verbally; well, I usually do. But there’s just one problem this year: I don’t know who to get pissed off at.
There’s always the umpires.
Heck, Philly sports fan of a certain vintage still get enraged at the very mention of a certain hockey official named Leon Stickle. Stickle refused to make an easy offside call in a Flyers-Islanders NHL championship game 31 years ago! Take a look if you wish to; sorry about the quality of the video feed.
Well, there wasn’t a Leon Stickle this year to vilify, although home plate umpire Jerry Meals absolutely reeked in our crushing Game 2 loss. The less said the better, but…
Meals’ absolute clueless interpretation of the strike zone did pitcher Cliff Lee no favors as he ended up blowing a 4-0 lead in the 5-4 loss that gave the Cardinals life.
So, let’s kill Cliff Lee, as some are. Well, it’s not as if the guy stunk out there or walked the whole ballpark. It wasn’t his best game, but the guy always pitches his heart out, pitched pretty well that night (freakin’ Meals!), tried his best to find the postage-stamp of a strike zone (and managed to strike out nine and only walk two) and also took the blame afterward.
Lee remains as likable an elite athlete as has played in this town in decades.
How about Charlie Manuel? He doesn’t always make the best moves, but to know Uncle Cholly is to love him.
Ryan Howard? Yes, he’s about to make 25 million big ones per year, and he came up tiny again, especially his final fruitless 15 at-bats. But he did hit a three-run bomb to win Game 1, and he’s one of the nicest, coolest guys around. Plus, there’s that Achilles tendon he ruptured on the last play.
In truth, the Phillies are an incredibly admirable, lovable bunch of guys. I can’t really vent my rage at anyone, even the front office. Now that ticks me off.
TV OR NOT TV
Some of us try to seek solace in watching lots of television.
The more provincial baseball fans among Phillies Nation really want nothing more to do with the sport until next spring and try to get by watching sitcoms, videos and the like.
I’m way too much of a baseball lover to go this route, and I still get excited watching the ALCS and NLCS. Having said that, and even while watching my favorite player in the game, Albert Pujols, do his thing for the Cardinals, it’s just not the same. He’s not playing for my team.
The last stage in the grieving process is to simply wait for the spring.
I’m not even ready to focus on the 2012 season yet, even though I’ll eventually re-assume the role of pundit and unofficial general manager while considering which players should be re-signed, cast aside and pursued.
I’m just not there yet, even if some of my fellow grievers may be well into this process.
I expect to face a long, cold, icy winter, and I don’t expect the Philadelphia Eagles to provide much shelter and warmth.
Let the spring come in its due course and when we really need it to boost our morale and regenerate all that positive energy and optimism that we Phillies fans need.
So, there it is: an unspecified period of SHOCK, PRAYER, OBLIVION, RAGE and TV prior to SPRING.
I’m willing to go through these four or so months of grieving; I also won’t complain if the next four months go by relatively quickly.
Good grief, I don’t ask for much.
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