ESPOSITO: Phillies face stiff test, will take down Yankees

Nick Esposito

I was sitting on the edge of my tiny bed in my cramped Alumni dorm room. Away from my family, surrounded by my friends I was anxiously anticipating Brad Lidge’s next pitch. The Rays were down to their final strike, and the Phillies were a breath away from doing something that hasn’t happened in my lifetime, a Philadelphia championship.

With my face buried in my hands, Lidge burned one by the Rays’ Eric Hinske to accomplish what I had only dreamed of. As Harry Kalas’ voice echoed through the halls of Alumni, I saw the Phillies rush the field and Philadelphians rush the streets. That single pitch reversed 25 years of misery, heartache and anguish that Philadelphia fans had to live with as they watched 104 seasons of sports without a single major sports title.

During that stretch of 104 depressing seasons, the city of Philadelphia was the gold standard for sporting futility. I often wondered why Philadelphia was put in the proverbial championship penalty box. Was it because we threw snowballs at Santa Claus? Cursed the sports gods? Or can we chalk it up to bad management and untapped talent? Whatever it is, the loyal fans of Philadelphia have been conditioned to lose.

There have been many moments that have led us to this severe psychological condition. In 2007, the Philadelphia Phillies lost their 10,000th game becoming the first team to do so in Major League Baseball history. Earlier in 2000, the Flyers completed the agonizing Eastern Conference collapse against the New Jersey Devils when Scott Stevens belted Eric Lindros, ending his Philadelphia career. The Sixers selected Shawn Bradley second overall, passing up on 10 future NBA All Stars. Bradley’s most notable basketball achievement was being featured as the dumb, blue alien in “Space Jam.” It wasn’t good for the city’s psyche when the Eagles lost three consecutive NFC Championships in the most excruciating ways possible. Even Smarty Jones blew it on the final leg of the Triple Crown. These are a few of the reasons that make the fans of Philadelphia flinch anytime they get a shot at success.

There’s a specific nervous tension that arises anytime a Philly team makes a significant run in the playoffs. We brace for the break down, clench for the Joe Carter homerun and hold on for the humiliating defeat. Philadelphia is an underdog town that feels uncomfortable as the favorite and despises being the juggernaut. That is why Rocky is such a cult figure in this town. He was a blue-collar, underdog fighter that just hammered away at the pretty boy champion.

But even Rocky became a champion. All of the pain, last second losses and championship collapses went away the second that Brad Lidge’s fastball entered Carlos Ruiz’s glove.

Fast forward the story to one of the most anticipated days on the sporting calendar, the day pitchers and catchers report to spring training. For the first time in the history of my life, I am rooting for a defending champion. Armed with a newfound swagger, the city feels like a winner and is primed and ready to do it again. After a season filled with pitching woes, trade talks and a whole lot of Pedro, the Phils are back in the fall classic. Despite the pandemonium of last season, the thirst has not been quenched for a title.

On the other side, New York is also a city that is parched for a title. The New York Yankees are a great team that personifies Rocky villains Apollo Creed, Clubber Lang and Ivan Drago all in one. The last time that the Yankees were in the World Series was 2003 and, despite a tyrannical-sized payroll and laundry list of juiced players, the Yankees have as many titles since 2000 as Kate Hudson has Oscars: zero. That means that there are still 9-year-olds (fourth graders) that haven’t experienced a Yankee championship.

I would like to take a brief moment and give respect to the Yankees. The Yankees are a staple of America’s favorite pastime. They have had some of the game’s best players wear their pinstripes. While the Phillies have the advantage in recent World Series experience, the Yankees have gone to the Series a record 40 times, claiming 26 world titles. But amidst all of the winning, the Yankees went from being America’s team to America’s most hated team. That is why the Phillies faithful would like to welcome the Red Sox Nation, Mets fans and the rest of the league to bandwagon in our attempt to take down the evil empire.

Do not take this respect and admiration for the Yankees as a fear of them. Philadelphia understands that New York can throw a punch, we just aren’t sure if they know how to take one. Philadelphia has taken its share of well-documented beatings in the past. Unfortunately for those fourth graders, I feel like they will have to waste another year’s birthday wish on a title and, in the meantime, if they want to know what it is like to win one, they can ask a few newborn Phillies fans. They’re about to know all about it.

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Nick Esposito is a junior communication major from Skillman, N.J. He can be reached at [email protected]