A season of hope, a season of despair?

Santo Caruso

“Hope springs eternal in the human breast: / Man never is but always be blest: / The soul, uneasy and confin’d from home / Rests and expatiates in a life to come.” – Alexander Pope

Yes, hope does live in one place: in the hearts of men. It runs in their blood like a poison convincing them they can fly or touch the stars, without ever letting on that they are more likely to fall.

Hope is a narcotic, just as addictive as heroin but twice as detrimental, because even heroin addicts have to buy their drug. Hope is free-based in our minds and injected into our hearts, without rubber hose, needle or inviting raised vein.

Hope erodes men’s steely emotions like rust, corrupts pure intentions like power, eats hearts like cancer and ruins smiles like nicotine. Hope is a killer, with no signs of struggle and no forcible entry marks. The detectives from CSI would recognize her work immediately. They’d say, “The victim must have known the murderer, must have been familiar with them, must have welcomed them in.” Then they’d marvel at her ruthless and efficient craftsmanship. If they were smart, they’d recognize a suicide when they saw it.

But that never makes for a good episode.

Nothing in Philadelphia is more ironic than the arrival of spring, the beginning of the baseball season and the maelstrom of hope that surrounds these two yearly events. I call it as such because it is a swirling mass of bad feelings circling to a deep abyss, supposedly to be replaced by clear skies, still waters and a joy-filled, warm summer.

That, and it sucks.

For 13 years, that is all opening day has been: a sick joke played on us. It is slapstick, Keystone Cops for the Keystone State, a pie gag. Here look, this is the baseball team for what could be one of the best baseball markets in the nation. This is a team to restore the broken trust from the 1994 strike, this is the team to bring back a championship to the town without a crown, this is the heir to the 1993 Phillies throne.

(I just threw up.)

Maybe some people’s expectations are too high. My friend the Braves fan constantly reminds me, “Every player on the ’93 Phillies had a career year. It was lightning in a bottle. It will never happen again.” But I don’t expect another year like that, for a team to capture the spirit and personality of Philly, all while making a run to the World Series. That is what made the year so special.

Since that team, a team I dreamed of playing for up until, and even a little afterwards, I was cut from my high school squad, the Phillies have not made the playoffs. They’ve been in quasi-contention, finishing one game back last year and producing 80 win seasons like a student willing to try hard enough to get a B, but no harder. The A never even seemed possible though.

Last year in do-or-die games against the team above them in the standings, the Houston Astros, the Phils dropped all six. Two years before that they disappeared at sea like the crab fisherman from “The Deadliest Catch,” trying to keep pace with the Marlins, going 6-13 against the future World Series champs. (If you’re keeping track, that is two championships for a team that joined the National League, without a bit of irony, in 1993. Shoot me.)

They couldn’t respond to a work-a-holic manager like Larry Bowa, so in comes “Uncle” Charlies Manuel, who is more likely to drool on himself than successfully balance a lineup loaded with sluggers (and strikeouts). Still no playoffs. They couldn’t draw free agents in the heretic cathedral of Philadelphia sports, the crumbling Veterans Stadium. So we blew up the only home(plate) I ever knew, and built a beautiful band box for our batters to bash balls out of. Still no playoffs. We constructed a lineup designed to score like Colin Farrell at Lindsay Lohan’s birthday party. But like my sex life, it’s all strikeouts. And still no playoffs.

The management refused to spend money, until we built them a park. Then they wasted it on mediocre pitching and hitters with more Ks than a Polish last name. They sell us on a rotation of twos and threes, when, since the Curt Schilling divorce, we’ve only wanted a horse every fifth day, even if he is a horse’s ass the other four.

That “ass” has two rings, with another damn expansion team, the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the truly cursed Boston Red Sox. Schilling’s performance in the World Series was so sublime, it makes me question who the real “ass” is in the equation.

These are all crocodile tears though, because I ended up in section 117, 15 rows up from the first baseline screaming and yelling for the Fightin’ Phils in my Utley WBC jersey and powder blue arygle “P” hat. I booed Scott Rolen, I cheered for Pat Burrell and Ryan Howard and the young promising nucleus I’ve craved. It seems we have a group of pro-tons that add up to 79 instead of 82. (I’ve always wondered if any engineers read this column; I hope some will e-mail me to let me know they got that joke.)

Yes, hope springs eternal, and with every spring my hope for the Phillies is eternally renewed. Football is my passion; I know the most about college basketball, but I just plain love baseball. I love playing, going to games, laying by my grandparents’ pool and listening to the radio while my great uncle and grandfather scream how they are bums, while neither turns off the game nor removes their ancient Phillies caps (but that might be because they are bald).

Opening Day has come and passed, and to no one’s surprise the Phils got blown out. And it rained of course.

Opening Day in Philadelphia, the soul uneasy and separated from its comfort zone, hopes and dwells upon a season to come.