The Crack of the Bat

As the wind chill makes it feel like the 20s and below, it’s the glow of sunshine that reminds me of a sign of spring: pitchers Clearwater3and catchers report to Clearwater, Florida. The 2013 season rises anew with hopes of good health and lots of ‘Ws’ to cheer about.

Baseball is a fickle game; success comes down to the health of your best pitcher or slugger. Every team balances that hope against the odds. During the Phillies best year in decades, 2008, I went to spring training on vacation; my son got to be bat boy for a day; I got to announce the pre-game show and line up on Mother’s Day and then the amazing season that followed happened mainly because – nearly every key player was healthy. It was a dream come true. Boys and girls, including my Clearwater_20080325_47son,  grew up knowing the Phillies only as winners. It seems the struggles began after the last of the confetti was cleaned up from the World Series parade in 2008.

This year, the roster includes the key – but aging- players we’ve come to depend on: Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz. Already, we know Chooch is out for 25 games for the Adderall suspension. That leaves the team depending on Eric Kratz.

We know there are questions surrounding the health of Howard, Utley and Roy Halladay’s shoulder – not to mention Michael Stutes and his shoulder. While the warmth of Clearwater can be therapeutic, all that can be a waste when it comes to playing baseball in  Philadelphia in April.

Almost like a marriage, I am a Phillies fan in good times and bad. Just like a marriage, you enjoy the game more when things are going your way – but it’s a joy to see the boys of summer back in action. Spring is coming here in the cold north – but summer begins today in Clearwater. Go Phils!

The Best Sound Bites

Summer is traditionally a slow news period. Sure, there are the typical flash thunderstorms that wreak havoc in neighborhoods causing unfortunate damage and injuries, but there have been so many times when producers and editors end up scratching their heads as they ponder the old adage: when in doubt, lead with the weather.

This summer has been dominated by the BP spill cleanup and the fall out for the gulf region as well as the corporate world and the government. Locally in Philadelphia, corruption and sports always top people’s minds and two sound bites have occurred in the past 24 hours that warrant some notice.

Three police officers found themselves at a routine tripped alarm call near Pat’s Cafe in lower northeast Philadelphia’s Frankford neighborhood. Locals recall that the taproom was the site of  the killing of Officer Gary Skerski during a robbery in 2006. This week, officers were called to Pat’s when an alarm at a neighboring business went off in the middle of the night. Pat’s was closed at the time, but apparently a door at Pat’s and the safe were open. While two uniformed officers were doing the right thing at Pat’s and trying to track down the owner (all caught on surveillance tape), the third officer helped himself to $825 in the safe (also caught on videotape).

At a news conference four days after the corrupt act, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey help a news conference where he announced the cop with sticky fingers would be suspended with intent to dismiss in 30 days. It was during this news conference, Ramsey had one of the greatest sound bites I have ever heard:

“The police badge is a symbol of public trust and authority; it’s meant to cover your chest – not your butt.”

Outstanding! You will see and hear that bite all over the local news. Whether Ramsey came up with that nugget on his own or his crack PR staff word-smithed it, doesn’t matter. It’s short, sweet and is outrageously effective in getting the point across: Ramsey and the department won’t tolerate corrupt  cops.

The other great sound bite came from the just-traded Phillies pitcher J.A. Happ. He was the lead player traded by the Phillies in the deal with the Astros to get pitching ace Roy Oswalt. Happ had an emotional afternoon Thursday, saying goodbye to the teammates he won a World Series with and the 2009 National League East Championship (quite a resume for this young pitcher who still has much growing to do). In his post-trade news conference, he showed superb class and smarts as he said, “Baseball doesn’t wait for anybody. I have to turn the page.”

These are the type of sound bites that you can’t make up. But either through keen reporter questions and having a conversation with the newsmaker rather than worrying about getting good sound bites, these sound bites happen naturally.

View from Section 108 – WS Game 3

By a tremendous amount of skill, luck and strategy, the Phillies are in their second World Series in a row. This is an accomplishment for any true fan to be outrageously proud of. The Phillies have achieved this height, not from bragging or demeaning other ball clubs or players, but praising their work ethic; humbly saying they are just part of an incredible team and paying homage to the loyal fans.

Something terrible happened when the Yankees defeated the Angels to get to the World Series for the 40th time. I do believe the NY media started it: displaying a front-page, photo-shopped picture of Shane Victorino in a cheerleading outfit and calling the Phils, The Frillies. The snowball effect from that point on has been a combination of media frenzy and uncouth, uncool, ridiculously classless people becoming unglued at the prospect of two talented teams making it to the fall classic.

WSGame3_20091031_01The view from section 108 last night was utterly depressing. What should have been throngs of Phillies fans and a smattering of Yankees fans gathered in unbridled enthusiasm to see game three and cheer their guys, turned out for me, to be a horrendous and vulgar display of bullying, cursing and downright unfriendliness. Sure, you could say the heckling of the Yankees fans was all in good fun. But, don’t invite me to THAT party again. The dropping of the “F” bomb by Phillies fans around us made Chase Utley’s “F” bombs seem like a bedtime story. The loud, rude, disgusting taunting of the Yankees fans made me embarrassed to be from this area. Waving double-birds in the face of a Yankees fan does exactly…what???  I think the Yankee fan who was the victim of this display deserves a great amount of credit for sitting quietly in his seat and not lowering himself to the bird-waver’s level. Everything was made worse by an 80-minute rain delay which pumped the fans with more beer and loathing.

The bright spots of the game were fans (not the bird-waving, drunk, “f-bomb” dropping, lowlifes) WSGame3_20091031_04applauding and high-fiving members of the military who had participated in the huge flag display at the start of the game, as they headed up the steps of section 109. It was a nice and respectful show of support that my 15-year-old son appreciated. One other bright spot was Jason Werth acknowledging the cheers from the right-field area sections after his first round-tripper. The guy always shows class and appreciation in front of the fans.

WSGame3_20091031_09This is America’s game. The Boys of Summer make it to the fall classic. Two teams battle to get there every season. The best of fans are with their team until the bitter end. The purest of fans are with their team, win or lose. All season long, through the more than 17 regular season games I attended and the four post-season games, this one game sunk my heart when it comes to sticking up for Phillies fans who always seem to get a bad rap. At this game, I experienced why the fans are pounded on so much. This goes beyond disdain for the other team or individual players. It’s ugly, hateful and completely insane. Who EVER thought we’d be cheering Pedro Martinez in a Phillies uniform? For the love of the game, you cheer your team through awesome achievements and the depths of bitter losses.

If the Phillies get into a post-season face-off with a New York team again, I won’t be there. It brings out the worst in some people. I can enjoy the Phillies in the comfort of my home or perhaps at a neighborhood bar without the obnoxious big-mouths who call themselves fans. They’re just plain ugly.