As I put my purchase onto the checkout counter at the sporting goods store, the clerk looked me in the eye and said bluntly, “Why did you take Hunter Pence from us?”
In a split second, I realized that this young man was a Phillies fan and had noticed my San Francisco Giants cap.
“I wasn’t involved,” I replied. “But what I can’t understand is why the Phillies let him go.”
Such exchanges with strangers aren’t unique here in the greater Philadelphia area, where fans are gonzo for their teams. And I like that.
Today’s episode — in the middle of the off-season, mind you — was at the Dick’s store in Princeton, N.J., nearly an hour’s drive to Citizens Bank Park. The exchange was similar to one I had with an Acme grocery store clerk shortly after I moved into our new home two summers back. I was wearing a Tim Lincecum T-shirt. The clerk at the register eyed it and said, “Why aren’t you a Phillies fan?”
“Hey, I just moved here from California,” I said. “I’m a Giants fan but I like the Phillies.”
The clerk’s reply?
I live not far from Philadelphia, and yesterday I finally decided to seek out the site of old Shibe Park, a.k.a. Connie Mack Stadium, where the Phillies and Athletics played for the better part of the 20th century.
I drove through north Philadelphia and expected to walk around the site a bit, anticipating that I’d be able at least to snap a photo of the site and maybe find a historic marker or two.
Not to be.
The block where the stadium stood is consumed by a fortress-like brick church, erected sometime after the Phillies played their last game there in 1970. The park was demolished in 1976 — when our nation was celebrating its bicentennial.
If there is a marker on the site, I didn’t bother to look for it. I made a half-hearted attempt to get a picture of the church but the late-afternoon sun cast too much of a shadow and I drove on, past a few abandoned factories before turning down Broad Street — also a shadow of its former self — toward City Hall. I passed the intersection with Oxford Street and decided not to follow it to Columbia Park, where the Athletics played before Shibe Park opened.
I’ll visit that site and the site of the old Baker Bowl location some other time, perhaps in the spring, a more optimistic time of year.
Our youngest child recently headed off to college in Philadelphia and called a week or so ago with a request: can you send me a Phillies cap?
Years ago my son had played on a Phillies team during Little League, but his cap had long since disappeared. I had been a coach and kept my cap, wearing it often, especially in the fall the last two years as the Phillies advanced to the World Series. Although not a fanatic, I count the Phillies among my second-tier allegiances, rooting for them if they advance after my teams drop out of the playoff picture.
Going to high school in central California, my son and his classmates were prohibited from wearing baseball caps on campus. With Norteno and Sureno gangs active in town, caps as well as red and blue garments were forbidden.
That’s not the case in Philadelphia, thank goodness. My son’s call for the cap came right about the time the Phillies had swept the Reds while the Giants were still trying to knock off the Braves. So I sent the cap to the City of Brotherly Love in a care package bound for my son’s dormitory, from the upper floors of which you can see Citizens Bank Ballpark a few miles away.
My son is a loyal and practical Giants fan. He will not wear the Phillies cap until the Giants-Phillies series is resolved. But once that’s history, he’ll be free to wear the Phillies cap and fit in with all the other cheesesteak-consuming, Santa-booing fans in Philly.
This is tough for a baseball fan to admit, but I completely missed tonight’s half-game conclusion to what turned out to be the final game of the 2008 World Series. I was either finishing my bike ride home or hunting for pot lids in the kitchen when Brad Lidge recorded the final out.
I had to settle for watching taped highlights on ESPN of the big plays and the jubilation. To celebrate properly, I need a cheesesteak and a Yuengling beer. Alas, the latter is not available here in California, and the former can only be found occasionally in imitation form.
Nonetheless, three cheers for the Phillies — they’re the real deal — and a tip of the cap to the Rays for a great year.
The long shadows of October baseball
Of the division matchups in the baseball playoffs this year, the only one I can illustrate with a pair of caps I own is the Brewers-Phillies series.
I’m already on record in expressing my devotion to the Brew Crew. Their place in the playoffs this year takes me right back to their last appearance, when they lost to the Cardinals in seven games in 1982. Somewhere in a shoe box I have photos I took out the window of our flat of the Goodyear blimp flying along the Lake Michigan shore en route to Milwaukee County Stadium. I am also on record, if only semi-seriously, as wanting to be buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Milwaukee, hard by the ballpark and not far from my grad school apartment.
I have a soft spot for the Phillies, too. Some of that has to do with having worked briefly in the Philly market at Trenton, N.J. Part of it is rooting for a team that gets only sporadic cracks at the big time.
The Milwaukee-Philadelphia matchup can also be played out in food terms. Milwaukee is the center of the bratwurst universe, and Philadelphia is the capital of cheesesteak nation. I love them both. So although I’m fully pulling for the Brewers, I’m open to the Phils advancing. Does that make me a weenie?