Dear Phillies* Players –
You suck. I don’t mean the “you’re up by two runs and you blow it in the ninth” kinda suck. I mean the “we get paid millions of dollars to play America’s past-time and we can’t take the time to sign a few autographs for our loyal fans” kinda suck.
Look, I’m not a baseball fan. Most of my memories associated with baseball are negative - a fair number of those have to do with TV dinners, not your fault. To me, watching a baseball game is probably the most boring thing on the planet. While I love the epic stories of the game…tales of Jackie Robinson, Lou Gehrig, Tug McGraw, and Mr. October himself, watching inning after inning of guys swinging and missing or swinging and hitting is a major yawn-o. But my mom loves the game.
My mom has been a passionate Phillies fan since 1964. You probably don’t even know what happened in 1964. But I do…because my mom told me. It’s got something to do with the team losing the last ten games and destroying Philly’s shot at the World Series (??? – honestly, I kinda tune this stuff out). That sucked. But she kept on following her Phillies, even when the losing seasons outnumbered the winning ones. She’s what’s known as a fan - someone who pays good money to come see you play a game.
My family and I surprised her for her 65th birthday – four days in Clearwater, Florida for Phillies Spring Training. Now, going to a baseball game isn’t just about sitting and watching the game for nine innings. Nope. There’s also that little activity called “let’s see if we can get an autograph." You don’t know my mother but you should know that if anyone can get an autograph, it’s her. In the sixties, she managed to get balls signed by entire Phillies rosters. In the eighties, she knew every door, every tunnel, every pot-hole that players exited from at Veterans Stadium. In the nineties, I even got in on the action, albeit a bit more timidly. I think she loves the thrill of the hunt. Or she’s a stalker. Whatever. She’s really good at it.
So, there we were at Spring Training. Surely, there would be players signing. I mean, it was Spring Training. Everything’s a lot more casual right? Wrong. Apparently, nobody, except for your manager Charlie and some other dude, could sign anything for anybody. That sucks.
|The Boys of Spring during|
On Saturday, when you were the visitors at the Orioles' new ballpark in Sarasota, I watched with interest as a group of fans waited along the third baseline for you to finish batting practice. My mom, brother, and father were among those fans. Me, I was sitting in the shade - that Florida sun is hot and I burn easily! -watching it all play out. You hit a few balls, you ran a few wind-sprints, you did a little stretching. And then when it was time to go back into the clubhouse, you disappeared…ignoring the fans. Hey, I get it. You’ve gotta get your game face on. You gotta focus. You’ve got a a game to win. There’s a time and place for everything.
|From the other side of the fence|
But during the eighth inning, I happened to be sitting at a picnic table in the back of the ballpark - that Florida sun just kept getting hotter and, oh yeah, the game was boring - when the guy I was sharing the table with pointed out three starters getting into a golf cart on their way out of the ballpark. A little kid ran up to them and asked for an autograph. Nothing. Nada. That sucks. After the game, a bunch of fans stood behind a fence waiting to get a glimpse of you guys getting onto the team bus. Each of you came out and boarded the bus without even a glance, a wave, an acknowledgment of the fans – old ladies and little kids alike - that just spent two and a half hours watching you play. That sucks.
Hey, maybe you were tired. It was hot out there. Hell, I was tired and I spent most of the day in the shade. Maybe you had to rush to get on the bus before it left you behind in sunny Sarasota. I don’t know.
But here’s what I do know -
You get to play a game for a living. You’re living the dream of a thousand million boys who ever suited up to play a little league game or who turned their front yards into baseball diamonds because they spent countless summer nights playing wiffle ball. You’re somebody who some kid looks up to – and whose parents probably spent a boatload of money buying an authentic jersey with your name on it. You’re somebody who gets asked for autographs because maybe it’s as close to the dream that many of those kids’ll get. You’re somebody who gets waited for after games because you’re somebody.
Don’t you remember when you were that kid on little league team who dreamed big and wanted the chance to have one moment with your hero? Did you ever go to a game thinking it would be awesome to meet one of the players you were cheering for? Weren’t you ever the kid waiting at the fence?
Next time you’re heading out to the team bus or your fancy fast car, check out the fence where your fans are waiting. Chances are there’s gonna be a little kid there. When you look at him (or her), try to remember the kid you were and how you felt when you were on the other side. Take a minute and sign his ball or his ticket or whatever he’s got. And maybe even thank him for being a fan and for rooting for you even when you suck.
The Daughter of a Die-Hard Phillies Fan
P.S. If you happen to see my mom at that fence, sign something for her too. She deserves it.
* - I don’t know if this issue is specific to the Phillies but it does pain me to say that the Yankees and the Orioles signed autographs for fans.