My timing was as bad as Hillary Clinton's. After following virtually every inning of every Phillies game this season, I'd had to depart for a long-scheduled tour of Italy on Oct. 5, just as they were wrapping up their NL division series.
Mama-mia! Or, as we say in Philly: That sucks.
I'd watched most of Game 4 of the NLDS at the Philadelphia airport, in Chickie's & Pete's, where, hours away from immersing myself in one of the world's great cuisines, I munched on crab fries.
The Phils were leading by 6-2 in the eighth when my flight boarded. The lingering uncertainty made the eight-hour trip as long and painful as anything starring Hilary Duff.
In 50-plus years of devotion, I'd seen only a handful of Phils postseasons. They were too precious to waste. Unfortunately, so were the thousands of nonrefundable dollars I'd shelled out for the tour. (If only I'd been able to foresee Shane Victorino's awakening and rotary phones.)
Somehow, I was going to have to balance Italy and the Phillies, enjoying both in much the same way that we would savor both the prosciutto and the melon in that ubiquitous Italian appetizer.
But, touring 2,200-year-old ruins and ancient churches with 47 other people - including my wife and nine other friends and relatives - it wouldn't be easy.
Baseball's standing in Italy is akin to snooker's in the United States. Italian papers ignore the sport. So do the TV networks. While Italy doesn't have cable yet, its existing stations still find time to air badly dubbed reruns of CHiPs and Charlie's Angels. But not a single baseball score.
The English-language channels were no help. A 30-minute sportscast on CNN Europe told me everything I needed to know about Montenegro's soccer team, but nothing about the American baseball playoffs.
I'd been teased when walking near Piazza Nuovo in Rome our first night. I'd seen a glimpse of a Red Sox-Angels game on a ristorante's TV. So I asked our tour guide if I was likely to (A) find a sports bar that (B) showed baseball and (C) stayed open until 5 a.m., when, given the six-hour time difference between Philadelphia and Italy, games were likely to end.
Franco Falagna looked at me as if I'd just suggested that the Sistine Chapel's ceiling ought to be replaced with something by Thomas Kinkade.
"Are you crazy?"
I don't have a BlackBerry, but I'd thought about bringing a laptop. A number of factors worked against that option.
It was one more thing to schlep around. Hotels with rotary-dial phones were not likely to have computer hookups. And my wife swore that if I packed it, she'd string me up by the toes in an Italian piazza like some latter-day Mussolini.
I made arrangements to call my equally loony son in Washington, D.C. But the combination of rotary phones and phone cards whose minutes evaporated quicker than the Chianti at our dinners made that next to impossible.
Fortunately, the Hotel San Pietro had one computer, in a downstairs billiards room off the lobby. That's where I was headed at 4:30.
The room was pitch-black. I fumbled quietly along the walls, bumping priceless heirlooms and paintings as I searched for a light switch.
Just then, there was a sudden, loud stirring and a large silhouette popped up in the darkness, like one of those menacing figures in a fun house.
"Si!" shouted the man. He turned out to be the front-desk clerk, and he'd been catching a nap when I scared the tagliatelle out of him.
When my heart resumed beating, I gestured toward the computer, and he graciously turned it on for me.
The game was in the seventh inning. I tried to follow it on Gameday, but the connection was too slow for its pitch-by-pitch account. I'd see that Brad Lidge threw a strike, then wait 15 minutes for the next update, by which time an entire inning might have passed.
The last computer dispatch confirmed a Phillies victory. Being superstitious, I repeated the same routine the next night. Another win.
We moved on to Florence on the day of Game 4, where, in the midst of my Phillies fever, Michelangelo's David resembled nothing so much as one of the thousands of naked athletes I'd interviewed over the years.
Our lodging there, the Hotel Lundra, had two lobby computers. Rising early again, I was able to monitor Game 3, the bench-clearing incident and a Phils loss.
Later that day, walking along the Via dei Neri, I spotted a woman in a Phillies shirt. I asked her if she was indeed a Phils fan.
"Oh, yeah," said the South Jersey native, with an unmistakable Philly twang. "They're up, 2-0."
"It's 2-1 now," I said. "They lost last night."
It was like someone had lifted her mask. The smile was quickly replaced by a scornful look.
"That's because the old man pitched," she spat. "Damn Moyer. I knew he wasn't going to get it done."
You can take the Phillies fan out of . . .
On Thursday night, our last in Italy and the night of Game 5, we were in Venice. The Hotel Bellini, a 300-year-old former palace on the Grand Canal, had no computers. Just as well. Our 8-by-12 room, whose curtainless shower required users to hunch down like a catcher, would not have accommodated one anyway.
Sometime around 3:30 a.m., I turned on CNN Europe. Three hours passed in an unbroken litany of Obama. McCain. Wall Street. World Cup. Tennis. Auto racing. Golf. Afghanistan.
But no baseball.
Finally, at 6:30, I crawled into the shower, managed to get dressed without injuring myself or the walls, and went down to breakfast.
My sister greeted me there with a high-five.
"The Phils are going to the World Series," she said. "Wahoo!"
"Where did you hear that?" I asked.
"On CNN. About 6:30."
Contact staff writer Frank Fitzpatrick at 215-854-5068 or email@example.com.