Gonzo: Phillies now have fans expecting success

Sluggers, past and present. Former Yankees great Reggie Jackson and the Phils' Chase Utley at Yankee Stadium before Game 6.
Sluggers, past and present. Former Yankees great Reggie Jackson and the Phils' Chase Utley at Yankee Stadium before Game 6.
Posted: November 06, 2009

Before Game 6 of the World Series, I was on the field at Yankee Stadium. A friend and I were looking around and taking it all in.

Dave Winfield walked by. A little later, Reggie Jackson wandered past. (He's surprisingly small, by the way.) Then we hustled over to the interview room and listened to Charlie Manuel talk about all sorts of things, including the privilege of getting to manage in a second consecutive World Series.

The Phils lost, and that's a real shame. But being at the World Series again made me appreciate what a truly amazing run the Fightin's have had.

These last two postseasons have been a total blur - a haze of great plays and thrilling games. I was so busy watching all that unfold that I sort of took it for granted that the Phils were in the Fall Classic for a second straight year. I had to stop and remind myself how rare and wonderful that was.

The fact the Phils made me forget that reaching the World Series isn't automatic is pretty incredible. The more I think about what the Fightin's have done over the last two years, the more unbelievable it seems. Because before this club came along, fans in this city expected the worst. We braced for it. Not anymore. Now we expect success because the Phils made achievement part of their regular routine.

The World Series used to be an abstraction - something you watched on TV, something that felt no more real than Lost or any other television fantasy. At some point - maybe after the Phils won the championship last year, maybe after they reached it again this season - that changed. The World Series is no longer some exclusive resort that wouldn't accept Philly's reservation. Rather, it's become an attainable destination - the logical conclusion to the season, something you consider booking in advance.

Nothing is guaranteed, of course, but it's really remarkable that in two years' time the Phils managed to end the drought and alter the way the fans think about sports. The reflexive pessimism that crushed so many souls for so many years has been replaced by genuine optimism - and for good reason. When you look at this team, there's no reason to think the Phils can't continue their astonishing run next season. Sure, the core group of players is getting a little older, and they could always use more pitching. But everything is relative. When you compare the Phils with the rest of the National League, you have to like their chances to push into the playoffs again.

"We had a great year," Ryan Howard said. "Anytime you get to the World Series, it's a great year. Making the World Series isn't guaranteed."

No, it's not. But when the pundits get around to picking the favorites to win it all next season, the Fightin's will be one of the first teams they talk about. In the past, when the city was still desperate for a championship, we would have marveled at the Phils even being in the conversation. Now we just nod and think, yeah, it makes sense.

The Phils have done a lot of astonishing things over the last two years. Changing the climate in Philly has to be the most impressive feat of all.

I love Jay-Z, but I'm already over "Empire State of Mind." The New York City council must have passed a law mandating that it is played nonstop up there. I wasn't off the train for 20 seconds when I heard it in Penn Station, and my cabbie blasted it on the ride to my hotel on the Upper East Side. Has to be the most overplayed track of the last decade. . . . Got an e-mail from a Yankees fan that was pretty great: "New York Yankees! $#%@! you, Philly." Gotta love New Yorkers. They win with class. . . . Wednesday night/Thursday morning was horrible. After watching the Yanks win the World Series, I went to a bar in Manhattan with some friends. My buddy Doyle (heretofore known as MBD) and I had the brilliant idea to stay up and take the 5:30 a.m. train to Philly. Huge mistake. Even bigger error: trusting MBD when he said he'd set the alarm on his Blackberry to wake us up before we hit 30th Street. When he shook me, MBD said, "I've got some bad news: We're in Wilmington." I thought he was kidding. He wasn't. We took SEPTA back. Did you know there are 17 stops on that line? Pretty sweet. The ride took an hour. Making matters even better, the woman behind me talked (loudly) the entire time about her daughter's JV middle-school field hockey team. I think they just won the JV middle-school field hockey Super Bowl or something. Hell is a real place, friends. You get there by taking SEPTA out of Wilmington.


Contact columnist John Gonzalez at 215-854-2813 or gonzalez@phillynews.com.

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