Gonzo: The joy of spring: Phillies return

Slugger Ryan Howard is greeted by Jayson Werth after hitting a two-run home run against the Pirates in an exhibition game Friday night at Citizens Bank Park.
Slugger Ryan Howard is greeted by Jayson Werth after hitting a two-run home run against the Pirates in an exhibition game Friday night at Citizens Bank Park.
Posted: April 04, 2010

It's been a grim few months. There's no denying it. Best to just accept the facts.

The Eagles are bogged down in the usual offseason muck, the Flyers have underachieved for much of the year, and the 76ers - despite the city's best efforts to ignore the franchise altogether - continue to operate for reasons few fathom. Temple and Villanova were bounced from the NCAA tournament in unceremonious fashion. Shawn Andrews gave up on Twitter. Flash mobs run rampant. The mayor proposed a soda tax. The "check engine" light on my SUV won't go off.

And, most troubling of all, on Saturday the Sixers held a birthday bash for Hip-Hop the Gangsta Bunny. One of the team's PR people suggested I attend and bring my godson. I wonder why she hates the two of us.

The world has gone mad.

But now, in our darkest hour, our saviors have returned. Your Philadelphia Phillies - winners of the 2008 World Series and two consecutive National League championships - begin playing games that count Monday in Washington.

If only to spare us from the endless Donovan McNabb talk, the return of the kings comes at the perfect time.

The Fightin's could quite literally keep us from fightin' each other. I received an e-mail last week from a reader who claimed he very nearly threw down with a fellow Philly knucklehead when their debate over McNabb's legacy turned heated on a city street. (Meanwhile, if the McNabb speculation continues, it'll be self-immolation time on my end. It's the less painful option.)

Charlie Manuel's Phillies are the feel-good team this city has always wanted but usually lacked. Over the last few seasons, they've entertained us with off-field antics (Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard freestyling "Take Me Out to the Ball Game"), crazy stories (Brett Myers supposedly falling out of an Escalade, and those strange ads with Cole and Heidi Hamels that ran in Philly Mag), and the occasional clubhouse gag (remember when they told Kyle Kendrick he'd been traded to Japan?). And, best of all, they've won games. Lots of them. The team that set a major-league record by being the first to reach 10,000 losses has secured more than 90 victories each of the last two seasons.

It's a club that has consistently turned Philly's frown upside down. Even better: The Phils have changed how we think. We no longer worry about silly superstitions (such as the Sports Illustrated jinx; Roy Halladay appears on the latest cover along with the unfortunate headline "This Might Hurt") or obsess over how long the championship drought will last. And we have no problem talking aloud about them winning 90 games or more, because they expect the same from themselves and will almost certainly deliver.

This being Philly, there are always anxieties about our teams. No one is sure what to expect from Brad Lidge or Cole Hamels, and if you know what Manuel will get out of his fifth starter, Jamie Moyer, you're the only one. Perhaps of most concern: Jayson Werth shaved his beard, setting up the return of that awful landing strip of hair he sported under his lip for the last few years. (He and Apolo Anton Ohno should enter soul-patch rehab. Even Fred Durst has accepted that it's not 2002 anymore.)

As potential problems go, that's not a terrible list. Things could be worse. With the addition of Placido Polanco, the batting order looks more fearsome than ever. And even though a lot of us would have liked to see Cliff Lee stick around, it's hard to complain about installing Roy Halladay at the top of the rotation and handing him the ball every fifth turn. Beyond parking and beating the heavy crowds this season, Phillies fans shouldn't have much to sweat this summer.

The winter weather has ebbed. Spring is upon us. The Phils have come north from spring training bearing gifts - winning baseball and hope. Enjoy it and be thankful.

Starting Monday, I'll be in Augusta, Ga., for the Masters and the Tiger Woods madness. Odds on Tiger (according to Bodog) winning the event: 4/1. Odds on me getting ejected for violating some arcane rule: even. . . . Some savage masquerading as a chef in New York City received international attention after he turned his wife's breast milk into cheese and sold it to his customers. To review: They wiped the strip joints out of Times Square, but this is apparently acceptable. . . . Like many of us, a company called Bluebeard's Original - "makers of products for the bearded man" - was saddened that Jayson Werth recently shaved. In an attempt to get him to regrow his facial hair, the outfit is offering the outfielder a free one-year supply of Bluebeard's Original Beard Saver and Beard Wash, as well as its first-ever "Bluebeard Man of the Year" title (tinyurl.com/jwerthbeard). I'd like to see them throw in an eye patch and a parrot, but that's still a good deal.


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

Follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/gonzophilly

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