But for me it's even more special because baseball is my favorite sport. That's right - notwithstanding my love affair with the Eagles, baseball is my favorite sport. For a single game, nothing is as exciting as pro football. March Madness is a close second with its win-or-go-home tension. But for an entire season, nothing compares to baseball. It's 162 games, it has ebbs and flows - your team starts out great, then hits a losing streak, then gets hot again and then it's September and every game counts as it's down to the wire. You live and die with your team for almost 7 months; your spirits soar or crash, almost every day.
If you're my age, you'll remember hiding under the covers listening to a transistor radio pressed up against your ear, hoping your parents won't come in and take it away. The season rolls on like a play with many, many acts careening toward a climax of tragedy or triumph. We live and die with our team every day for more than half the year.
The triumphs are amazing! In 1951, I was a 7-year-old New York Giants fan. As the season turned to August the Giants trailed the Dodgers by 13 1/2 games. We were just awful. Then we caught fire and in 2 magical months we caught the Dodgers on the last day of the season, forcing a three-game playoff. We split the first two and were trailing in Game 3, 4-1, going into the bottom of the ninth. My brother, Robert, and I had been watching the game on TV (one of the earliest TVs with a 9-inch screen in a large box). We couldn't bear to watch any more and retreated to our bedroom to listen on the radio. Then Bobby Thomson hit the most famous home run of all time to win the game. ("The Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant!" is still the most famous phrase uttered by a broadcaster.)
We rushed out of the bedroom past our mother and father and friends playing cards in the living room to watch Thomson circle the bases.
Pure ecstasy is 6 tense months. The tragedies are gut-wrenching. I became a Phillies fan my senior year at Penn because I witnessed a city go through 13 days of sheer, indescribable agony. The 1964 Phillies entered the last 2 weeks of the season 6 1/2 games ahead. They proceeded to lose 10 games in a row and go from a sure winner to elimination. For those 10 days, the city died a slow, torturous, drawn-out death. It was all anybody talked about and the only saving grace was that it was shared grief by cleaning ladies in the Penn dorms and bank presidents downtown. There's nothing like it in any other sport.
The Eagles went down in those NFC Championship Games. Horrible to experience but over in 3 hours. The 29-0 1971 Penn team lost to Villanova, 90-47, in the NCAA Eastern Regional, but the torture ended in a little less than 2 hours.
Yes, baseball is still America's game because it's with us for so long that it becomes part of our lives. It has a rhythm and a pace that's comforting and reassuring. On Christmas Day, 1994 - the year the season ended early because of the strike - I went to a home in Mount Airy to wish a happy 107th birthday to a constituent. Much to my surprise, I found a healthy, alert man and we had a great talk. As I got up to leave, he said, "Mayor, I have one favor to ask you. Can you tell those players and owners to settle that strike? I can't get around much anymore and watching those games each day keeps me going. Tell them that, Mayor, please."
It may not always be exciting, it may be a little slow, but it's ours. It's always there. It's our old trusted and true friend - and it's back!
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