So Valentine’s Day has come and gone. My husband and I don’t really celebrate it. My kids made handwritten cards for all their friends and I called it a day. They returned home with sugar-infested “card boxes” and I spent a four-day holiday weekend removing my offspring multiple times from the ceiling.
One of my daughter’s classmates gave her a baseball card in lieu of a valentine, which is oddly appropriate for me because today, when the pitchers and catchers of most major league baseball teams report to spring training, is my Valentine’s Day. Spring is a time of rebirth. The air is getting warmer and the days are getting longer. I can start to hear the birds sing in the morning again.
Just like the traditional Valentine’s Day, there is a lot of buildup to pitchers and catchers and for me, especially, there almost always is a huge letdown once it’s passed and spring training begins.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve loyally celebrated Pitchers and Catchers with my favorite baseball team, the Philadelphia Phillies, each spring.
They by far are the worst boyfriend I’ve ever had.
Like any long relationship, there have been some good times. I was only 4 when they won their first Series and I have no memory of it, but I was a teenager when the 1993 club, Team Mullet, found lightning in a bottle and inexplicably made it to the World Series. (They lost on a heartbreaking home run by Joe Carter in Game Six. It’s why I wanted the Blue Jays to lose last season in the playoffs.)
Most recently, the team–buoyed by a powerful nucleus of homegrown talent, nurtured in the farm system–enjoyed a golden run of five seasons of consecutive playoff appearances, including its second World Series win in 2008.
In keeping with the Valentine’s theme, that’s two rings! Total! For a team that started to compete in the late 1800s!
It’s the good moments that keep me coming back every spring, despite the team’s decision to award those homegrown players monstrous contracts that grew in value as their abilities diminished. (There are only two players left from that 2008 roster, first baseman Ryan Howard and catcher Carlos “Chooch” Ruiz. Howard’s been on decline since 2010 and Ruiz is good with pitchers but doesn’t have much of a bat anymore.) Also, last season former Hall of Famer (and Phillies’ farm system product) Ryne Sandberg couldn’t figure out how to communicate with his players, manage a bullpen or make anything go his way. The team had 100 losses last year, and its lone 2015 All-Star, closer Jonathan Papelbon, publicly thanked everyone for his selection and then just as publicly immediately demanded to be traded to a winning team. (He was traded to the Washington Nationals, the Phillies’ division rivals who were favored to win the division and ultimately the Series based on their strong rotation of starting pitching. Instead, they promptly imploded and the New York Mets went on to win the division and the league. Pap spent the end of his season on suspension for choking teammate MVP Bryce Harper in the Nats’ dugout.)
This year, even though you’d think I’d learn by now, I’m getting my hopes up again. The Phillies got a new GM during the offseason, and his predecessor, Ruben Amaro, generously restocked the farm system that he’d ransacked during those golden years. So this spring training, I have youth and potential to look forward to, even though I realistically know that they won’t contend for another few years.
Even though they’ve quit on me, I can’t quit them.