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In March, we’ll mark three years of pandemic life. They’ve been a motley of difficult seasons, and I’m not speaking simply about summers and autumns. In all of this strife, though, there have been many gifts. For me, one of them has been a renaissance of my love for sports—a comfort food I had cast aside for myriad reasons. This fall’s World Series run by the Philadelphia Phillies taught me a lot about what we need as a city, and how we survive on a mix of heartbreak and joy.
It’s been more than a month since the 2022 Phillies re-captured the hearts of Philadelphians with an unexpected run to the World Series. It was a frenetic Cinderella story that took over the newswire. We were dead in the water, and Philadelphia, especially with team sports, is uncomfortably familiar with loss. But there is a blessing in here somewhere despite the team not sealing the deal. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen hope during a World Series run both on and off the field.
Moments of uncertainty
Right when the 2008 World Series champs took to Broad Street, Barack Obama was elected as the first Black US president. This came weeks after Obama’s campaign stop in Philly, which included a huge rally on the forsaken 52nd Street, where he noted that “we needed a great moment of uncertainty in America.” These were signs of change, right? Hope was finally here (just like Obama promised), and the Phillies found themselves with a historically good lineup again in 2011. Hope was as high as the team’s $172 million dollar payroll (sheesh).
I remember watching the final game of the 2011 National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. On the final out of the series, former MVP Ryan Howard tore his ACL running to first base on an easy out that closed the series, sending the hopeful Phillies home with a season-ending loss that you knew was going to change the franchise for years to come. We’re Philadelphians—we instinctually know when losing is right around the corner. Howard never returned to form, the team was gradually dismantled, and the Phillies would be rendered irrelevant for 11 years.
That’s about when I fell off of sports. This made sense: an artist is supposed to hate sports, right? Not sure whose idea that was, but it was one of the fissures that led to my own identity crisis in a decade that would prove to be loud, overbearing, and ultimately a prelude to the end of the world as we know it.
The not-so-roaring 20s
2011 was the start of a hazy decade, and not just for baseball fans. Social media and smartphones took over, launching unhealthy relationships with our devices and the almighty algorithm. We saw the US’s true colors: a toxic, oppressive relationship with capitalism with no escape or alternatives; racism and its other-ism cousins unraveled their disguises, paving the way for a new kind of leader of the “free world” in 2016. America has long ignored its systemic issues (duh), and by the late 2010s, the disconnect and the divide were more apparent than they had ever been. At the time, I found myself drifting, gradually losing touch with what made me me, scrambling to make a living in the poorest big city in the country that was accustomed to leaving its people behind.
The decade feels like it came and went without making a substantial name for itself. Sure, looking back, it takes time to define a decade—the 80s weren’t the 80s until the mid-90s, and so on. Now, when we might’ve been trying to process the 2010s, instead we hyper-focus on a string of impossible todays, trying to survive a pandemic that has disrupted foundations, routines, and distant plans. We eat uncertainty for breakfast.
Getting back together
My own processing means returning to things that are both familiar and new. I’ve been revisiting various books, movies, games, and other art pieces and have found new meaning in them in my remembering. I’ve been watching nearly every Sixers game in the last two seasons, which has deepened my connection with my partner and a few loved ones. I watched World Cup games last week with a friend who moved away this year but was visiting the area for a holiday tour.
Sports have become a healthy social outlet, much like it was in my childhood and young adulthood. Some of the few memories I have of my late father were of us watching Allen Iverson and the Sixers, the barely six-foot guard in his prime carrying a team on his back to a wild run to the Finals in 2001. (I watch Game 1 of that series every June, and I still revisit Iverson highlights for jolts of motivation.)
Making my way back to these kinds of shared enjoyments on and off the court or field makes me realize how much the pandemic has ruptured collective experiences. Our innate collectiveness had already begun to fracture with the advent of social media, and damn, are we stressed out now. A World Series run, a Cinderella story in a perennial underdog city, became a positive, revitalizing collective experience, something many of us didn’t know we were yearning for as we grind through year three of Covid-19.
We know the feeling
The Phillies weren’t supposed to make it, but by now, don’t we all know the feeling? It’s a miracle that any of us have made it as far as we have through Covid. And it’s heartbreaking to wonder how many lifelong Phillies fans didn’t live to enjoy this season. We can’t thrive without contemplating our own losses, and maybe celebrating the championship while grieving the World Series loss is the same kind of heartache we all live with every day in the early 2020s.
Watching this year’s Phillies team was an inspiration that resonated with many of us, including myself, long after the Series. I hope Philadelphians will continue to remember how important it is to come together, and to relish our own victories, public and private, no matter what’s coming. We sure as hell deserve it.
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