I’m not sure how I came by my Phillies pessimism. Was it a product of nurture or nature? On one hand, one of my earliest enduring memories as a young Phils fan was watching Joe Carter launch a Mitch Williams offering into orbit. It was an abrupt and brutal ending to what had been a dream season for the upstart ’93 Phillies, and a bitter pill to swallow for a seven year old who was still unaccustomed to the fickle whims of the baseball gods.
The wound caused by Carter’s home run left a scab that would rip open as one lost season followed another. Curt Schilling’s dominance notwithstanding, the Fightins offered little in the way of hope that a return to the playoffs was on the horizon through the rest of the ’90s and well into the next decade.
On the other hand, I was introduced to the game by men who had internalized its hard lessons long ago. My grandfather, Mick, a Massachusetts transplant whose South Bostonese accent was almost as stubborn as his fervent devotion to the Red Sox, had learned how to cope with the constant disappointment of baseball fandom: he came to expect failure. It was a lesson he would pass down to his son, who shared it with me.
Mick died in September 2004, just one month before the Red Sox would improbably break the Curse of the Bambino and claim the World Series title. In one of his last moments of lucidity, Mick happened to be watching a Chicago Cubs game in his hospital room. He stared in disbelief as Nomar Garciaparra (whom he called Gaparra- he could never quite get that name right) took his place at shortstop for the Cubs. It would be the final in a long string of indignities his hometown baseball team imposed on him.