December 15, 2010

The lights flash on and my mom calls out, “Austin, get up! Get ready for school.” I roll over and check my phone as I do every morning while my body wakes up. This freezing Wednesday morning was not like most, though. 

“Breaking: Phillies sign Cliff Lee” I read from numerous apps as I scroll through the notifications that came in while I was sleeping. I jump out of bed and run down the hall to my parents’ room. My dad is shaving when I slide across the tiled floor in the bathroom. “Dad, they got Cliff Lee! Can you believe it?!” My dad, with a pronounced grin on his face, moves back from the mirror and looks up so that his reflection is looking right at me. He responds, “I know. I can’t believe it. Unbelievable, isn’t it?” The fantasizing lasts a few minutes before my mom walks into the bathroom and tells me to get in the shower. As you can imagine, the buzz surrounding the Phillies’ “Phour Aces” was strong, not just in Philadelphia, but all of baseball, over the next few months.

Of course, it never panned out. The Phillies won 102 games that season, best in baseball, and then were bounced by the Cardinals in the NLDS in 5 games.

But even as I write this overlooking a lake in Naples, Florida eight years later, we don’t think of the disappointment that Cliff Lee and those Phillies dealt us when they fell way short of expectations. We don’t talk about the upset in the National League Division Series. We talk about the fact that he elected to take 5 years and $120 million to play in Philadelphia over a richer offer from a storied franchise in the New York Yankees. We remember that Cliff Lee chose us, not the Yankees. He chose our city.

It doesn’t matter that he blew a lead in Game 2 of that devastating series against the Cardinals. It doesn’t matter that he was never the same pitcher after that season. The only thing we talk about is the hero that was Cliff Lee. Why? Because he was the star who chose Philly, and not many choose Philly.

June 29, 2018

My parents and I are driving home from the Jersey shore as another beautiful June weekend concludes with a sunset over the Black Horse Pike. I’m viciously scrolling through my Twitter feed and Reddit’s NBA feed waiting for an announcement on LeBron James’ decision. Talks had been progressing throughout the day and a decision appeared imminent. The final three teams were the Sixers, Lakers, and Cavaliers. Most speculated that the Cavaliers were out and never really had a chance to bring him back. So, it was a standoff between Philly and LA.

There had been speculation that the Sixers would make a move to acquire a disgruntled Kawhi Leonard from the Spurs and sign LeBron James. On ESPN, Adrian Wojnarowski warned fans to not count out the Sixers for a late push. News also circulated that the Sixers had held a meeting with LeBron’s camp in Los Angeles. The Sixers had previously been the favorites for James, but things had swayed to the Lakers’ favor in the previous days.

Then, a letter popped onto my screen. It was from Klutch Sports. And there it was–LeBron had signed a 4-year, $154 million contract to play for the Lakers. Once the chaos surrounding the decision died down, reports emerged about how the previous weeks had gone for LeBron’s camp. He never really considered Philly. He was always going to choose LA despite the lucrative money and situation in Philly.

Once again, a star athlete burned Philly. We were the gold fish in an ocean full of sharks. 

Some so-called “NBA experts” predicted LeBron would lead the Lakers to The Finals this year. Fast forward to today, March 7th. The Lakers are 30-35; just one game better than they were at this point last season. LeBron just passed Michael Jordan on the all-time scoring list in last night’s loss to the Nuggets. But, Philadelphians aren’t marveling at his greatness. The team isn’t winning, and we love it. LeBron’s first year in Los Angeles has gone just about as badly as anyone thought it could. He has alienated his teammates, regressed as a player, failed to establish any chemistry, and will now miss the playoffs for the first time since 2005. 

Basketball decision or not, LeBron looks miserable in Los Angeles. He has crashed and burned, and we love it in Philly. LA must be that nice, because Philadelphia doesn’t look too bad right now. 

I don’t feel bad or unprofessional about ripping LeBron here. He chose Los Angeles over our city, and it could dramatically hurt his legacy when all is said and done.

February 28, 2019

I’m finishing up a midterm exam for International Financial Management. The last problem is giving me some trouble. I sit back in my chair, take a sip of coffee, and re-channel my focus on this problem. I just want to finish it up, go eat, and watch the Sixers play the Thunder on TNT. Something clicks in my head. I scribble down a few calculations, produce an answer that makes sense, hand the exam in, and put my calculator in my backpack.

The next section of the class filters into the room and my buddy greets me. He says, “They got him.” Confused, I look at him and say, “What? Who?” He responds, “Harper. The Phillies got him.” I pull out my phone. 5 missed calls, 206 unread text messages, 64 Twitter notifications. Below all of that is 5 notifications from various apps reporting the same thing–“The Phillies sign RF Bryce Harper to 13-year, $330 million mega deal”. I yell, “Holy s***!” and run out of the classroom.

Philadelphia, you can exhale. After months of speculation, fake rumors, and little information, the Phillies finally got their man at 2:50 PM last Thursday. The conception that “Harper would’ve signed already if he wanted to be here” had plagued Philadelphians for weeks. It was pretty much the only negative opinion I heard on 97.5 The Fanatic and WIP for 14 days. All of that was over. Bryce had requested no Opt-Outs and a full No-Trade Clause in his contract with the Phillies. He willingly signed a contract that would lock him into Philadelphia for 13 years. He wanted to be here. That sobering supposition became clear very quickly. Yes, the money might’ve been right, but 13 years is a very long time to be in a city that you don’t like.

The face of baseball chose our city. He has even said all of the right things since signing–from his introductory press conference to the radio interviews. He’s talked about the pride of being a Phillie, wanting to be held accountable by fans, loving the city, a winning culture, and recruiting players to Philly (especially New Jersey-native Mike Trout). I don’t know that he has meant every word he has said, no one knows. But he’s said all the right things. The decision he made exactly a week ago, as well as with the things he has said since, have certainly endeared him to the fanbase.

Just because the fans adore him already does not mean he has insurance against failure. If he has extended struggles, he will hear some boos. There will be some slander. But that’s the passion of the Philadelphian. That certainly beats Washington, DC or San Diego, California, where no one cares about the teams enough to boo.

Bryce won’t have complete freedom to struggle, but he will have a looser leash for things to be unsatisfactory. However, at 26 years old and having accumulated the strong statistics that he has in a park as big as the one in DC, there is no reason to think that a superstar who has yet to reach his peak years will struggle in a smaller ballpark. At some point, he may have a “down” season for his own standard, and it will still probably be the best season any Phillie has had since Ryan Howard’s early years.

Bryce Harper, the face of Major League Baseball, chose Philadelphia. The buzz in our city has not stopped since Jon Heyman’s original tweet announcing the deal. One superstar finally chose Philly–and if one comes, more might as well. But, we have Bryce Harper, and that’s more than enough for now.