I was feeling left out of last night’s thrilling victories and agonizing defeats. Being a Phillies fan (I know, woe is me), this season didn’t stress me out. That tends to happen when you have two Non-Humanoid Hunter Killers anchoring your rotation. Of course, being so calm eventually made me anxious. You have to understand that this kind of sustained success still doesn’t feel right for any fan raised on interminable summers watching Von Hayes hit (or miss) at the concrete monument that was Veterans Stadium. But the midseason addition of Hunter Pence to the Phillies lineup and his wide-eyed, all-face-plants-all-the time, swinging-on-the-first-pitch (EVERY TIME) style of play made me anxious. And that made me calm.
Baseball teams find their identity in September. That’s the month (cue Jim Nantz voice) when heroes are born and legends are made. Or broken. The Phillies had no such drama surrounding the end of their regular season, going about their business as stoically during the pennant run as they were during May and June. Despite having a streaky September, their postseason ticket was punched a while back. That worried me a little.
You want your team to feel human, to be relatable. And nothing creates that feeling like mixing failure with success. Now, after watching Wednesday night’s Red Sox group harakiri, I understand if some people in New England feel like I should go ahead and fall on a sword for saying that. But it’s true. Nothing connects you to a team like watching them toy with your emotions.
For the most part, the ’11 Phillies did not gamble with my emotions. Really, the only gambling that happened was with my personal safety, when I would do a little too much this in front of my friends who are Mets fans. That’s why I’ve developed a particular attachment to Hunter Pence.
No matter what the lead, no matter what the situation, watching Pence play makes me reach for nicotine lozenges like they were friggin’ sunflower seeds. Is he going to swing at everything? Is he going to even wait for the guy to throw a pitch before he swings? Is he going to do something like this
Guys who play like Hunter Pence make you feel alive. Yes, watching Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee execute batters in bunches provides a deep feeling of satisfaction, but Pence provides something more: a deep feeling of unease. Which I like, because it gives the team an identity. Or maybe it’s because it just gives me an identity, as a fan.
I might be regretting this when Pence strikes out swinging for the third time on Saturday against the St. Louis Cardinals, but until then I say, “Good game. Let’s go eat.”
Read more of The Triangle, Grantland’s sports blog.
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