Philadelphia Phillies: Just 29 Days Till Pitchers and Catchers Report

January 15, 2011 by  
Filed under Fan News

Don’t despair Phillies fans. What has all of the makings of a long, frigid, snowy winter will soon be interrupted with this announcement: “Pitchers and catchers report today!”

Okay, Phillies’ pitchers and catchers don’t report to Clearwater, Florida, until February 13, which is still 29 days away. But consider this: It has now been 83 long, cold, unforgiving days since Ryan Howard infamously struck out looking against Brian Wilson to end the National League Championship Series, and with it the hopes of another world championship.

Phillies fans have now weathered almost 75 percent of their annual baseball vigil, and what a season this promises to be.

This past fall got a little darker when Jayson Werth defected to D.C. for oodles of cash, and then got immeasurably brighter when Cliff Lee returned to the fold.

Although hot stoves have been firing—mostly with optimism—in anticipation of an amazing 2011 season, there are days and evenings when such heat cannot mitigate the realities of winter in the Northeast. There have already been a few cruel days when the number of inches of snow was greater than the number of degrees in the wind chill reading.

The late A Bartlett (Bart) Giammati, once commissioner of Major League Baseball, and former president of Yale University, probably best captured the eternal promise and heartbreak of baseball when writing the following for his Yale Alumni Magazine.

“It [baseball] breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.”

To paraphrase Giammati, the heartbreak is almost over, and presumably there are less than 30 shoveling days till baseball.

Others may prefer Groundhog Day as their personal harbinger of spring, and they long to see what those little rodents (the most famous one being Punxsutawney Phil) will do when the bright lights descend upon their winter burrows on February 2 each year.

“Groundhog Day,” of course, was also the title of a 1993 comedy starring incurable Cubs fan Bill Murray. Ever since that movie, Groundhog Day has entered our pop-cultural lexicon as the epitome of doing the same thing over and over and over and over again.

It was not that long ago that the Philadelphia Phillies staged their annual version of Groundhog Day each season from the end of 1993 until the watershed 2007 season. After the strike of 1994, the Phillies—whether or not they used the same formula each year—never qualified for the postseason. At the same time, the Atlanta Braves were winning the pennant, if not the World Series, every year.

A little known fact is that on every February 2 between 1994 and 2006, a suburban woodchuck named Paunchatiny Phillie would emerge from his burrow just long enough to read that season’s baseball forecast. Once he read the prognostications, he would crawl back into his hole after proclaiming that six long months of baseball were in the offing for Phillies fans.

Indeed, was the heartbreak of the offseason that much worse than the disappointment of the actual baseball played by the Phillies during those drought years? I would still contend that a bad day at the ballpark still beats a day without baseball, but those Phillies squads, run by the likes of John Felske and Lee Elia, were no match for skipper Charlie Manuel’s men.

Indeed, Phillies fans should appreciate the rarified near-dynasty (by modern standards anyway) of the new type of Groundhog Day that has unfolded the last four year and counting:

2007: 89 wins, NL East Champions

2008: 92 wins, World Champions of Baseball (in the words of the immortal Harry Kalas)

2009: 93 wins: NL Champs, runner-up to Yanks

2010: 97 wins; best record in baseball, lost in NLCS

2011: ?


Many Phillies fans and non-partisan baseball pundits alike accept as a foregone conclusion that the team in red pinstripes will return to the postseason in 2011, and barring crippling injuries, will be the favorite to return to the World Series.

Such projections make the chilly temperatures, icy roads (and perhaps, even an Eagles playoff loss) a little easier to take. The chatter from the hot stove has a certain warmth, even as we pose some of the following questions:

  • Who is the fifth starter?
  • What about our corner outfielders?
  • Will Jimmy Rollins be, well, Jimmy Rolllins again?
  • What about the bullpen?

The suspicion is that with the four-headed R2C2 monster of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt leading us, the Phillies will sprint to the division title, even if these questions aren’t answered definitively.

There will be time to examine these developments and more, and this columnist will try to do his part to add to the conversation. But for now, I am encouraged that in only four weeks, I can say “Pitchers and catchers report tomorrow.”

That five-word sentence—especially when “tomorrow” truly means only 24 hours away—is one of my favorite sentences in the English language.

It is a declaration so life-affirming that it must be warming the hearts of all true baseball fans. One suspects that even the late A Bartlett Giamatti (to say nothing of Paunchatiny Phillie) is starting to crack a warm smile.


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Article Source: Bleacher Report - Philadelphia Phillies

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