Paul Blest on the Phillies, Barack Obama, and one incredible week in 2008.
I remember the first baseball game I ever saw. I was six years old, watching the Atlanta Braves play the Montreal Expos on TV with my grandfather. The Braves blew out the Expos 9-0 in a spring training game, and that year my parents signed me up for Little League. Throughout my childhood, I became obsessed with baseball – one year I convinced my parents to buy MLB Extra Innings for our house as a birthday present and I spent every night flipping through all of the different games; another year we went to Cooperstown for our summer vacation. I waited anxiously all year for baseball season, where I could play two or three games a week and go to a minor league game in my town or, the real treat, a Phillies game in Philadelphia. I was at Veterans’ Stadium for a Mets-Phillies game the night that Mark McGwire broke Roger Maris’ home run record. I was eight years old and I got booed mercilessly for wearing a Greg Maddux jersey. It was in Philly, though; what did I expect?
As I grew older my interest in baseball slowly but surely started to wane. The steroids scandal put a huge dent in my perception of my childhood heroes, and I became bored with playing the game. My freshman year of high school I decided on a whim to not go out for the baseball team, and instead I picked up lacrosse. I stuck with that and soccer for the next four years and became emotionally invested in both sports. I also found my love for music, playing guitar and spending my summers going to shows and being blown away by the independent music that I grew to love.
I still liked watching baseball, having evolved into a Phillies fan over the years because TBS stopped carrying half of the Braves games, and the Phillies were a more convenient team to follow. Still, I couldn’t shake this nagging feeling that my glory days with baseball were done. I graduated from high school in 2008 and spent the summer doing a lot of things that pissed off my parents. I picked up my love for baseball again out of sheer boredom, and over the course of the summer I realized that the Phillies were a really, really, good team.
In September, it became apparent that the Phillies might be able to win it all.
I also remember the first time I was consciously aware of something political. I was the only kid in my second grade class at Holy Rosary Elementary School who knew who the Vice President was. To this day, I don’t know how or why I knew that. Today, that school is gone. Joe Biden went there. That’s my claim to fame. Almost everyone I know in Delaware has a story like that. Joe Biden stories are Delaware’s handshake.
The first election I can remember was 2000. I was ten years old and I went with my mom to the polls as she placed her vote for Al Gore because – and I’m paraphrasing here – “George Bush is an asshole.” During our mock elections I tried to convince everyone to vote for Ralph Nader; he came in with a solid 7% of the vote, enough to qualify for federal funding for the Green Party in the St. Mary Magdalen Mock Election of 2004.
Election night for me was a turning point in my life for two reasons; one, because I became emotionally invested in politics for the first time, of course knowing nothing about the candidates but assured that if Al Gore lost it would ruin my life. The second reason was because our kitten got stuck in the ceiling, which I didn’t even know was possible for houses built in the 1950’s.
By 2004 I had started high school and had a very vague idea of what I was talking about. I researched the candidates and came to the same conclusion that my mother had four years prior, that George W. Bush was, in fact, an asshole. I watched the conventions, and saw a young guy with the same middle name as America’s mortal enemy electrify Denver. I couldn’t vote and made no attempt to get involved, but Election Day was a holiday for me; I followed the exit polling, ran through all the scenarios that I could read on the internet, and I was destroyed when CNN called Ohio for Bush. Two years later, I followed the midterms and actually felt some sort of political victory for the first time in my life when Democrats took back Congress. When Barack Obama announced he was running for President, I watched his speech in Illinois on live television and immediately knew that this guy could be my generation’s candidate. He could be my president.
He won the primary over She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and picked Delaware’s favorite son to be his VP. I watched the Democratic and Republican National Conventions like they were a week-long, really boring Super Bowl. I borrowed Worth The Fighting For from the library and read it cover to cover. I bought The Audacity of Hope and finished it in a couple of days.
Then, right before the debates started, the stock market began plummeting.
At that point, the Phillies were really the only positive I had going for me. I had just started college, miserable because it wasn’t my first choice and I was studying something I didn’t care about. I grew increasingly worried that the recession would slam my parents, who were struggling to make mortgage payments as it was. My dog had been diagnosed with leukemia and was living out his final months. One night, I had a panic attack for the first time in my life, which would be a recurring problem for me over the next couple of years.
The Phillies and the campaign were my escape from reality.
In October, the Phillies took care of the Brewers in 4 games and the Dodgers in 5, and got set to face the Devil Rays in the World Series. This was our time. This was Obama’s time, too; by Game 1, we all knew that it was his election to lose, and history was on his side. I still had a nagging feeling though, that the Phils would somehow blow it, and McCain would pull a Bush and somehow squeak out the election.
The Phillies didn’t blow it. On October 29th, Game 5 of the World Series resumed (the previous day had been rained out) in Philadelphia and that night Brad Lidge struck out Eric Hinske to win it all. I erupted. I called my friend Ryan and we screamed incoherent nonsense at each other for ten straight minutes. He picked me up with intentions of going to Philadelphia but we realized that getting into the city would be hell on earth, so we went to McDonald’s on Philadelphia Pike in Wilmington instead.
Exactly six days later Barack Obama was elected President of the United States. As I watched his victory speech, my heart started to sink. I came close to tears that night, but not for the reasons that I wanted to. Not because I saw the first African American elected president, and not because I had watched my generation’s Kennedy rise from obscurity to our nation’s highest office in four years.
It was genuine sadness. The election was over, and spring training wasn’t going to start for another four months.
No matter how politically jaded I’ve become over the past few years, or how morally conflicted I am whenever the Phillies sign a particularly shitty person (Delmon Young, Brett Myers), baseball and elections have profoundly impacted the person I am today. Life was rough for a few years, bouncing from college to college, but eventually I righted the ship, went back for a political science degree (they didn’t have a baseball major), and graduated. I’ll never forget the escape that those two pieces of my childhood provided me as I stumbled through the first steps of adulthood and one of the most depressing periods of my life.
The Phillies are still my primary interest in sports, although my favorite players are older now and the team is going downhill. And I know I’ll inevitably be caught up in the absurdity of election season this year and in 2016, despite being more politically jaded than I’ve ever been. These two rocks for me have always been there, and it’s hard to imagine a life without them. And today, as I sit here doing what I love, alternating between finishing this piece and trying to figure out in vain how the Phillies pitchers look on the first day of Spring Training, I can’t help but smile.
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