Wednesday, October 22, 2008

If they break the curse of William Penn, does that mean I am cured?

So I have a superstition (actually I have a lot, but lets discuss those that really pertains to us here and now). As I have mentioned before I live in Philadelphia. Philly is a world unto itself. Two hours from New York City, three hours from D.C., not a bad shot up to Boston, yet somehow even though we live in the shadow of so many "great" places, Philadelphia, has held true to its roots. A working class town that takes shit from no one. Sure you've got your pretension and you got your "rednecks”, every place does, but I have always felt far more comfortable in Philly than in any other city in America. Philadelphia is home.

Many of you may have visited our fair city here, seen the Liberty Bell, ate a cheese steak, ran up the art museum steps like Rocky, but you left and went back to where ever it was that you lay your head. However on your way out of town I'll bet you got a shiver. Little pins and needles up and down your spine (yeah kinda like having MS). Although I bet you just couldn't put your finger on what it was. Sure, cheese steaks, Bells, and Museums are all lodged in your collective consciousness like a vendor cart soft pretzel in your throat, but every day we here in Philadelphia wake up with that chill and know that we have not won a major sports title since 1980 when the Phillies last won the World Series. Oh we have come close. So close we could taste it, but regardless of how good the team was, we here in Philadelphia, with a collective sigh, always seem to be looking toward next season. There are a lot of reasons for this, but many serious sports folk in the Philadelphia area will blame it on one thing: The Curse of William Penn.

The short story of the curse is Philadelphia's City Hall has a large statue of William Penn atop. Until 1984 there was an ordinance that precluded anyone from building higher than Mr. Penn’s hat. Ordinance struck down, a few skyscrapers go up in center city Philadelphia, and BAM suddenly a town once rich with sports heroes is a graveyard. Coincidence? Perhaps, but allow me to point out the newest and tallest building in Philly that opened in May of this year had the foresight to include a small statue of William Penn on top. For those of you who haven't noticed the Fightin' Philadelphia Phils are in the World Series for the first time in 15 years.

Baseball is a sport filled with superstitions, far more than any other sport in my opinion, these superstitions often times trickle down to us the fan as well, particularly here in Philly. For instance: I NEVER wear team clothing on the day of a game, further more I NEVER watch the first inning. Why I couldn't tell you, this is just one of those things that has developed over many years of watching the Philadelphia Phillies.
For Example:
Wednesday night I walked out of the room for the first inning and Bam Chase Utley hits a two run homer, which set the tone and won the game for us.
However game two while I did not watch the first inning, the Phillies still lost. How is this you ask? Well, Bald Ben was not so bald that day. I wore a knit Phillies cap from morn till game time. Sorry guys, I wasn't thinking.

It is currently tied at one game a piece, and tonight the Phils bring it home to Citizens Bank Park. While Tampa Bay is a formidable opponent and has really accomplished a lot over the last year with their club, nothing has prepared them for Philadelphia and their fans. There may be 9 men on the field, but in Philadelphia there is a tenth player...the fans in the stands. I will not get into the exploits of Philadelphia Sports fans, but know it is a breed unto itself, and a force to be reckoned with.
But I am way off point here, as is usual, but this is really all just set up for what I am trying to say. Again as I mentioned in a previous post, I am by no means a jock. I was never real good at sports, I enjoyed a pick up game of whatever the boys were playing, but I was never one to go out for the team. Further more I always found it very boring to sit on a lovely weekend and drool over a bunch of dudes ramming each other...a wait...I get what I am saying. The one exception to the rule was baseball.
I grew up in Reading, PA where the Phillies have one of their minor league teams. My Pop owns his own business just a few blocks from the stadium, and we use to go there a lot, but once a year I would win tickets for a Philadelphia Phillies game.
You see, I went to Elementary School in a day where schools were improperly funded, and they would have to hold fundraisers in order to secure the necessary financial stability for the school year. I know it's hard to believe there was such a time where a child was handed a folder of useless products and then expected to walk around the neighborhood hocking their wares in return for some cheap prize that could have been bought at the dollar store. It was a different time, dollar stores were not so ubiquitous, kidnappers and pedophiles were just pulp fiction novel creations, and there were so many old people in my neighborhood that it was like shooting fish in a barrel. All I had to do was flash my pearly whites and hand them the product descriptions and viola a few cookies in my tummy and an order for 8 boxes of pecan chews later and I was on to the next house.
While we were not out roaming the country side begging for alms of the poor schools, the power structure inside of my hallowed halls brought out another classic way for us to raise some money and deflect the responsibility of actually teaching: a Read-A-Thon. This was not just any read a-thon however, it was to help cure a disease known as MS. This was actually, as a youth, my introduction to the disease that is now reeking havoc inside of my body. Odd, huh? We were handed a piece of paper, we listed all the books we read in a two week period, gathered up some sponsors to pay money for each book we read and then we got to choose from a similar list of cheap dollar store prizes. Although on this list there was one thing that actually sparked my interest: tickets to see the Philadelphia Phillies. I wasn't sure what this MS thing was, but man, who needed a cure when they were getting me to Philadelphia to see my favorite team. In retrospect maybe I should have aimed a little higher, but you know, hind sight is 20/20.
So sometime in the school year they would hand me two blue square pieces of paper that entitled me entrance to Veterans stadium to see the Phils. Honestly I have no recollection of who won when I was there, I know that the tickets were always for an Atlanta Braves game, but I do remember the first time I walked out of the vomitoriom (that's the proper name for the tunnels that lead to the seats in large arenas. A little knowledge I picked up along the way that I am now passing along to you.) We were of course way high up in the stadium, and I had no idea what I was going to see. I was use to little old Municipal Stadium in Reading, PA you sat right up on the field. It held like 7,000 people. As I came out from the vom (now I'm getting fancy, that's the slang version of vomitorium) to see the 60,000 plus seats stretching out around me and down below the brilliant green of the field, it took my breath away. I got a little scared being up so high on such a pitch, but I had never seen anything like this, and it was beautiful, albeit a little overwhelming, but beautiful to a little kid.
The day that my doctor called me so many years later and said, "Ben, I want you to go see my wife's neurologist." I obviously knew that there was a problem. Honestly in my mind there was a tumor. I asked my doctor to level with me, why did he want me to see his wife's neurologist? He hesitated, but he knew me and I guess he figured I could handle it. He said, “Well, it looks like MS."
Many of us have heard those words. Many of us know how devastating it is. Although, the first thing that came into my mind was a picture of the tickets that I was handed when I was a kid. The excitement that went along with that envelope and the winter months I would have to wait till I got to use them. Large squares of blue with red type and a cartoon picture of a dog. What the dog had to do with it I have no idea, in my minds eye it is the slush puppie dog, but this just has to be a confused memory. MS was just two letters on the paper and the reason I was able to get tickets to the see the world class Philadelphia Phillies. I never knew what MS really was despite all the fund raising I did in its name. Unfortunately I would get to know all too well what those two letters represented.
I just think its funny the circles that our lives move in. MS was actually an important part of my youth without me ever realizing it, and now on a very different level it is an important part of my adult hood. I suppose we could find new neurosis in this and garner a new set of superstitions, but it is hardly worth it. Superstitions aren’t going to change my disease, nor, in truth, are they going to win the World Series. They are just a small mans way of trying to make sense of a bigger picture that I will most likely never understand, a control mechanism that really gives me no control. I realize that hundreds of other kids have participated in the MS Read-A-Thon and they didn’t get MS. Dumb luck I suppose. It’s just very easy to draw lines and connect dots when you are on the other side of time. Whatever the case Go Phils!

p.s. we are on a rain delay right now. We don't have a fancy dome like Tampa Bay, so we have to wait out Mother Nature.

p.p.s I know that there are a few people from the Florida area that are kind enough to peruse my blog. Let me be the first to applaud you on a great season, however also let me be the first to say thanks for helping us break the curse.


pUNKrOCKfairy said...

As one of your Floridians, I have to tell you. The only team in Tampa I care about is the Lightning. The only time I like baseball is when I'm in the stands chugging beer and not feeling obligated to pay any attention whatsoever to the actual game. This confession is to ease the guilt I have long felt after dating one minor league pitcher and bearing a child to another (both remain anonymous here).

I do love Philly however. My dad's from there (he's a Flyer's fan!) and took me to visit from DC as a kid. Your town's underrated, I thought it was rad.

Chris C. said...

hey ben-

it's chris. i was hungrily looking for new pictures of them babies and linked on over here.

i just wanted to say that your description of phila and the hold it has on a explained it very well, one of my favorite lines: "A working class town that takes shit from no one." I take great pride in the hostility that lies just under my surface all of the time. :) It was all of the bike riding through the city that really did me in. I've been away 5years now (ridiculous, I know) and I still get tight in my chest when I leave...which is an improvement (I suppose) from when I collapsed into outright bawling in my car as I drove away. I still get excited when I drive in and I am always in awe when I drive down Broad Street and have memories through the majority of it Central HS, Temple, Center City, South Philly...siiiggggh.

Also I wanted to say that we not only had Read-a-Thons, but Math-a-Thons and sold all sorts of crap. These kids on my block here in the 'burgh came around selling Easter candy last year from a catalog that you described...I did my neighborly duty and paid for a coconut egg and I never got it. Ever. WTF!!

I'm watching the game now...i won't say anything, don't want to jinx.

Louise said...

After their slow start, the Philadelphia Phillies are starting to turn it on but they’ve always been my favourite teams in MLB. I really got lost when I was looking for a ticket & finally I found it at a good price so let me share it with u guys: