On Monday night, when the Phillies beat the Yankees 8-6, I did something I never thought I would ever do—I cheered for the Phillies. But I didn’t just cheer; I pumped my fist, jumped around, and—perhaps most disturbingly—experienced happiness. Now, I could just write this off as taking pleasure in watching the Yankees lose, but these shocking actions came on the heels of my reaction to Sunday night’s game where the Phillies wasted a dramatic comeback by giving up three runs in the top of the ninth. When Alex Rodriguez hit the go-ahead double I jumped out of my chair and a slew of profanities came flying out of my mouth directed at Brad Lidge. But my reaction was not just because he let the Yankees take the lead; I think deep down I was actually angry that the Phillies were losing. No longer was it just about sticking it to the Yankees. This recognition has profound implications on my baseball fandom.
Let me backtrack to fill in a little background. I am from New York and am a die-hard Mets fan. I grew up worshiping Mike Piazza, Timo Perez, Al Leiter, and Rey Ordonez and cursing the existence of Chipper Jones, Brian Jordan, and the Braves’ three aces (oh, and every single New York Yankee). For the first 8 years as a baseball fan, the Braves were the team to hate. However, after 2006, the Braves suddenly ceased to matter, and they were replaced with a new rival—the Philadelphia Phillies. And boy, did I hate the Phillies.
It all started when Jimmy Rollins proclaimed the Phillies the “team to beat” in 2007, just a year after the Mets had been so dominant that the World Series was cancelled and the championship just awarded outright to the Mets in honor of how amazing they were. Just who did these Phillies think they were to be so brash, so arrogant? We Mets fans laughed at them as our team sprinted out of the gate and looked strong the entire season, resulting in a seven game lead with 17 games left to play. And then the unthinkable happened. As every Phillies fan is quick to point out and rub in our faces, the Mets choked and the Phillies snuck into the playoffs on the last day of the season. I was devastated, and there may or may not have been tears involved. But, then the Phillies were swept out of the playoffs, and all was sort of-right with the world.
The Mets came into 2008 with another strong team, and there were high hopes all around. However, once again, the Mets ended the season poorly and were eliminated once more on the last day of the season in front of their home fans (a game that I left Swarthmore to attend). And, this time in the playoffs, the Phillies didn’t lose. I couldn’t bear to watch the team that had played a large role in crushing my baseball dreams in back-to-back years celebrate, and I was emotionally numb for a few days. Coupled with this win was Phillies’ hero Cole Hamels labeling the Mets outright as “choke artists” in a December interview. My hatred for the Phillies reached a climax. I despised Hamels, Rollins, and even went so far as to trade Ryan Howard in my fantasy league (for a fair package, of course).
This season began, and, as the Mets faded from relevance and became a joke in the league (and to their fans), the only thing I wanted was for neither the Phillies nor the Yankees to win. But, of course, the Baseball God is a comedian, and that is exactly the current World Series that I and all other Met fans are forced to suffer through. I found myself in a dilemma—do I root for the soulless Yankees who bought their way into the World Series, or do I swallow my pride and root for the Phillies, the very team I hated with a fiery passion just a few weeks before? Talk about picking your poison.
Some Mets fans went with the Yankees, arguing that it was a fellow New York team, and anything was better than watching our rivals win consecutive World Series. Other Mets fans decided that they would rather have C.C. Sabathia sit on their lap than root for the Yankees. I decided that there was no way I could ever support either A-Rod or the Yankees’ system of “building” a team (also, I found the thought of a million facebook statuses like “Yankees <3,” “A-Rod is a Real Yankee now!” and “This sure is a convenient time to be a Yankee fan!” completely unappealing), which left me with the Phillies.
As the series began, I thought I would primarily root against the Yankees, but an odd thing happened. By watching the Phillies for nine innings a game and pushing aside the all-powerful hate I had felt for them, I began to respect the way they play and, dare I say it, I began to enjoy watching them. They were everything I wanted the Mets to be—a powerful lineup, solid starting pitching, and a hard-nosed attitude. They hustled until the last out and were in the top of the league in terms of comeback wins. They even had a terrible bullpen like my Mets! In fact, I found myself wondering how I could not root for Howard, Utley, Victorino, Werth, Ibanez, or Lee (but I still hate Rollins). Against the All-Mercenary team of the Yankees, the Phillies were showing more heart and cajones than any other previous team and were managing to keep the games close and exciting, culminating in the Game Five win.
Now, strangely enough, I am actively rooting for the Phillies to win… not just for the Yankees to lose. But what does this mean for next spring, when I pull out my Mets jersey in pride? How can I rekindle that intense hatred knowing that just a few months before I wanted the Phillies to win and even felt a little envious? My gut tells me that this is just a phase that will pass once the Mets are back in my life and, once more, I will have my team to root for (however dumb this may be). But, I’ll be honest: it feels like I’m cheating on my wife of over ten years with this World Series. I’ve loved the Mets unconditionally for over a decade, and together we’ve shared heartbreak, short-lived triumph, and tragedy. Mets fans (and, to an extent, the team itself) tend to define themselves in relation to their rivals. But what happens when you respect your rival and lose your loathing? How will this affect my identity as a Mets fan?
This is the first time I’ve ever genuinely rooted for another team… and, who knows, hopefully the hate will return in the spring. But something has changed, and with this newfound respect for the enemy, I don’t know if things can ever go back to the way they were. Once this Series ends, I am going to have to face these questions and doubts until beautiful Spring Training in February. But, for now, there is still some baseball left, and I only have one thing to say, as painful as it may be: Let’s Go Phillies!