Who remembers what the offseason used to be like? I don’t mean a time before Twitter or MLBTradeRumors.com, or before we all knew the details of a trade before it was finalized. I mean, who remembers the apprehensive excitement that used to serve as the precursor to another season of Phillies baseball?
If you recall how offseasons used to go, be it as recently as the late 90s-early 00s or the countless years of irrelevance that came before then, be thankful. The period from November to March involved more hopes and pipe dreams than actual expectations. In experiencing all of the pain and heartache that came with those insufferable years of being a Phillies fan, you got yourself here, to a point in which you’re being fairly compensated with success.
When I ask who remembers the less fortunate years, I don’t intend to demean those who have only recently become fans of the red pinstripes. It seems like many people complain about “bandwagon-jumpers,” but, at least to me, it doesn’t matter when you started supporting your team. For those of us who live and die with the Phillies, it’s the sheer obsession and array of emotions that we live for, not a “Whose-the-bigger-fan” competition with our next-door neighbor.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, instead of calling someone out or berating them for becoming a Phillies fan only when it became trendy, be thankful that you, yourself, were a fan for so long that you get to enjoy this period of time to such a greater degree. Only people like you–experienced, dedicated, and intelligent fans can truly comprehend the significance of what the Philadelphia Phillies have evolved into–a team that every baseball fan wants to watch, and mostly every baseball player wants to play for.
Usually, this is the spot in an article where the writer has finished introducing his point, and feels it’s time to include stats or quotes to support that point. But none of those things can accurately quantify the insane anticipation of the 2010 season felt by Phillies fans. No number or sarcastic opinion from Keith Law can enhance or derail how eager we are to get off at Broad and Pattison and make our way into Citizens Bank Park next April.
This is the kind of feeling that few fans across the country have the privilege of experiencing right now. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at some of the other cities that inhabit potential National League contenders.
- In St. Louis, a city considered by many to be the best baseball town in America, the status of Matt Holliday is up in the air. Sure, a World Series berth is always possible with Albert Pujols manning first base, but the ever-productive Holliday may be gone, and Mark DeRosa certainly won’t return. Joel Pineiro, the Cardinals over-achieving No. 3 starter from last season, will also probably find a new team. The Cards are relying on a huge financial commitment being made to Holliday (which, when paired with the impending extension they’ll have to dish out to Albert Pujols, will cripple the team’s flexibility for years,) the ability of Brad Penny to replace Pineiro’s effectiveness, and the hopes that Ryan Franklin can maintain a ridiculously, unsustainably low ERA for most of the season like he did in ’09. If everything goes right, they *could* compete with the Phillies for NL supremacy.
- The Dodgers haven’t made any notable moves to improve their team. Randy Wolf, the de facto ace of the 2009 squad, left for Milwaukee. Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley are still somewhat raw, but, in all honesty, Kershaw has been inconsistent and Billingsley simply doesn’t look like he’s the pitcher everyone thought he’d be. Manny Ramirez and Casey Blake are a year older, Hiroki Kuroda is a year less healthy, Russell Martin is declining faster, offensively and defensively, than any other major leaguer, and James Loney hasn’t developed much at the plate. Tons of uncertainty.
- I outlined the strides Atlanta has made this offseason, but if they don’t sign Jason Bay or break the bank for Holliday, the Javier Vazquez trade will look awful. If it turns out that Frank Wren traded his ace for a league-average outfielder, prospects, and the ability to sign Troy Glaus, I’m taking back every nice word I said about him. Billy Wagner, Takashi Saito, and Glaus all come with injury concerns, and, while I think the Braves will be the NL wildcard winner in 2010, it’s hard to imagine them challenging the Phillies with the team they would field as of December 25.
- Mets fans must be going out of their minds right now. Bay and Bengie Molina have each asked for too many years and too much money, the team missed out on John Lackey and Randy Wolf, and it seems like every signing Omar Minaya is making is just to prove that he’s still alive. Chris Coste? Henry Blanco? R.A. Dickey? Great job, Omar. Problem solved!
- The Cubs are a financial mess. They have aging, underachieving sluggers, an extremely wild closer, a volatile ace, and no legitimate way out.
- The Rockies could be just as dangerous as they were last year, or they could be just as pitiful as they were in 2008. The “genius” of Jim Tracy won’t impact the schizophrenia of this team as much as it did in 2009.
What do all of those teams have in common?
- A ton of question marks,
- Signs of regression, and
- That apprehensive anticipation that we all felt prior to 2007.
This is not to say that there aren’t question marks with the Phillies, or that they’re a lock to repeat as National League champions, but let’s face the facts: the Phils were an already deadly team that used November and December to replace a great starting pitcher with the best in the game, add a consistent bat to stabilize the seven- (or two-) hole, and give a tired Cole Hamels enough time to rest and regroup.
Much of the apprehensiveness is gone, but the anticipation remains. Only, it’s turned into absolute edge-of-your-seat excitement.
But more importantly, and more fulfillingly, it’s been replaced with realistic expectations of greatness.