With expectations all over the map for the 2014 Phillies, I will attempt to match up some songs with the varied expectations for the Phillies. Today’s song, Goin’ Down to Laurel by Steve Forbert, is about the resigned optimist, the blues signer that carries on their day with a smile.
As some may know, I am an avid yard saler, searching for bargains on numerous things, including vinyl records. One of my favorite vinyl finds was the debut album of folk-rock artist Steve Forbert. Forbert was one of the last of of a run of folkies that had been labeled “the Next Bob Dylan”. Forbert was a thoughtful young man from Meridian, Mississippi that would succeed almost in spite of the tag, hitting it big with his 1980 tune Romeo’s Tune. Previous to Romeo’s Tune was his 1977 debut album, Alive on Arrival.
A masterwordsmith, Forbert was careful in his selection of his words on the record’s opening track, Goin’ Down to Laurel. Laurel, MS, the town referenced in the song, was founded as a lumber town in the 1880s and many of its residents (28.9%) struggle with poverty. But that matters not to Forbert, who is returning to his home state. This song is for the resigned optimist, a category I believe Ruben Amaro Jr. and many fans, including myself, fit in to. This song is a reminder that professional baseball is fun, the Phillies are fun, and that baseball, no matter how bad, is something we all love. As Steve Forbert says “love’s a funny state of mind”.
This year will be full of reserved, yet wild and crazy, moments, which is sort of how the offseason went. I chose this song to kick of the series because Forbert’s lens of youth gives an honest depiction of the situation he is headed into. For the first time in the last three seasons, Amaro is giving his most honest assessment of the situation and there are some parallels between Forbert’s Mississippi and Amaro’s Phillies. Despite his honest approach, Amaro’s guarded and cautious optimism still comes through in his interviews.
After all: every Spring brings hope eternal. That’s the saying, right?
For your listening pleasure, here is the Forbert tune. I encourage you to pick up any of his albums. They are fantastic. Following the song, there are some lyrics and my interpretation of how it all fits together with the 2014 season.
Well everybody here, seems to like to laugh
Look at Johnny jivin’ across the floor
He can play the fool and make a few mistakes
But all the same he’ll never be a bore
I’m glad to be so young talkin’ with my tongue
Glad to be so careless in my way
Glad to take a chance and play against the odds
Glad to be so crazy in my day
On Opening Day, everyone has a chance to win the pennant. And win, lose, or draw, I’m looking forward to Jimmy Rollins‘ smiling, Chase Utley scowling, and Cliff Lee making everything look as effortless as possible. And as weird as this sounds, I am happy to be able to see grown men in polyester outfits with red pinstripes play baseball for real for the first time in six months. There’s some comfort in seeing Rollins, Carlos Ruiz, and Ben Revere having a good time on the field and we can expect some mistakes.
As old as the Phillies have grown, and as unfashionable it is to choose them to make the playoffs, there is youth worth watching on this team. Expect a healthy Revere to have a career year in center field. Third baseman Cody Asche, just 23 years old, will have a shot at locking down a spot as the team’s everyday third baseman. Domonic Brown, just 26, will attempt to have his first, full healthy season in left field and various members of the young bullpen look to continue to improve on good 2013 campaigns, including Antonio Bastardo, Justin De Fratus, Jake Diekman, and B.J. Rosenberg.
It, too, will be exciting to see how the Phillies’ big offseason gambles paid off. Is A.J. Burnett still the front-line pitcher he morphed back into in 2012 and 2013 with the Pittsburgh Pirates? Which Marlon Byrd (.210/.235/.243 in 2012 v. .291/.336/.511 in 2013) will be playing right field for the Phillies? And was it the right move to keep veterans Ruiz and Utley on the team instead of looking to rebuild?
Well I’m goin’ down to Laurel
It’s a dirty stinkin’ town yeah
But me I know exactly
What I’m going to find
Little girl I’m goin’ to see
She is a fool for lovin’ me
But she’s in love
And love’s a funny state of mind
Everyone has heard the projections: second-worst in baseball at ESPN and a Las Vegas sports book has them at 76.5 wins, good enough for sixth-worst in baseball. But the grass is green and there is no sweeter sound than the crack of the bat and the smack of the ball hitting the catcher’s mitt. Citizen’s Bank Park is still one of the finest ballparks in all of baseball and just got better with new food options. I may be a fool for paying to see a team that on any given night could start Wil Nieves, Jayson Nix, and Tony Gwynn Jr. with Jeff Manship on the mound, but love is unconditional and makes you do irrational things. There are very few things I love more than Philles’ baseball in the summer time.
Well what was that you said when you had a tear
Rolling down your cheek the other night
I couldn’t catch it all there’s something going wrong
I hope you got it straightened out alright
Everything’s so loud and everything’s so fast
I hear your brother married once again
Yeah, the best of luck and all and try to have some fun
They tell me this great life can always end
This season has the potential to be the year the band finally breaks up. Like Aerosmith or KISS, the guys have lost a step and you hesitate just a little bit more before you buy a ticket because you are afraid they might fall off the stage or light themselves on fire. But you know that even though they’ll play more of their new stuff more often (for Ryan Howard, more strikeouts), they will still play their greatest hits every once in a while (is there anything better than Howard homer off the ivy?).
Even though I am pretty sure this team risks losing 100 games this season, I am rooting for the veterans. There have been various window metaphors used to describe this incarnation of the team, inclusive of the veterans: is it closed? is it shut? Well, here’s another one: it needs to have a better launch than Windows Vista or else it is doomed. And doomed may mean the end of Cliff Lee or Cole Hamels as Phillies, their only tradeable, non-prospect commodities.
The chorus comes through once more here with a harmonica solo before heading to:
I’m smilin’ from a car, I’m goin’ for a drive
Feel the whistle blowin’ breeze gone flying by
Mirror’s on the moon, echo in the sun
See just a touch of madness in my eye
Please don’t mention rain, please don’t talk of trains
Please don’t mention buildings burnin’ down
Everybody here, seems to like to laugh
Either step in time or just don’t hang around
Is there anything better than hitting no traffic on the way to CBP with your windows down because you’re too cheap to pay for air conditioning? Or smelling hot dogs on the concourse when you are walking up to your nosebleed seat? Or seeing a full moon rise over center field as the young bullpen closes out a win for the Phillies?
Those things, during this season, and every other, will make you believe. They will make you believe the Phillies have a chance to compete, a chance to do the improbable. You may feel the madness and say things like “That’s it: the Phillies are winning the World Series this year!”.
For now, for Opening Day, we won’t bring up the negative. Instead, we focus on the hope that Spring brings to this old, seemingly-broken down Phillies team. For at least one day, we can all share in the belief that the Phillies have a chance to compete once again. So even though I think this team may lose close to 100 games, for Opening Day, they’re a World Series favorite. As Steve Forbert says as he sends it to the final chorus: “Either step in time or just don’t hang around.”
Opening Week Soundtrack Line-Up:
Monday: Goin’ Down to Laurel – Steve Forbert
Tuesday: The Way – Fastball
Wednesday: Marie Provost – Nick Lowe
Thursday: Harborcoat – R.E.M.
Friday: Hold Back the Night – Philly originals, The Trammps