Phillies 2003: My First Team
The 2003 Phillies were the first one I really followed. It was the start of the Jim Thome era. I spent all of March learning how to pronounce the star first baseman’s last name. I was eight years old, how was I supposed to know the “H” was silent? (My mom likes to make fun of me because Placido Polanco wasn’t the easiest name for a kid to pronounce either.)
I was fortunate. Born in 1995, I didn’t exactly understand what I was watching when watching the Phillies until around 2001. I never had to experience the heartbreak of losing team after losing team. By 2003, I understood how to read a box score and follow players, and I was hooked.
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It was also the year that the Phillies finally began to contend. Larry Bowa had put together a winning squad. Led by fan favorites in Thome, Jimmy Rollins, Pat Burrell and Bobby Abreu, the Phillies were actually competitive in the NL East division race.
I still remember one week in July of that season when I got to watch every single game for seven straight days. See, I grew up without cable, which meant no Comcast SportsNet. The only times I got to watch the games were when they were on Channel 57, or when I was visiting at my grandparents’ house.
In the second or third week of July, I participated in my first year at the Phillies Baseball Academy, a summer camp that was hosted by the team at locations around Southern New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.
The Padilla Flotilla celebrated each time pitcher Vicente Padilla took the mound
Every day I would lace up my cleats, put on my red uniform, and go out to learn that I was terrible at playing the game of baseball. Every night I would come back to my grandparents’ house, sit on the edge of their bed, and become immersed in the game of baseball.
It turned out to be an exciting year for the Phillies. Looking back, that year was the first time Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins played together. It was the year that Jim Thome led the majors with 47 homers. It was the year of the “Padilla Flotilla”, a fan club for pitcher Vicente Padilla that remains to this day my favorite fan support group. (Coming in a close second is Randy Wolf’s “Wolf Pack.”)
And sadly, that also would be the final season for Veterans Stadium, a stadium that still holds a special place in my heart because it’s where I witnessed my first baseball game.
Though the team faded in September to finish 5 games behind the eventual World Series champion Florida Marlins for the NL Wildcard, that 2003 season was the start of a new generation and a new tradition of winning for the Phillies that would continue through 2011. It was a time when longtime Phillies fans could finally break out of the depression of the decade that followed after “The Dude” and “Dutch” and the magical 1993 team.
But I didn’t know all this drama and history at that time. I was just an eight year old kid trying to pronounce Jim Thome and learning to love the Philadelphia Phillies. And it all began with that 2003 club, the first Phillies team that I ever followed.