My First Team: 2014 Phillies

oliverfisher
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Having followed the Philadelphia Phillies in a distant sense since about 2008, I took the plunge into becoming a ‘phanatic’ ahead of the 2014 season. Baseball had always been a real passion of mine, but it had its limitations being an overseas fan, as I discussed in my piece about becoming a Phillies fan.

Nevertheless, those limitations and difficulties added to the journey and to my own baseball experience. Catching radio broadcasts of any day games was part of what made it so special, and it was usually the Cubs who I heard the most. I could easily be writing this about my first Cubs team.

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However, there was something about the Phillies that drew me in. The city, the fans, the passion, the players that are loved and respected by the people, the way the teams from all four (maybe five if you include the Union) intertwine and become entangled in an amazing sporting community.

Philly sports had  captured my imagination, and when the 2014 baseball season came along and I’d had enough of watching every team, I decided to become a Phillies fan. So yes, that’s right, the first Phillies team I properly watched as “my team” was last years squad.

Dead last in the NL East with 89 losses. It was a demoralizing season to almost everyone from Philadelphia. Ryan Howard, the giant, appears to have finally fallen. Domonic Brown can’t stay productive. We have no offense. We have little starting pitching. Amaro must go. All these were themes of 2014, which added to the drama and intensity of my first season.

In truth, I think the thing that made the season bizarrely enjoyable for me was that it was all a new experience. For once, I could connect with fans and share my opinions about that particular team, rather than just having a vague understanding of whatever team was on the free radio game that day.

I became engrossed in the statistics, however negative, and began searching for the positives. Like many other Phillies fans, I was still trying to enjoy the game during a tough season.

Regardless of this, there were a few defining moments in the season that really encapsulated the spirit of the team. Look hard enough and every team has those upturns over the course of 162 games. When its your own team, and you see that group of guys out there celebrating, it’s a feeling like no other.

Opening Day is a great example of this, a symbol of hope for the most hardened baseball fans. A fresh start, a clean slate, and the Phillies were quick to make it an interesting beginning thanks to Jimmy Rollins, who hit a grand slam for his 200th career homer.

We led 6-0 on Opening Day 2014, then trailed 7-6 thanks to a terrible start from Cliff Lee. But in the end, we prevailed 14-10 thanks to Marlon Byrd and Cody Asche homering later in the game. We were one win and zero losses to start the season, and it felt amazing.

The 12-1 dismantling of Cincinnati, the losing streaks, the rare winning streaks, and before you know it the season had settled into a gentle but disappointing lull by June when the team fell to full 10 games under the mediocre .500 mark.

The team lost on my birthday, August 14th (which with the time difference in the UK was technically when we played and lost to the Angels by 4-3.) If that doesn’t sum it all up, then what does?

On August 10th, the Phillies were 6-1 down against the Mets at Citizens Bank Park heading into the bottom of the 6th. What followed was enough to give you chills and make the hairs on your neck stand up. Two runs in the 6th, two more in the 7th, and most importantly two in the 9th meant we won the game. The final two came courtesy of a Ryan Howard walk-off. It was a dramatic comeback against our biggest rivals, and it was possibly the sweetest victory of the year.

My favorite players became Cole Hamels, who had an impressive year despite the completely embarrassing run support he received, and strangely Ryan Howard. All the negative media attention he was getting really made me feel for him. Rewind just a couple of seasons, and everyone was talking about how much of a positive influence he was for the team.

Cole Hamels won’t come as a surprise to most people. He was stellar, and was the only hope for consistency on the pitching staff (apart from those who were consistently bad.) His 9-9 record despite an impressive 2.46 ERA through 30 starts made him easily the best performer on the team.

There was something about the way Cole made things look effortless, strolling through the opposing line-up, retiring the most challenging of hitters. It really felt like if we could muster two runs on offense we had the game locked down.

The Big Piece became a favorite player during Oli Fisher’s first season

(Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)

On the other hand, Ryan Howard will surprise a lot of people. The thing about Ryan is, although he can be the most frustrating hitter in the world sometimes, striking out 190 times last year, he does some things that remind you why he is a true Phillie legend.

For starters, Howard finished 4th in the NL RBI count, something not to be sniffed at, and furthermore he had 216 total bases. This was more than his last two injury-affected seasons.

He led the league in strikeouts, which could be infuriating. Yet he also had that walkoff against the Mets as aforementioned on August 10th, and on May 31st he became the fastest player in MLB history to reach 1,000 RBIs. I just can’t hate him, no matter what he does!

Prospects became the center of attention even before the halfway mark, and we all turned to the next breed of potential heroes. Franco, Crawford, Nola later on, it all added to excitement for the future, and distracted from the day-in day-out mediocrity the MLB side were putting on as their own show.

Who knows what my second season will bring. I am hopeful it will be better and there will be more happy moments, but part of me is realistic and doesn’t expect anything big. You certainly can’t call me a bandwagon fan!

A disappointing season, so very different from the seasons of the late 2000s, but special in many ways to me. Here’s to you, the 2014 Philadelphia Phillies. As they say, good or bad, you never forget your first.

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