The Philadelphia Phillies coverage staff here at TBOH welcomes Johnathan Town to the team as he presents our traditional look at the first club he followed.
When the Phillies won the 2008 World Series, I was just nine years old, and simply hadn’t followed the team as closely as many others.
The first Phils team that I followed in-depth would be the defending world champions, the dynamic 2009 NL Championship squad.
Seeing that ’08 championship trophy hoisted at Citizens Bank Park awoke a baseball passion that has since never quelled. In ’09, now in a ripe, double-digit age, I was prepared to devour the Phillies and everything they did.
Most of the championship core was back in 2009. Cole Hamels, Jamie Moyer, and Joe Blanton were joined in the rotation by a 26-year old lefty rookie named J.A. Happ. In the bullpen, Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson were a strong 1-2 punch.
The offensive attack was still fearsome, with Ryan Howard hitting 45 homers with 141 RBI, Jimmy Rollins hitting 21 homers and stealing 31 bases, Chase Utley banging 31 homers, knocking in 93, and scoring 112 times.
But there were a handful of other players, a couple who had not been a part of the previous year’s title team, who would become real favorites.
Chants of “Rauuuuuuuuuuul” defined the first part of the 2009 season at Citizens Bank Park, and I got a Raul Ibanez shirsey after watching him destroy baseballs through the MLB All-Star break.
Those 2009 Phillies moved into first place in the NL East on May 29th with the first of what would become seven straight wins. Manager Charlie Manuel‘s squad would never give up that lead, en route to a 3rd straight division crown.
On July 15th, the Phils signed free agent starting pitcher Pedro Martinez, a sure-fire future Hall of Famer, further solidifying the rotation. But another deal two weeks later would be the true difference maker.
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When the Phillies dealt for starting pitcher Cliff Lee from the Cleveland Indians just before the trade deadline in late July, I knew it was only a matter of time before the team would be chasing after another World Series ring.
Lee was my favorite Phillies player, but since I couldn’t pitch to save my life, I had to find another player to impersonate while I played baseball
That player was right fielder Jayson Werth, which made sense considering that on my baseball team, I batted behind the cleanup hitter, played in the outfield, and had a full beard (I may be lying about the last part).
The acquisition of Lee was huge, and it lit a fire under everyone’s butt that carried the club to the end of the regular season. By the time September rolled around, I had been to multiple games and enjoyed them with an intense fervor only a fifth grader can provide.
I was glued to the television for each and every moment as the Phils fought past the Colorado Rockies and the Los Angeles Dodgers in the playoffs. Watching the postseason got me even more pumped, as each game got the team closer to another championship.
When the return trip to the World Series finally came, all I could do was debate Yankees fans and wait patiently for the opening pitch.
With masterful performances in Game One at Yankee Stadium, I fully believed Lee and Utley could carry the team the rest of the way.
Despite Utley crushing baseballs into the night in South Philly and in the Bronx, the Phillies’ reliance on the long ball would prove to be their demise, and they ultimately faltered, losing the series in six games
I still distinctly remember the long trek from my basement to my bedroom as I had to comprehend the fact that my unbeatable Phillies had actually lost.
While the Phillies lost the World Series, my passion for the team was secured, and it then perpetuated in 2010 and beyond, right up to today.
When Lee rejoined the team in 2011 to form the “Four Aces”, I again felt that same Phillies baseball fever. Even though that team also faltered and sputtered in the playoffs, I can say that I enjoyed the journey with that record 102-win team thoroughly.
WIth a young core now taking shape in Philadelphia and in our minor league system, my excitement is building up yet again to watch as the team rebuilds and pursues another World Series championship.