Fourth and Twenty-Six: The boys are back in town

Henry Bushnell ’13

The flags out in centerfield ripple in the wind. The scent of greasy ballpark food maneuvers its way throughout the concourse. The perfectly nurtured, lush green grass just sits there and waits, with an air of expectancy.

The sea of blue seats gradually begins to turn red. The empty dugout starts to buzz with anticipation. The grounds crew exits stage right following the completion of its priceless work of art.

A restless animal, confined throughout the winter, is set free as the season’s first pitch punctures the catcher’s glove. The umpire’s call is meaningless; the result of the game played over the next three hours is (relatively) meaningless. And even moments later, when that animal — the baseball fan in all of us — moans and groans, as Kyle Kendrick gives up his first of many bombs, or when Ryan Howard flails at a 1-2 slider in the dirt, it can only mean one thing:

The boys are back. Our boys are back.

Phillies baseball is back in town. In that single moment of realization, nothing else matters. The team’s deficiencies are non-existent. Our nation’s economy is problem-free, that argument you had with a friend just a few hours earlier never happened, and your need for a bathroom vanishes.

On opening day, everyone’s a winner. All 30 clubs are in first place. All 30 have reasons for excitement, and reasons for hope. And all 30, from the Houston Astros to the Detroit Tigers, believe that it can be their year — no, rather, that it will be their year. And there’s no better example of that than the attitude of Philadelphia fans.

Every single fan, whether young or old, passionate or casual, knowledgeable or clueless, believes. Some believe that Ryan Howard will hit 40 homers. Some are sure that Chase Utley will stay healthy and return to all-star form. Some are confident that last season was a fluke, and Roy Halladay is still a man amongst boys. But every single one believes that the Phillies can parade down Broad Street in late October.

So the question is: are these beliefs justified? Are Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Michael Young capable of playing like their 28-year-old selves? Could the starting rotation be the best in baseball? Could a refurbished bullpen hold onto enough leads to reclaim the division crown? Is Charlie Manuel smart enough to prove his doubters wrong?

There are very logical arguments that would say that the answer to every one of those questions is a resounding “no.” In fact, any thoughts to the contrary may be viewed as irrational.

But nothing in baseball is a sure thing. In a game where luck fluctuates at such a high rate, and determines the outcomes of so many games, skepticism should always reign: skepticism bred from the bad bounces of the previous year, skepticism born from your team’s tendency to leave runners on base in big spots, to blow ninth inning leads, and to come up short in October.

But maybe, just maybe, these trends won’t continue, and this year everything will be different. On Opening Day, yesterday’s skepticism is today’s hope.

So is Dom Brown’s spring really the precursor to a breakout year? Will Carlos Ruiz repeat his monster 2012 campaign after returning from suspension? Will Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee combine to win 40 games?

You might be answering “no” in your head; but on opening day, the correct answer is “nobody knows”, and “who cares?” Because baseball is back, and as I’m writing this, there’s no doubt in my mind that the Phillies are going to win the World Series.