As the old song goes, “I’m sitting here a thinking about those Philadelphia Phillies and some may think I’m talking ’bout baseball.” Like so many Philadelphians, I spend far too much of my time and energy concerned with the fate of our boys of summer. But, while I am still mourning for the 2012 Phillies, I join so many other fans in hope for the future of our team—and our city.
One might look at this fall from baseball grace as a testament to the maxim that what goes up must come down, but any Phillies fan sees the end of these glory days with dread, knowing that what comes down may not rise again for decades. But, despite the understanding that the odds may not be so good, we are firmly convinced that if we “wait till next year,” we may be rewarded with success. So it is with our fair city.
In my collection of sports memorabilia, I display a sheet of unused 1964 World Series tickets. As any fan knows, the Phillies were all but certainly headed for the World Series that year for the first time since 1950. So sure was the team, that World Series tickets were printed in anticipation of the Fall Classic. An epic collapse and heartbreak later, the team was on the outside looking in and the Phillies would not return to compete in baseball’s championship series until 1980.
I keep those tickets prominently placed in my sports shrine even though they pre-date my Phillies memories, not only because they were handed down to me by my father, but because they represent all that is wonderful and terrible about being a Philadelphian. Those cardboard tickets are tangible proof that Philadelphia teeters on the edge of greatness and despair every day—that ours is a city that survives and endures setbacks that would doom a lesser place.
Those tickets symbolize the masked optimism that Philadelphians share that, despite all the evidence that defeat is far more likely than victory—and oh, how that evidence piles up around us each year—ours is a city of hope.
We may use our defeatist brand of gallows humor to show the world that we are prepared for the worst, but we always believe that the best can come. It is that oh-so-Philadelphia mix of chip-on-our-shoulder and inferiority complex, the mix of pride and shame, that gives us the complicated civic character that holds us back from boldly charging into a bright future, but also prevents us from falling into complete despair that has claimed lesser cities.
Our faults are well documented, but surmountable. Recent ethics reforms prove that the “corrupt and contented” epithet need not be an epitaph. Locally produced blueprints to reform our high and unfair taxes wait to be implemented. Cities across the nation are demonstrating that it is possible to reduce crime and poverty in urban areas. Oh, and investing in relievers throughout the bullpen instead of breaking the bank for a single closer can cut down on the number of baseball games lost in the late innings.
Philadelphia is a city of strong bones and deep roots. Buoyed by an expanding Center City, census numbers show growth. Universities and medical institutions across the city are building and investing in neighborhoods. Increasing numbers of craft manufacturers and creative/technical workers are re-invigorating shuttered facilities. Cultural organizations are attracting visitors and enhancing city life.
Make no mistake: My shelves are full of trinkets that celebrate the Phillies’ triumphs, testament to the certainty that “next year” does eventually arrive. But those “phantom” tickets from the World Series the Phillies never reached sit as silent witness to the fact that we can recover from our deepest despair. Philadelphia is strong and tough and never defeated. Our city motto—Philadelphia Maneto—compels us with its meaning, “Let Brotherly Love Continue.”
Philadelphia survived the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793, the Nativist Riots in 1844, and the collapse of the ’64 Phillies. We will certainly survive this down season and all of our current challenges. The only question will be whether we can do more than survive and truly thrive into the future.