Phillies Fans Are Ready for the Playoffs

I can't wait for my bootleg t-shirt

What I remember is the bootleg t-shirt. Actually, no, I remember more. I remember walking off the subway and getting a phone call that the Mets were down seven runs in the first inning. I remember a parking attendant screaming “Let’s go win us a championship!” I remember Ryan Howard’s single down the right field line that gave the Phillies a 3-0 lead, the huge cheers when Jimmy Rollins capped off his MVP season with his 20th triple, chanting “Team to beat!” with strangers in the upper levels of Citizens Bank Park.

But the bootleg t-shirt! That was the best. I was leaving the stadium with my friend Johnny, drunk off the excitement of the Phillies’ first division title since I was 10. We wondered aloud where the bootleg t-shirts were. The Phillies were going to the playoffs! I wanted to buy an instant reminder of that fact, and I didn’t want it to be officially licensed.

I thought our cries were going to go unheeded, but when we reached the subway, a guy shuffled up to us. “Yo, you looking for t-shirts?” he said. We nodded our heads vigorously. He looked around nervously as if he were selling us drugs and reached down, lifting up one of his pant legs. “I got t-shirts.” They were wrapped around his leg. We each bought one, a quickly made mess that reads “2007 NL EAST DIVISION CHAMPIONS.” I still wear it to games sometimes. Somehow it hasn’t faded.

It’s hard, now, to imagine a Philadelphia that’s not awash in bootleg t-shirts. Unlicensed shirt jerseys are sold near the Clothespin permanently. People hawk them in the parking lots at games along with pretzels and water and nitrous. The Internet has many, many Phillies blogs, and they all sell t-shirts that possibly violate someone’s copyright.

We put on our then-hard-to-find Phillies shirts and rode the subway to Walnut, where friends of ours were already in the median celebrating. The four of us turned into 40. Hands reached out of cars for high-fives as they stopped at the light on Broad Street. Vince Fumo went by in a fancy SUV a few times. People chanted “Whoomp! (There It Is),” the Phillies theme when they last won the division 14 years earlier.

A lot has changed for the Phillies since that division-clinching win four years ago today. The Phillies are now essentially a television show that’s awesome every night. TV shows that air every day are awful; not the Phillies. Not the Phillies. They won 63 percent of the time this year.

Even when they lose, there are reasons to watch; the theater of sports is more than the players on the field. There used to be so much room in the 700 Level at the Vet we’d play tag. Now Citizens Bank Park is full every night; the stadium has joined Rittenhouse Square and Atlantic City as the best people-watching places in the area. Phillies fans dot the stands when the team is on the road in Washington, Pittsburgh, even San Diego. HD cameras mean every stupid, hilarious fan antic is captured in the background. People crack jokes on Twitter about the team nonstop. Even the commercials—Steak ‘Em Up’s 10-years-too-late “Wassup” knockoff, Not Just Pizza’s 20-years-too-late “OPP” parody—are amazing.

The Phillies were awful for most of my life, and so I learned to take joy out of pieces of the game: A singularly good play, a funny announcer comment, a fan in the stands who’s a little too into it, a Phanatic sketch that hits (or misses) the mark. Baseball games have “a kind of picnic feeling,” George Carlin wrote, and that is what made watching the Phillies enjoyable.

My favorite baseball memories rarely have to do with a play: sneaking into the Vet with my uncle, screaming with my mom and everyone in the crowd before Game 4 of the 1993 World Series, calling Doug Glanville’s walkoff homer at the first game I took my dad to at CBP, driving home joking about how bad the team was after we saw the Reds set a record for home runs in a game, sitting in my living room with my best friends during Game 1 of the 2009 World Series and barely having to pay attention to the game because it was so clear the Phillies were going to win. Once on his birthday the Phanatic couldn’t parachute into the stadium because of high winds, and a second Phanatic came in from the first base line; it is still the funniest thing I have ever seen. (Maybe you had to be there.)

The 2011 Phillies gave us the best record in baseball, the most wins in team history with 102. But they gave me 102,000 memories of watching games with friends, debating the game with strangers at bars, cracking stupid jokes on Twitter. I didn’t always have a lot of people to share Phillies memories with. Now they’re good, and I get to share them with all of Philadelphia.

If the Phillies don’t win the World Series, it will be heartbreaking. But it won’t take away the memories of this amazing year. Of course, that shouldn’t happen. The Phillies are likely to win it all, and the bootleg t-shirts will be plentiful.