Seat-of-the-pants frontrunner


What do you cretins want, back-to-back division titles?

The long-suffering, occasionally short-sighted fans of the City of Brotherly Love’s mercurial baseball team are seething with rage and dreaming whimsically of full-scale rebellion.
The bloggers are breathless, and their irate devotees are hurling invectives across cyberspace with the incendiary quality of Molotov cocktails.
They were mad enough when the Phillies lost three in a row to the Dodgers and fell into a tie for first-place in the National League East.
But now comes MVP shortstop Jimmy Rollins, in an appearance with teammate Ryan Howard on that damn sports show, calling the notoriously troubled fans of Philadelphia “frontrunners.”
Then, apparently stealing a line from Montaigne, he derided Phillies fans as “the mother of ignorance, injustice and inconstancy.”
Mon dieu!
Rollins did more than impugn the already dubious name of the Fanaticus Philadelphiensis. Apparently unsure they possessed the sensitivy to feel the sting of his barb, he went so far as to say that Phillies fans are a whole lot worse than St. Louis Cardinals fans.
Ouch.
It’s really hard to know whom to side with in this escalating love-hate affair.
Let’s take a look at their respective cases:
First, the fans:
Say what you will about their poor table manners and judgmental natures, Phillies fans have been showing up at the ballpark in numbers that tend to support that beloved aphorism, erroneously attributed to Phineas T. Barnum, that suckers tend to reproduce at an alarming level.
The Phillies rank fifth in the major leagues in fans per game and are on pace to draw more than 4 millions broken-hearted losers to Citizens Bank Park this season, shattering franchise attendance records. They drew more than 3 million last year, when the Phillies needed an epic collapse by the Mets to become something approximating a frontrunner.
And this probably is arguing over semantics, but it is hard to imagine Phillies fans as literal frontrunners. Their team has won a single World Series in 105 years, and they existed for 20 years before the World Series was born. They remain the only major league franchise to accumulate the staggering figure of 10,000 losses. A legion of Phillies fans have known little else but disappointment.

As for Rollins’ preference for Cardinals fans, we’ll introduce potentially mitigating evidence in support of their Philadelphia counterparts.
Cardinals fans, if more good-natured than Phillies fans, have some cause to be well-adjusted. The Cards have won 10 World Series to the Phillies one, and 17 National League pennants to the Phils’ five. They even won four straight American Association titles in the 1880s. The Phillies never won a National League crown in those fallow years prior to the dawn of the World Series.
Now for Jimmy:
Well, it has been a rough season for the increasingly maligned shortstop. He’s making only $8 million this season, just a fraction more than deposed starting pitcher Adam Eaton gets. The fans aren’t booing Eaton, either. At least not now. Of course, he’s pitching in Reading for the franchise’s Double-A affiliate.
But, when you consider their respective salaries, and what with Jimmy being the reigning National League MVP and all, you can see where he might get to feeling ill-used and unappreciated.
What’s more, fans have been raining boos down upon him with a vengeance and flaying him viciously in the blogosphere.
He’s been benched twice by manager Charlie Manuel this season, once for not running out a pop fly and once for showing up late for a game at Shea Stadium.
After the not-running-out-the-pop-fly incident, fans on one blog went so far as to give him the malicious nickname “J-Stroll.”
Hey, you’d be angry too, if you got punished for niggling offenses that should only apply to non-MVP winners.
The verdict:
First, a confession.
That I am a Phillies fan is an accident of birth. I moved 3,000 miles away, thinking I could outrun their perennial failures. I succeeded for many years, until their sudden return to prominence resusciitated my interest.
Therefore, I cop to the charges Rollins leveled.
I’m a dyed-in-the-wool frontrunner.
It’s excruciating enough to follow this team when they’re in or about contention. It’s plain masochism when they’re bad.
I used to fancy myself as a quasi-intelligent creature.
Now I find myself seething when Chase Utley grounds into a double play with the bases loaded and one out in a tie game, and angrily threatening to forswear my allegiance when Ryan Howard strikes out with the go-ahead run on third and fewer than two outs.
I know when these ephemeral events occur because, in the age of the Internet, it is too easy to keep tabs on games taking place on the other side of the world.
And so I neglect my work, impulsively clicking onto ESPN.com’s gamecasts to keep inning-by-inning tabs on my forlorn favorites.
It gets worse.
On more than one Sunday I’ve sat hunched over my home keyboard, my infant son sleeping on my shoulder as the summer sun shines outside, huddling in the semi-darkness, clicking the “refresh” icon and following the action in halting fashion.
When the gamecast was not fast enough, I began to consult a fan blog, gleaning the team’s latest successes and pratfalls from the relief and vitriol of posters watching the game on TV thousands of miles away.
There must be more than this to life.
Sure, I don’t get you Jimmy Rollins and your seeming lack of urgency when it comes to a season that is fast slipping away from the Phillies. First you dismiss your fans, then you go 0-for-5 and strikes out twice in another frustrating defeat.
But I get less why I should be so consumed by his successes and failures, and that of his teammates, his coaches and the team’s front-office personnel.
If I’m stupid enough to fritter away my fleeting time on such a trivial obsession, I shouldn’t get bent out of shape when the object of my obsession calls me a frontrunner.
What’s more, he’s right.
I’m a frontrunner.
A fairweather fan.
A poor excuse for a human being.
A despicable, pathetic, cowardly wretch.
Mea culpa, Jimmy Rollins.
Mea culpa.

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