I hate the Phillies.
Don’t get me wrong—I am a diehard Philly fan, but the love-hate venom of pained fandom runs through my veins. And not the apply-a-tourniquet, get-him-to-the-hospital type venom, either. We’re talking about the “oh, a little bit splashed in her eye, we might as well leave her for dead” type venom. When I think about the Phillies, all I want to do is boo. I wasn’t alive yet when Santa Claus was booed at an Eagles game, but right now, I would boo just about anything on the field at Citizens Bank Park short of Christ on the Cross.
How did it come to this? Phandom predates my first memory. I care more about the Phillies than the Flyers, Sixers and even the Eagles. When I was little, I spent a week at Phillies baseball camp and got some guy I’d never heard of to autograph a ball for me because he had played on a Phillies farm team. Sure, it’s the kind of fervor only a little kid could have, but it left its mark nonetheless—I may bleed Hoya Blue, but throughout my entire life I’ve breathed, eaten and vomited Phillies red.
Down here in Buenos Aires, I don’t see much of the Phillies. I missed opening day altogether because I was traveling through Patagonia, and for a brief moment felt as if I had slept through Christmas morning. On Monday, with classes cancelled due to a general teacher strike, I got the Phever so badly that I dropped almost 100 bones to stream Phillies games over the internet for the season—a task this country’s internet service didn’t entirely prove equal to. Still, I was able to settle back and listen to the radio broadcast, and left my apartment in the 7th inning feeling comfortable with 5-3 lead over the Mets. Then I made the obligatory final score check when I came back that night: 11-5, Mets. Trade them. Trade them all. (And thank God for 5-day free trials. I’m getting my hundo back).
The contrast with my other great sports interest—the Hoyas—is vast. The year before I got to Georgetown, they were a once-proud powerhouse teetering on the verge of irrelevance. Now we’re in a new era of good feelings—the Sweet 16! The Final Four!—that makes you happy enough to explode (coating your dorm room in Hoya Blue blood). What’s more, they’re easy to love. Although I don’t know any of them, everyone in the program from the head coach to the players seems like a genuinely good guy, and the fan experience is genuine euphoria. It’s sports love.
Fate has placed me with an Argentine host family that is a fan of neither Boca Juniors nor River Plate—the Yankees and Red Sox of Argentine soccer—but Independiente, a team currently sputtering along fourth-from-last. Although the traditionally red-clad footballers have a proud history, they’ve become as painful to watch as my Phils. I explained my dilemma of trying to figure out why I keep investing some part of myself in baseball’s Titanic to my host father Manolo, hoping he would be able to understand where I’m coming from.
“Here in the Argentina,” he told me in Spanish, “they say there are two things you cannot choose: your mother, and your fútbol team.” He went on to explain that even if you want to be called something different from your given name, you can make it happen, but your favorite football club is implanted in you by your father before you even step on a field.
As I get older, sports fandom becomes more and more of a semi-ironic affair. Investing such time and emotion in the outcome of games between multi-millionaires is steeped in obvious ridiculousness, and while we all still have our favorite players, these guys have—or at least should have—stopped seeming like heroes long ago. But like Manolo implied, a favorite team is wrapped up in your identity maybe even more than your own name. Corny as it sounds, that team really is a part of you—and, beautifully, something you can openly share, even with complete strangers.
And maybe that’s why we boo-birds from Philadelphia confuse our feelings toward our sports teams so readily with hate. Their failure is our failure, and they’ll always be a part of us.