Wednesday started with a call to Jim Foster, women’s hoops coach of Ohio State and native of the greater Philadelphia area. Wednesday ended with me contemplating several things Philly.
The Phillies, of course, won their second World Series title, this one coming 28 years after the first. I grew up a Cardinals fan, and my Missouri allegiance had me rooting for the Royals in that 1980 World Series. (That, of course, preceded the 1985 “Show-Me State Civil War” World Series, after which I have not felt quite so charitable toward the Royals).
I certainly didn’t like the Phillies back then, but I didn’t really spend much energy hating them, either. But then a couple of things happened to flame some anti-Philly ire.
I moved to the East Coast, and was working at a newspaper in Virginia. An editor from the Philadelphia Inquirer phoned our sports desk about something, and I happened to take the call. He was checking to see if we’d covered an event and would move a story on the wire about it. And I simply couldn’t believe how rude he was.
To me, his speech patterns, tone and inflection all made him sound inexplicably hostile, sarcastic, smart-alecky and confrontational. I had no idea why he had spoken that way over what seemed so mundane a subject. I could understand sounding mad if there was some reason to be mad, because I’m known to have a temper myself (as I’ll prove in a few paragraphs). But this guy seemed mad for no reason at all. My sports editor, who was from Pittsburgh, passed by as I was relating this exchange to another co-worker.
“What in the world was wrong with that guy?” I said, shaking my baffled, Midwestern head. “There was nothing for him to be so angry about.”
My sports editor said, “Oh, no, I bet he wasn’t mad at all. You don’t understand. He’s from Philly. That’s just the way they talk. About everything. To everyone. All the time.”
Now, that is not exactly true. There no such thing as the way “all” people from Philly (or anywhere else) act or talk. However … that kind of brusque-sounding (again, to someone who grew up in Missouri) manner of speaking is something a fair amount of Philly folk have.
Then I made my first trip to Philly a few years later, in 1993, and have an embarrassing confession about that trip. I’d like to say I was 12 years old then, which might excuse my behavior, but I was in fact, uh, 28. At least I have the good sense to be ashamed of it.
Here’s what happened: The Cardinals were playing at Veterans Stadium. My friend Katy and I drove up from Virginia for two games, one at night followed by an afternoon game. The Cardinals got out to a 5-0 lead in the first game, which then they coughed up on the way to a loss.
As they surrendered the lead, my “better angel” as Mr. Obama might say, was nowhere to be found. My petulant, childish side, though, let loose a stream of common, immature expletives. I wasn’t even creative with the profanity.
Katy, who doesn’t “do” confrontation very well, gently whispered, “You might want to glance behind you when you get the chance.”
I not-so-covertly turned my head to see … a row of nuns.
I was still too mad at that point to be adequately chastened. But, after the game ended and the Phillies fans celebrated their victory, I thought, “Oh, jeez, how could I have been such a jerk?” and turned around to the nuns again.
“Sisters,” I said, “I apologize for my language earlier. I was a complete …”
I realized I was about to say a three-letter word starting with “a,” which would not exactly fit in with an apology about using profanity.
“… jerk, and I should not have acted like that.”
The nuns, to my great surprise, all smiled and said, “Don’t worry about it. We get really mad when the Phillies lose, too.”
They were, however, counterbalanced by some less-than-friendly Phillies fans who used even worse language than I had. They did so in reference to me (stupidly) wearing a Cardinals T-shirt. Suffice to say, I came away from the city 15 years ago feeling grouchy … enough so that I was quite pleased when Joe Carter and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Phillies in the World Series that fall.
But … truth is, I’ve failed to hold on to any lingering animosity toward the city or the Phillies themselves.
My pal Mel Greenberg, founder of the Associated Press women’s basketball poll, is from there. One of the iconic players in women’s hoops history, Dawn Staley – now coach at South Carolina _ is from Philly, too. So is UConn coach Geno Auriemma. I like all of them a lot.
And, let’s face it, I really can’t deny a longtime affection for the Phillie Phanatic (pictured above), the giant Muppet-like goofball who is the same color as a highly unfortunate choice of living-room shag carpeting made by my mother in the 1970s.
And Jim Foster is also from Philly. Funny story about him: A former sports writer I knew once confessed to being kind of “afraid” of Foster because he didn’t come into press conferences and start yacking about what happened in the game. He didn’t do opening statements but went right to questions and could be succinct with his answers.
I told my colleague there was nothing to fear from Foster. He just seriously wanted to make sure reporters had not been sitting there like lunkheads at their press-row seats but actually had paid attention to the game.
And, I added, he’s really a nice person … it’s just under that Philly exterior that we Midwesterners (which my colleague also was) sometimes misinterpret. (Yes, I’ve become the big expert on Philly people since my younger days in Virginia).
At any rate … back to Wednesday morning, I was talking to Coach Foster for a column I’ll be doing for ESPN.com’s upcoming women’s hoops preview, and then something else occurred to me. He’s always been the kind of coach who encourages his players to think about a lot more than just basketball. And so I asked if he thought there was more discussion about this presidential election among players than maybe had been the case in all his previous decades of coaching.
“I would say the most interesting dynamic about this election to me, relative to the players, is that they don’t really have a feel or understanding of the historical significance of this election,” he said. “Because they were raised in a much different world than we were. They are less judgmental, much less, in terms of race, gender, sexuality, etc.
“And so I don’t know if they view this as such a big deal as older people do. The idea that someone like Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton would have a legitimate chance to be president … if you go back 30 years in your mind, you just shake you head. Because it didn’t seem possible then. But (the players) can’t go back that far. They can barely go back 10 years. So I don’t really know if they understand the significance of what’s taken place the last couple of years.”
Interesting that he said, “30 years,” which is, of course, almost as long ago as the last Phillies World Series title. But here’s something else to consider: That championship came before there was an NCAA Tournament for women’s hoops. Those were still the AIAW days, as that association ran the women’s tourney then. The NCAA would have its first tournament for the women in 1982.
So, indeed, a lot has changed in between Philadelphia’s two World Series titles. Congrats, Phillies fans. I especially hope the nice nuns are enjoying this.