Oh, hey there. Didn't see you. What? Oh, what am I up to? Just watching Rhys Hoskins hit another a home run for my beloved Philadelphia Phillies. Oh, what;s that? Does it matter at all? Well, I guess not. Not unless you believe in hope that is.
A New Hope
Rhys Hoskins has arrived in the major leagues at a pivotal time for the Philadelphia Phillies. Virtually every single one of our highly touted prospects is either undergoing immense growing pains or is trapped in the minor leagues. But then this former fifth round pick swaggered on to the scene. Since his arrival in Philadelphia he has batted in seventeen home runs and is averaging at least one RBI for each major league game he has played in. Whereas Aaron Nola has sputtered between greatness and nine earned run outings, Maikel Franco can't seem to stop striking out, and Odubel Herrera can't stop injuring himself, Rhys makes baseball look easy again.
Hoskins hits bombs, but unlike another significant home run machine (read Judge) isn't striking out in every at bat where he doesn't walk away with a ding-donger. His average is hovering just under .300, and he's show a great glove initiating a triple play earlier this summer. He's hitting balls at an historic clip and he's holding onto them in the outfield when he gets the chance to catch them. An outfielder with a bat and a glove is something the Phillies haven't seen since Pat Burrell was roaming the outer edges of the Bank back in 2008.
But isn't this the garbage time of the Major League Baseball season? Does anything that happens so far out of the context of a pennant race even matter a this point?
The Empire Strikes Back
That kind of defeatist attitude is something that might have permeated much of Philadelphia in the years prior to the breaking of the Curse of William Penn. But, in the past nine years, I have seen a different realm of Philadelphia sports fans arise. The gloomy McNabb haters and Santa Ice Throwers have been replaced by something very different. To be sure, the dark glow of the Broadstreet Bullies will never disappear from the fans of this city. There will always be an element of discomfort, a willingness to boo a beloved Yuletide Myth for instance, but the Philly of my father has started to pass away.
One day, after a particularly heartbreaking Eagles loss in the post-Super Bowl XXXIX era my father turned to my brother and I and said "Welcome to Philadelphia sports." This attitude used to pervade Philadelphia sports fans. During the 2008 World Series when the Phils faced a rain delay in the middle of game 5 and the league postponed the game until the next I can remember my father swearing that the Phillies had had their chance to win, and now this delay would throw the whole Series for them. This is what Philadelphia sports had become: a wasteland devoid of hope and happiness. The Allen Iverson era coupled with the near misses of the Reid-McNabb eras had solidified the notion that Philly would be a perpetual bridesmaid city, close to the title, but never quite there.
But in 2008 that changed. And when the Phils were at the top of the National League in 2009 again, the momentum continued. Slowly, people began to think that maybe, just maybe, greatness was possible again.
Return of the ...
But look at Philadelphia over the past few years. The Phillies are the worst team in baseball, the Sixers are one of the worst teams in basketball, the Flyers can't make the playoffs, and the Eagles are struggling to break out in a dominating division. Yet, these are not the story lines coming out of the city. The story of the Philadelphia Seventy-Sixers has not been told as one of a dissent in madness and destruction, but rather as a tale of purification and realization. Embiid towers above whole teams of NBA players (see the Kings, Nets, Suns) in terms of his social media stature and popularity and he has barely played half a season. United with Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, Robert Covington, JJ Reddick, and Dario Saric, the Embiid-led Sixers are not dismissed as an aberration, but rather the long-awaited realization of the purification of a city.
The Eagles are led by one Carson Wentz, a quarterback who people alternate between being skeptical of and adoring. But nowhere does anyone discuss Wentz, or the Wentz Wagon/Wentzslyvania phenomenon, with animosity or disdain. A distinctly different attitude takes hold in these discussions: Hope. It's this same attitude that Rhys Hoskins has restored to a faltering franchise in the Philadelphia Phillies. Hope has become the operative word in the City of Brotherly Love, hope in a lineup of giants to conquer a league worshiping the small ball fad; hope in a ginger-haired North Dakotan to succeed where a generation of great Eagles (McNabb, Westbrook, Owens) failed; and most of all, hope in historic run to continue and buoy one of the oldest franchises in the history of sports to a new, unparalleled era of greatness.
Don't forget, the Sun Rhyses in the East.