Burger goes bonkers for Phillies World Series win

by Mark Burger

It was 1981, and my mother and I were walking through a department store (Clover, by name) when I came across a Philadelphia Phillies pitching jacket. Immediately, I had to have it. Thus began the begging.

The Phillies, after all, had won the World Series the year before — the team’s first world title after nearly a century in existence — and the memory was still very fresh. Although I was born in Philadelphia, and later attended college there at Temple University, I grew up in suburban New Jersey. Most of the kids my age rooted for the New York Mets or, more likely, the Yankees. Not me. Phillies then. Phillies now. Phillies always.

I finally convinced my mother that the jacket would make a great Christmas gift. (This was around August, by the way, making it an extremely premature gift.)

“This costs forty dollars,” she told me. “You’d better make it worth it.”

All these years later, at a cost of what must now be about $1.10 a year (not including sales tax), I still have that jacket. It doesn’t quite fit like it used to, and it’s a little threadbare. But it’s wearable, and that’s good enough for me.

Not so long ago, the very woman who bought that jacket for me did a double-take when I put it on. “You still have that thing?” She even bought me a new jacket last Christmas, which fits and looks a lot better.

But I was wearing the old jacket last Wednesday night, sitting in a local tavern (Carlisle’s, by name) and watching the culmination of 25 years of waiting, worrying and wondering.

I watched the Philadelphia Phillies win the World Series.

The last time I savored a Philadelphia title was in 1983. I was 15 years old, and the Sixers won the NBA championship, sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers behind the combined power of the immortal Julius Erving and series MVP Moses Malone, about whom we said: “Moses delivered us to the Promised Land.”

Since then, I have seen Philadelphia teams in seven championship series’, and they lost every one. Back in college, I once made a vow that I wouldn’t consider getting married until Gene Hackman won a second Academy Award, Michael Caine won a first Academy Award and a Philadelphia team won another championship. Shows you where my head was at. A fun place, to be sure.

I guess I can get married now.

I just need to find the right girl. That should be easy. So should she, for that matter. (Only kidding, of course.)

After all, the hard part’s really over!

Hackman won his second Oscar (for Unforgiven), Caine’s won two (Hannah and Her Sisters and The Cider House Rules) and somehow, in the middle of all that, I wound up interviewing both actors, to my profound delight.

But that Philadelphia championship… maddeningly elusive.

Over the years, I figured that the Flyers would skate to another Stanley Cup, and that sooner or later the Eagles would get into the Super Bowl, and then the law of averages (or karma) would take over and we’d simply win something at some time.

It didn’t happen that way. For a quarter of a century, the city of Philadelphia — the birthplace of this nation, lest we forget, and my city, which friends and acquaintances never forget — has not had a championship team to call its own.

They do now.

And when you’ve waited so long, including a rain delay in Game Five that stretched from Monday to Wednesday, it really adds a special dimension of appreciation. You thank God that you’re on the planet to be here to enjoy it. The air’s a little cleaner, things taste a little better and look a little brighter, and you tend to exude a positive energy.

For someone who often revels in exuding negative energy — being a Philadelphia fan does that to you — I’m not entirely sure I remember how this goes. But it’ll come back to me. It already has. I had absolutely nothing to do with the Phillies winning the World Series, aside from being a die-hard fan, and yet I take the same (if not more) satisfaction in it than those who participated in it.

“This is for Philadelphia! This is for our fans!” said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel during the presentation of the trophy in front of the crowd at Citizens Bank Park. “When I look around, who’s the World Champions?”

We are.

And I wept.

Everyone called. Friends, relatives, former girlfriends. Yes, even my Mom.

Over the years, I’ve had friends, relatives, former girlfriends and even my Mom (who’s a Pittsburgh fan) win championships in one sport or another, sometimes more than once, and although I was happy for them, I seethed a little bit. Why them and not me?

A few weeks back, I had the opportunity to attend the second game of the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Philadelphia — and, with no hesitation (despite a skimpy wallet, as befits today’s freelance writer), I grabbed it. One doesn’t take such opportunities lightly.

Hats off to my college roommate, Rich Krygiel, for scoring tickets, hotel accommodations and springing his 10-year-old son Zack out of school (the note said Zack had to attend “a family function” in Philadelphia, which is not entirely an exaggeration), and allowing “Uncle Mark” to join them on a journey into the heart of what might now be called Phillies Nation. Rich didn’t have a Phillies T-shirt. That’s okay. I brought an extra. Brought the old jacket, too.

The Phillies won that game, 8-5, on their way to a perfect 7-0 record at home during the 2008 postseason. It was a homecoming of the best sort. I’ve lived in several different places on the East Coast (New Jersey, Florida and now North Carolina), but Philadelphia is always home.

I’m keeping the old jacket, by the way. Along with the rally towels… and the caps… and the memories of a season I’ll never forget.

Because this year, for once, we Philadelphia fans get to say something we’ve waited a lifetime to say:

“We’re Number 1!”