Were it not for an unfortunate personal incident that left a slightly sour taste in my mouth regarding the past week, the tune of this article might be even brighter than intended. Nevertheless, save for this past Wednesday morning’s mild dusting of snow, the past week provided us our first glimpses of respite from one of the most grueling winters in recent memory in what seems like forever. Even a series of downpours was a welcome relief to wash away the icy remnants of a cold, lifeless time in the Delaware Valley.
Following the Philadelphia sports teams during this stretch of bleakness was particularly taxing. Coming off of the high of the Eagles electrifying season was a trying realization. As the weight of expectations in the city shifted off of the Eagles shoulders, we were all reminded of where the remaining three franchises were and that they would be unable to give the fans the same buzz that their football team had for the last two months of 2013.
Sobered by a near three-week Olympic stoppage, the Flyers have both tantalized and tortured us throughout their roller coaster campaign. Just as they appeared to be consistently trending in a direction that fans could hitch their wagons to, the Winter Games stepped in and threw a cold bucket of water on the Flyers heat. Now Flyers fans will once again have to enter a stretch of great uncertainty, as the foreboding challenge of recapturing their pre-break mojo sets in for the Orange-and-Black as they try to overcome a franchise worst start to reach the playoffs. With the trade deadline looming and every performance placed under an even larger magnifying glass than usual, the Flyers begin their 23-game sprint to the finish line. For all of their flaws, several of which I have pointed out as a reason I struggle to trust this team to win consistently, the Flyers sit in one of the eight precious postseason slots for the Eastern Conference and, upon entering the Olympic break, started to appear more and more like the battle-tested type of squad that can do damage beyond the regular season. In fact, the comparisons have already started to trickle in about the resemblance of this year’s team with the 2009-2010 squad who reached the Stanley Cup Finals after clinching a playoff spot on the last day of the season. Whether or not my heart is ready for that type of stretch is irrelevant. Fact is, for all the punches they’ve taken, the Flyers are still standing.
It seems like years ago that the 76ers were beating the Miami Heat on opening night to the sounds of thunderous applause at the Wells Fargo Center. Exhausting all of the good will and euphoria from their early season uptick, the true colors of the team have overcome any and all of Brett Brown’s masking agents. Losses continue to pile up and the margin of defeat seems to balloon to more and more comical numbers by the box score. With ‘Johnny-come-lately’ fans falling off like the leaves of trees did in November & December, the harrowing trial of the die-hards set in and the swoon that we all knew was coming but weren’t ready for trudged on. No longer did the potential dynamic performance by Michael Carter-Williams or video of Nerlens Noel playing H-O-R-S-E against Brown suffice. Bottom line: following and trying to support a team that loses like this 76ers team is takes its toll. The idea of positioning the franchise favorably for the 2014 Draft was easy to embrace last August when we were reading stories about Andrew Wiggins being the next LeBron James. Now, that perspective seems far less comforting than it did during the Summer months. This all, however, is part of the 76ers great experiment. Sam Hinkie and Brett Brown needed a clean slate after the slop that had compiled as a result of Tony DiLeo and Doug Collins incompetencies calcifying over a once-proud organization. One cannot construct a masterpiece without a blank canvas. Consider 2013-2014 the white-out brush making its way over a nightmarish time in Philadelphia basketball.
Then, there is our former lynchpin: the Phillies. The organization that was perhaps most negatively affected by the shifting of the Philadelphia sports monocle away from the Eagles had a winter to remember, or forget. It is almost as if the Phillies have become toxic to the touch on a national and local scale. Talk radio struggles to keep traction when the topic is a point of discussion, every transaction is met with more criticism than its predecessor, and the rest of the baseball world continues to bare down on the increasingly non-relatable Phillies. The winter brought more loss and despair to Phillies of old, as sickness and death enshrouded a former generation. Vulnerability continued to define the heroes of current, as national pundits seem all the more eager to start penning the career obituaries for the team’s fading stars.
Yet perhaps no other sport and its teams receive the same type of ‘delete key’ that those in baseball do. The late February-early March traverse to the warmer climates of spring training have an effect on fans, analysts, and even members of baseball teams that seems missing with the other three major sports. It’s almost as if Mother Nature is a baseball fan, and she provides her beloved MLB with the comforting, rebirth effect of springtime. Even the Phillies, for all of their turmoil, are allotted the same luxury that the rest of the MLB does. No matter how dreadful the year before was, it’s impossible not to get a shred of optimism upon the start of spring training. Especially as a Phillies fan, where stories of players being at full-strength and practicing new approaches replace those about ridiculous contracts and questionable inner-workings by the front office. The innocence of the Spring Training baseball fields, whose small attendance numbers gives the games almost a little league feel. The stress-free call from the booth, with no weight from the long season evident in the voice of the play-by-play melts over you and entrances viewers and listeners in a way that regular season sports cannot. So with some of this brightness and hope peaking through the winter doldrum in the past week, this edition of ‘Four-for-Four’ places the rose-colored sunglasses over everyone and hopefully can help get you through the last vestiges of a relentless couple of months.