The Philadelphia Phillies have broken my heart again and again. And yet, I can’t quit them.
by Max Miller
A few years ago, Women’s Health magazine published an article titled, “24 Signs You’re in a Toxic Relationship and Need to Let Go.” A few key red flags included:
“You’re not practicing self-care”
“You keep waiting/hoping for them to change”
“Your family and friends are concerned”
“You often feel worse when you’re with them”
“They don’t bring out the best in you”
“They like to play games”
These sound like clear knockout factors, at least in a vacuum. Purely on principle it is almost impossible to ask why someone would stay in this hopeless, seemingly loveless union. But what Women’s Health fails to mention is how intoxicating unstable relationships can be, especially when it feels you know no other reality than togetherness. The highs are high and lord knows the lows are bottomless.
My union with the Philadelphia Phillies began at birth. Hailing from Brooklyn, New York (a rarity at Oberlin), I was not meant to be a Phillies fan, but my father was born outside Philadelphia and raised me as such. As a newborn, I was placed in a Phillies onesie as a hypothetical Philadelphia baptism.
The Phillies and I began on excellent terms. I was swept up in their charm and good looks. It was a whirlwind romance; when I was with them, I lost any sense of time or future. I started wearing their hoodies to school and daydreaming about them in class. I was extremely invested in their goals, and they kept not only reaching but surpassing them. From 2007 to 2011, nothing could go wrong. They were reliable and trustworthy. I was infatuated with them; they were a beautiful mix of power and finesse. It felt like life couldn’t get any better.
Around this time, my father warned me about their potential to disappoint me. He told me to brace myself for when times got tough. He had seen teams like the Phillies before, and he knew I couldn’t trust them. But, like a true young person, I didn’t listen. I was so naive. I didn’t know what was coming.
In October 2011, the Philadelphia Phillies broke my heart (the historically-good-in-the-regular-season Phillies lost in heartbreaking fashion in the first round of the playoffs and star first baseman Ryan Howard tore his Achilles on the last play of the game). It was a blow to my soul. I took it hard; the entity I had grown to trust took my heart and stepped on it, leaving nothing but a broken mess for me to clean up. Being surrounded by people who hated them (New Yorkers) didn’t help me get over what was a catastrophic blow to my self-esteem. I still get upset thinking about it now.
After the incident, I took a little space from the Phillies. It was the first time I had been burned. I was so used to the glory days of our relationship. I had expected nothing to go wrong. I was spoiled. So it stung. I gave it a few months.
And then, after they showed a few signs of improvement, regrettably, I got back together with them the next April. The Phillies disappointed me yet again. I gave them another try the next year. Despite giving more reason to believe in them, they disappointed once more. The magic we had once shared was gone (trading away long-tenured fan favorites for prospects).
I decided to stop pursuing our romance for a while. My heart just wasn’t in it anymore. I friendzoned the Phillies. I needed to figure some things out for myself. I started to see other Philly sports teams, especially the 76ers. The Phillies and I didn’t talk for a few years. I missed them at points, scrolling through their social media feed to see what they were up to. It seemed pretty bleak for my first love.
We started talking again in 2018. We were still friends, but there was a bit of a flirty undertone to our conversations. I was grateful we had made the decision to move on from our romantic relationship; they had changed pretty substantially for the worse. At first, it seemed like they may have turned a leaf, but it was ultimately clear that they were the same Phillies that broke my heart in 2011. They disappointed me time and time again. I was hellbent on ending our flirty relationship and considered ending all communication. But, as much as I hated to admit it to myself, I knew a part of me still loved them.
The pandemic strained our friendly relationship at first. I started spending more and more time with the 76ers (Who ended up being a consistent heartbreaker too, I should note). In September of 2020, though, I couldn’t help but believe in the Phillies. This time, it felt different. It finally seemed like they had figured it all out. The Phillies seemed stable. And so, we got back together. I was still trepidatious, but I began to grow more easy around them.
And then they broke my heart again. (They had to win two games in their last eight to make the playoffs. All they needed was to go 2-6. And then they went 1-7. Mind you, most of this was against the MIAMI MARLINS, who STINK! I am still very upset about this.) It wasn’t as deeply depressing as 2011, but it was a hell of a lot more infuriating. It was hard to deal with. I lost all trust in them… That is, until the next season, when I once again believed in them, and, of course, they broke my heart yet again. (In mid-August, they were first in their division. Though they were quickly dethroned, they threatened to retake the division in late September. And then, in their last seven games, they went 1-6!) I expected this one. But it pissed me off just the same, reinforcing a pattern quickly solidifying itself to the point where one questioned whether the Phillies were even capable of change.
Our relationship was loveless. I despised them with every fiber of my body. Every time I interacted with them, I would become a different person. I would yell and throw my hands in frustration. It was a never ending cycle of hurt. I couldn’t get away from it; I was tethered to them for a reason I could not describe. Love was no longer what I felt. It was pure, unadulterated hatred.
It is here where the metaphor of the toxic partner ceases to capture my relationship with the Phillies. This season, for some strange reason, I decided to get fully invested.
After making big splashes in free agency, this season started worse than most Philly fans could have imagined. The Phillies absolutely stunk in the first half of the season. Then, they fired their manager and started winning again. At points, it seemed like the same Phillies team that hadn’t made the playoffs in eleven years. In September, the collapse that viewers had gotten so used to was deemed inevitable. They lost five games in a row from 9/24 to 9/29. It felt like they were dead in the water, just waiting to be overtaken by the Milwaukee Brewers in the Wild Card race. And then… they did it. After 11 years, the Philadelphia Phillies made the playoffs. Not only that, but they recently won a playoff series. I do not expect the Phillies to win this upcoming playoff series against the Braves, which will be underway when this paper is printed. But that’s ok. After all of the heartbreak that has come since 2011, just making the playoffs is enough.
There is beauty to following a terrible team. You grow to love small, triumphant moments. You dream of the future of the franchise, thinking about what young players will achieve five, ten, fifteen years down the line. You fall in and out of love with your team. There are points where watching gets so frustrating that you think about changing teams or quitting sports altogether. But you don’t, whether for familial loyalty or just plain stupidity and stubbornness.
I have hated this team for the majority of my life. They have caused me more stress than I am proud to admit. They have likely taken years off of my life. And yet, I stick around for moments like these, when the stars align and 26 men dressed in silly little red pinstripes achieve the opportunity to hit a ball for three hours on a crisp autumn day in the beginning of October. Yes, I keep waiting for them to change, my family and friends are concerned, and they bring out the absolute worst in me, but I can’t help rooting for the men in red as they defiantly trudge their way towards hopefully eventual victory.