The sun rode high in the sky on Friday afternoon, its harsh glare and long shadows impartial to the game being played on Citi Field. Slotted somewhere between these absolutes of light and darkness stood Aaron Nola, the Phillies beleaguered ace. His season, thus far, was colored much like the field — flashes of brilliance overshadowed by a lack of command and inefficiency that felt distinctly out of character. Two starts prior to Friday night, he had held the New York Yankees to 3 hits over 7.2 scoreless innings. In his last outing against San Francisco, he didn’t make it out of the 3rd.
A hit batter and subsequent double by Francisco Lindor made it seem like Nola was destined for darkness yet again. But then somehow, some way, the sun’s apathetic embers fell on Nola and he stepped out of the shadows. He struck out the side to end the inning. And then he did it again. And once more, adding a strikeout at the top of the 4th inning to tie Tom Seaver’s Major League record of 10 consecutive strikeouts.
Of course, I wasn’t able to watch it. I was out to dinner in upstate New York, with friends I hadn’t seen in over a year — part of an alumni weekend my college was hosting for the class of 2020, a show of good faith for us forgotten graduates who were sent home early without cap and gown due to COVID-19. It was a welcome celebration and one I appreciated greatly, as it brought a strange sense of closure to my college experience that had ended a little over a year ago.
It’s funny, the way we tuck some of our deepest and most significant memories into our hearts, only to have them unlocked by visiting the places in which they occurred. It’s a feeling that struck me as I drove into campus, past the apartments I lived in as an upperclassman, then my Sophomore year dwelling, and finally my Freshman dorm, where I spent the weekend. The experience was oddly cathartic — scenes from my college experience flashed like firecrackers across the same halls I’d walked five years ago, all of my moments of joy, friendship, heartbreak, and pain blurring together to remind me of just how much I’ve changed. And of all the ways I haven’t.
As the impartial sun set over Cayuga Lake, I realized that my time in Ithaca, much like every Phillies season, existed in a vacuum. That this beautiful bubble of roommates and house parties, late nights at the bars and early mornings on the baseball field, ice cream dates and stargazing never changed, only I did. That the Phillies, much like my college experience, exist in the set world of the MLB season — it’s only their battle with their own unique flaws that determines how much they can grow as a franchise. Their victories and failures exist solely in the context of their world, yet as fans we still try to glean from them significance in our own lives. As if we expect our passion and vigor to somehow have an impact on the team’s success.
But why this irrational devotion to a team, that by all accounts doesn’t change? Why try to make sense of a team that hasn’t fixed its flaws historically — 779 losses since the start of the 2012 season — or recently — they’ve lost 20 games in which they’ve held a lead this year?
Because the imperfections in this franchise mirror the flaws we have in our own lives. Because even when our best efforts are in vain — for Nola, the sun cost him the win when it blinded Rhys Hoskins — we continue to chase our own tails for something we may never achieve, if only for the small victories we gain along the way. It’s the Phillies pursuit of the near impossible — a World Series title — that we also engage in daily, as we try to overcome our flaws and fears. It’s in the moments when players like Aaron Nola step out of the shadows and into the sunlight that we can track the growth of the team — and on a more personal level, the growth in ourselves.
Featured Image: Frank Franklin II / AP
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