Monday, October 19, 2009

I'm How Old?

I just celebrated my 29th birthday yesterday. To be honest, it's a little weird. It's not so much that I dread turning 30 next year. Far from it actually. It's more that it just crept up on me. Birthdays seem to come much quicker nowadays than they used to. I remember turning 21 like it was yesterday and it feels like I turned 25 about fifteen minutes ago. As a kid, you long for your birthday each year, and every school year feels like an eternity. I guess the pace of life just increases as you get older. I mean, 2009 itself has pretty much gone by in a blurry flash!

This October has been such a busy month as well, so I just haven't really thought much about it being my birthday month. And in an effort to be blunt without sounding conceited, I think I'm a little more than past the stage of wanting my birthday to come around just so I can "get stuff." If anything, over the past few years, I've been seriously forced to examine more and more just how much I have compared to so many in our world. It should be me giving away what I have, not receiving more items to feed my luxurious lifestyle. The fact that I could heat my home on a cold day yesterday is more than a lot of people in my city alone can do, and I should never take that for granted.

I spent most of this past weekend on a fall retreat with my wife Tara, who is a campus ministry director at Temple University, and a bunch of students from Temple and Philadelphia University. We rented a huge house called SPADE, which is in total farm country, just west of Allentown. On Saturday night, I was in the living room of this house, playing my guitar and having a pretty good conversation with the main speaker of the retreat. At some point midnight struck without my knowing it. At that moment, from out of nowhere, dozens of students toting balloons and streamers, came pouring into the room and heaved them at me with deadly accuracy. In the midst of this melee, Tara came in holding two pieces of cake: one chocolate, the other cheesecake (my two favorites!). It was a very thoughtful gesture by everyone involved, and I'm extremely grateful.



On Sunday, after the retreat had ended, Tara and I spent the evening with my parents and brother. After dinner at The Olive Garden (which was lovely), I got ready for my main birthday treat: an absolutely pummeling 11-0 victory by the Phillies over the Los Angeles Dodgers in game 3 of the NLCS, giving the Phillies a 2-1 lead in the series! All in all, a smashing day combined with a smashing weekend!

So here I am now, officially less than a year away from turning 30 and I'm honestly looking forward to it. I'm still not really sure why. Maybe 30 sounds like a mature age for a man...Maybe I just don't have the same dread about getting older that a lot of people have...Or maybe I just like round numbers! Whatever the reason, know this...having been born in 1980, I will turn 20-10 IN 2010! Not many people can say that. If you're one of the few, congrats. If not, be jealous!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Three-peat!

After a long season full of ups, downs, heartaches, and triumphs...the Philadelphia Phillies are officially the 2009 National League Eastern Division Champions, marking the third straight year the team has finished the season in first place!

The 2009 season began by commemorating our World Championship season from last year, followed by a typical Opening Day loss to the Atlanta Braves. After a few initial bumps to begin the season, the team settled into a relatively decent groove right before shockwaves were sent through the core of the team, the entire Philadelphia region, and many parts of the country. On April 13th, Harry Kalas, the Phillies' longtime Hall of Fame broadcaster, number one fan, and symbolic grandfather to Phillies fans everywhere died of a heart attack in the broadcast booth in Washington D.C., just hours before the Phillies were to take on the Nationals. Immediately after Harry's death, Phillies President, David Montgomery summed up the sentiments of a grieving city when he said, "We lost our voice today."

After a fitting tribute and memorial to the man who nurtured the baseball souls of so many, the team moved on in Harry's honor, and soon took over first place in the NL East for good in May. The month of May also involved the final recognition of the 2008 World Champions when the team was honored by President Obama at the White House. Throughout the course of the summer, the team was plagued by inconsistencies and injuries to key players. From the start of the season, closer Brad Lidge, who was absolutely perfect in 2008, couldn't find a groove and eventually lost his job as the 9th inning man. Starting pitcher Brett Myers went down early in the season with a hip injury that required surgery, yet was able to return in the middle of September. Cole Hamels, the team's ace and 2008 World Series MVP, struggled for most of the season, but showed several flashes of brilliance when September rolled around, leading many to believe he'll be as dominant in this year's postseason as he was in last year's. And of course, the bullpen, as a whole, suffered enough injuries in 2009 to fill up a triage unit!

However, as we all know, there's no crying in baseball. Great teams overcome obstacles and rise to the occasion when it matters most. Really "good" Phillies teams in the past have had their seasons ruined and completely undone by little issues and one or two injuries. The 2009 Phillies have faced it all and come through on top. This is the definition of a championship team! New additions, Raul Ibanez, Cliff Lee, and Pedro Martinez all stepped up when needed, along with steady contributions from the rest of this dynamic cast. When the dust had settled on September 30th, only one team was hoisting the NL East Championship flag!

Truth be told, yesterday's division-clinching game was much less dramatic than the clinchers of 2007 and 2008, as there was clearly no better team in the NL East this year. Finishing in first place had more or less been expected by everyone since the team started running away with the division by June.

The highlight of the night, in my opinion, was when Phillies manager Charlie Manuel brought in struggling closer Brad Lidge with two outs in the 9th inning, with the Phillies holding a comfortable 10-3 lead over the Houston Astros. Hearing a sellout crowd stand up and cheer for the guy who blew eleven saves this year -- rightfully earning the ire of many fans -- was extremely heartwarming. I have to admit that after all the anger and frustration I felt toward Lidge this season, I wanted nothing more than to see him close out the division title. And with one pitch, he did just that. A bouncer to first base. Scooped up by Ryan Howard, who tagged the bag himself. Game over. NL East title in the bag.

In the midst of the celebration that followed, the entire team ran out to the left field wall and sprayed champagne on the sign commemorating Harry Kalas. A fitting tribute to the greatest Phillie that never played. Without a doubt, one of the most beautiful moments in Phillies history!

And now, after a momentary breather, there's much more work to be done. It's time for the kings to defend their crowns.

Postseason adversaries be warned......the WFCs are coming through!