Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Welcome Home, Clifton Phifer Lee!

The evening of Monday, December 13, 2010 was quite calm. Tara and I finally got around to putting up our Christmas tree and decorations, followed by hot chocolate and some lame and cheesy Christmas music, courtesy of Pandora.

I got ready for bed and against better judgment, checked my email one last time. It was approaching midnight at this point; a bedtime I've been trying really hard -- with little success -- to avoid the past few weeks.

No new email. Good.

Against even stronger judgment, I then clicked on ESPN. Surely, nothing newsworthy could be transpiring at such an hour. What was the point? Must...not....click....(click!).

Since the end of the 2010 World Series -- whose teams shall not be named -- I'd been followng the destination saga of free agent mega-pitcher Cliff Lee, a nuclear left arm my beloved Phillies had acquired midway through the 2009 season and then traded off for a bag of Tastykakes (stale ones!) at season's end, believing a long-term contract extension was less likely than a Taylor Swift/Kanye West world tour. Conventional wisdom had Lee choosing the monopoly money offered by the New York Yankees or possibly returning to his 2010 team, the Texas Rangers, who had also ponied up a large sum of zeroes in hopes of luring back their postseason ace. This story had dragged on for more than a month and I was hopeful each day that he'd just stick it to the Yankees and stay put in Texas.

Except that last night's ESPN headline about Cliff Lee contained the words "Phils enter fray." A little flutter went through my stomach as I read about the Phils making a late charge to woo Lee back to the team that gave him his first taste of postseason baseball.

I explained this turn of events to Tara, who actually became somewhat intrigued and shortly thereafter, brought up the Phillies' website on her laptop. Her next words rang in my ears.

"They got him!"

"Huh?" came my confused response. There was no way my wife beat me to the knowledge of potentially the greatest free agent signing in Phillies history. With a simple click, I saw the words that, as a lifelong diehard Phillies fan, I had only fantasized about: "Phils emerge as winners in Cliff Lee sweepstakes"

What? How? NO!!!! YES????...followed by a pause to begin the wake-up-from-dream process. Moments later, all media outlets began pouring out the breaking news that Cliff Lee was returning to the Philadelphia Phillies to join a rotation that already features 2010 Cy Young winner Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels. It turns out Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. had waited quietly in the wings as the drama between Texas and New York panned out before once again acting as a stealth bomber and getting his man. When the dust had cleared, Lee was leaving between $30-50 million, and potentially two fewer contract years at the table to come back to the team he openly states he never wanted to leave. True, one can argue that no one making the money that professional athletes make could ever win an award in financial selflessness, but that's a discussion for another day.

My head was spinning. I called my friend Seth and broke the news to him. We made a series of freak out noises; something Tara found quite humorous. I was previously really tired, but suddenly found myself wide awake and unable to get to sleep for the next two hours. I was absolutely and utterly ecstatic! I had not been this insanely hopped up about a Phillies signing since slugger Jim Thome signed up for red pinstripes in November 2002; an acquisition that helped bring respectability and a winning atmosphere back to baseball in Philadelphia. Since that time, I had witnessed a Rookie of the Year, two MVPs, a Cy Young winner, a Perfect Game, a postseason no-hitter, four division titles, a National League pennant, and a World Championship! Baseball life had certainly been good in Philly for the past few years.

Yet, the signing of Cliff Lee has me even more excited about Phillies baseball than I have ever been before; even more so than the Thome signing, which, in late 2002, came at a time when I was simply hoping the team finished over .500. By joining the Phils' pitching rotation, Cliff Lee doesn't just make the team better going into next season. He has made them the hands down scariest team to face in all of baseball! Moreover, Lee also has a chance to help the team earn a significant place in Major League Baseball history. As it stands, the 2011 Phils rotation should stack up as the best in baseball, but should they each pitch up to their capabilities -- and dare I say the Phillies win the 2011 World Series -- this pitching rotation may be regarded as one of, if not THE best pitching foursomes of all time. And that's something this historically horrible franchise has never been able to boast at any time in its existence.

In the end, I got my wish; Cliff Lee did end up sticking it to the Yankees after all, just not to the benefit of the team I had anticipated. And as my buddy Seth said last night in response to Lee's decision to forego millions to return to Philly, "He will never have to buy a drink in this city again."

Here's to continuing the golden era of Phillies baseball in 2011! Can't tell you how much I love it when baseball dominates the airwaves in December! Welcome home, Clifton Phifer Lee!

Oh, and if you're wondering what that continual thumping sound is that's echoing through the Philly region, don't worry -- it's just Jayson Werth repeatedly banging his head against a wall.

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