Reality meets fantasy on magic night

The chants of “U-S-A, U-S-A” began in the seventh inning, first as a quiet undercurrent, but then progressively louder and more coordinated. Some fans had no idea why they were joining in. Others had tears in their eyes.

All 45,713 fans at Citizens Bank Park shared a moment Sunday that they will embrace for the rest of their lives. Our fantasy world was interrupted by an unexpected visit from reality as we learned that Osama bin Laden was dead.

This wasn’t a rivalry between arch-enemies, the Phillies and Mets. This was a real enemy with American blood on his hands. This was not a life-and-death struggle for a title. This was actual life and death.

I use this space to talk about things that don’t really matter. It is my choice, just as it is the preference of the readers and listeners to my WIP radio show to welcome this distraction from a world that so desperately requires escape. Sports is that refuge.

But when an intrusion arrives like the one that pierced our cocoon Sunday, we need to take a moment to understand it. In the hours after our chant of pride, I had the honor of talking to fans who had experienced it — fans who rarely, if ever, relate the real world to sports.

I spoke to a soldier who spent four years fruitlessly tracking bin Laden, a tour of duty that left him with a permanent disability. He was jubilant. I spoke to a man whose aunt was killed in the Sept. 11 attacks and who spent the past 10 years fantasizing about the bullet that pierced the monster who had masterminded those cowardly acts. He felt a sense of justice.

I spoke to fans who looked at their cell phones in disbelief as texts flooded in with the news that Bin Laden was dead. I spoke to former Sen. Arlen Specter, who left office feeling a deep frustration that a modern-day Hitler had eluded our grasp. Only one caller voiced any negative feelings, and his political agenda was impenetrable. At the end of his attack on our country, I reminded him that he was lucky to live in a place where he was free to air those views. Then I exercised my own freedom and hung up on him.

What I learned from the experience is that sports provides a world where no one is so evil that he would order the murder of thousands. Instead, it is a place where we can pay to see a ball game, and sometimes come home with a whole lot more.

I didn’t find out the final score of Sunday night’s 14-inning game until the next morning. For once, I didn’t need the final score. I already knew we had won.

Birds worst show in city

The Eagles are the most disliked team in town. They win, they entertain, they infuriate. No team has ever been better at doing the wrong thing than this successful and maddening franchise.

After a break from the Eagles’ arrogance during the lockout, fans have endured a week that proved absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder. By the time the assault was over, the reinstatement of the lockout came as a relief. At least Joe Banner and Andy Reid will have to go back into hiding.

The trouble began when Banner e-mailed those with season tickets a self-serving, delusional op-ed article by Roger Goodell from the Wall Street Journal. The fans responded by booing Goodell at the draft until his ears were ringing.

The draft itself was a predictable exercise in frustration. Reid continued his ritual of making illogical selections and then representing them as strokes of genius. They tried to sell top pick, Danny Watkins, as a player perfect for the aggressive temperament of our fans, downplaying his age.

At 26 going on 27, Watkins is the oldest player ever chosen in the first round. The same coach who has banished player after player when they turned 30 said he didn’t care about age.

The past two months without football have revealed it’s tougher than ever to like the Eagles.

Honesty is best policy

The Phillies have forgotten how to tell their fans the truth. For reasons that remain as mysterious as the team’s injury list, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has launched a bizarre campaign of deception.

After his embarrassing misstatements about the conditions of Chase Utley and Brad Lidge, Amaro struck again. It all began when he announced that Roy Oswalt had left the team for “personal reasons” after getting shelled during a three-inning assault in Arizona.

When reporters pressed Amaro, the GM initially balked angrily at their questions, but then issued a statement explaining that Oswalt had left to check on his family in Alabama. Why Amaro originally felt that information would reflect badly on his pitcher is something that will never be explained.

The day after Oswalt left the team, Amaro announced that closer Jose Contreras was going on the DL with a “very mild” strain. Then the GM belied his own prognosis by saying Contreras could miss a month. If “very mild” translates to a month, is “mild” a season-ending injury?

Ruben Amaro Jr. has done a very good job of assembling a world-class pitching rotation and of sustaining the success of his Hall of Fame predecessor, Pat Gillick. What he still needs to learn, however, is how to be honest with the fans.

–Angelo Cataldi is host of 610 WIP’s Morning Show, which airs weekdays 5:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.

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