Time passes, seasons change, and the years roll on. My Jewish readers surely know that Rosh Hashanah began last night, which means that a new year of the Hebrew calendar has begun. (Happy new year to you all!) Marking the end of another sort of year, yesterday was also the end of the Major League Baseball regular season.
Baseball’s Opening Day often brings a sense of optimism. No matter how bleak your team’s chances appear, it’s tough to not get at least a little excited when the start of the season rolls around. Opening Day is also a sign that Spring has arrived, and that warmer weather is likely soon on its way.
Before you know it, the calendar has switched to October. The baseball season is over, and you’re left with a much different feeling. Unless you’re a lucky fan of a team that has qualified for the postseason (and the Phillies most assuredly did not), you’re faced with the reality that you won’t have a real rooting interest in a baseball game for another six months. And much like Opening Day heralds nicer weather, the season finale often brings colder, Fall weather with it.Yesterday’s game was sadder than most season finales, as it was almost assuredly Ryan Howard’s final game in a Phillies uniform. Howard is one of the greatest players in Phillies history, as he ranks second in all-time home runs and he’s also near the top of the leader board in several other offensive categories.
Ten years ago, Howard was wrapping up perhaps the greatest single season ever by a Phillies’ hitter. He hit a team-record 58 home runs and won the MVP award. Although the Phillies missed the postseason for the 12th straight season in 2006, thanks largely to Howard, that streak would be broken the following year.
The Phillies would win the National League East for five straight seasons, and that stretch included two National League titles and one World Series championship. While those teams had plenty of great players, I always felt that Howard was the key to their offense. When he was hitting the ball well, the Phillies were the most dangerous offensive team in the league.
In his prime, Howard would periodically go on extremely hot streaks, and during those times, you never wanted to miss an at bat. Every time he came to the plate, you felt like a home run was imminent.
In 2009, I was walking through a shopping mall, and came across a television showing that afternoon’s game. I saw that Howard was due to come to the plate, and I remarked to another man watching the game that Howard was going to hit a home run. Sure enough, Howard sent a ball into the stands, and I exchanged an enthusiastic high five with my fellow game watcher.
Sadly, thanks to an injury to his Achilles tendon suffered in the 2011 playoffs, Howard’s play dropped off dramatically in the following years. He has spent a lot of time on the disabled list, and his production has been greatly reduced when he was able to play. Sure, there was the occasional hot streak, but his at bats were no longer “must watches.” It isn’t a coincidence that the Phillies haven’t been back to the playoffs in the five years since.
Howard’s contract is now up, and he will attempt to revive his career with another team. He was the last remaining member of the 2008 World Championship team, and with his departure, that era of greatness is truly over.
But enough dwelling on the past. As mentioned, today is the start of a new year, and with it, I have a renewed sense of optimism. Perhaps the next baseball season will be the one where the Phillies find their next superstar and the next era of greatness can finally begin.