Where I come from, a home run is a run that starts at home. Baseball, like cricket, is a sport played overseas by men in funny outfits — if you aren’t accustomed from an early age to watch players with tight pants and long socks, you find them amusing. We watched “Rain Man” dubbed in French, and Dustin Hoffman’s mumbling about “first base” and “second base” were no more than the ramblings of an autistic genius. We understood his character had an exceptional, detailed memory of games played long ago, which was essential to understanding the film, but that’s how far our understanding of baseball went.
Then, I met a Phillies fan, we got engaged and I married him in September, few weeks before the team clinched the National League pennant and made it to the World Series for the first time in 15 years. (Note: I’m not implying there’s a connection between the two). I, who learned about the meaning of “pennant” about ten days ago, am wearing a red Phillies baseball cap as I write.
My earliest memory of baseball was in the summer of 1990, when I spent a three-week vacation with an American family in New Fairfield, Connecticut. They took me to a game in New York — it might have been the Yankees or the Mets, I don’t remember. My first impression was being shocked that spectators moved around constantly and left their seats to get food or drinks. I thought it was rude to the players. The dad was sitting next to me, trying to explain the rules to me. My English was high-school English and I had never watched a baseball game in my life. He lost me after the first sentence but I nodded to whatever he said and he went on for what was probably hours. When I realized how long the game lasts — a lifetime — I changed my mind about leaving my seat.
I played softball in the yard of a family in Vermont a few years later and I wasn’t more knowledgeable. I can run, but I was always running at the wrong time, so they established a rule for me: I would run only when they said “run, run, run.” Otherwise I’d stay put.
I lived in New York City for more than three years, so I became aware of which baseball team was losing or winning just by walking past newsstands or checking news on the local TV, New York 1. I knew who Joe Torre was because he was news.
Living for several years in the U.S. didn’t prepare me for being a Phillies fan, though. A Google search on “long-suffering Phillies” yields 18,300 results. The team was the first to lose 10,000 games. If Philadelphia loses the World Series to Tampa Bay, it will mark the 100th season of professional sport in this city without a championship. Being a Phillies fan, I learned early on, requires knowing your statistics. I listened to local radio, I read local newspapers and I heard my husband talking about the Phillies. So, naturally, I expected them to lose every single game they played. To my utter astonishment, they made it to the World Series.
Something did prepare me for being a Phillies fan. I am French. We invented fatalism and cynicism. The last time a French won Roland Garros, the French tennis Open, was in 1983. The winner, Yannick Noah, is now a successful pop singer. His son, Joakim, born in 1985, is a professional NBA player with the Chicago Bulls. The long-suffering French tennis fans, meanwhile, are still waiting for a French to win the French Open. The national French soccer team, “Les Bleus,” won the world’s soccer Cup, (la Coupe du Monde) in 1998, a seismic event in French sports and culture. At the following Cup, in 2002, the French team was humiliated, losing in the first round without winning a game nor scoring one goal. One of my earliest childhood sports memory is the 1982 soccer Cup’s semifinal between France and West Germany. The French were leading 3-1 in the “prolongations” (overtime), the game was almost over and my parents were getting ready to get the Champagne out of the fridge, when the Germans scored twice in a row. Germany eventually won during the penalty shots, crushing France. Yes, I think I’m ready to be a Phillies fan.
Allez les Phillies.