I sat in Baltimore's Inner Harbor a few weeks back, thinking about the past. Thinking about our trips to this same location during my youth. Our meals at Phillips Seafood and games at Camden Yards. Your stories on the drive down about Dallas, and Harry and Whitey. You pointing out the nuances of an open air stadium, compared to the Vet. Over the past few years, I tried to get down to Baltimore as much as possible. It always brought back those wonderful memories.
I recently decided to write you this letter. It has been almost nine years since your passing, and things are much different than you may have remembered in the city of Philadelphia.
Since 2003, the city has undergone a transformation. Much of the credit goes to the Phillies, who in 2008 ended the twenty five year championship drought. They did so with a core group; including the last three you personally awarded the Paul Owens Award, for minor league position player and pitcher of the year, in Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and the 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels.
Long gone is Veterans Stadium. In its place sits a completed open air stadium named Citizens Bank Park. Attendance has picked up considerably since its opening in 2004. Over the past three years CBP has enjoyed 268 consecutive sellouts.
However, that streak may soon be in jeopardy. You see Grandpa, this is not the same team you once presided over. Instead of a blossoming young minor league system, once considered the best in baseball, the Phillies now rank 27th, with many of their "top prospects" not developing as hoped. Our high priced signings, have not exactly been performing up to their enormous contracts, while some of our everyday players have become complacent.
Complacent...I know how much you hated that word. From a young age, it was drilled into our heads not to be complacent. To make sure every game is played like it was our last.
That insight was not lost on your grandchildren. I played every basketball game like it was my last. Played through pain, sickness and injury. That is why I will never look back on my professional career with regret. However, for several other professional athletes, this is not the case.
There are too many Roger Dorns in the world now, who care more about the money than the game. I see it every night when I watch the Phillies play. Some guys are out there going through the motions. Only playing up to their full potential during contract years. Complacent.
Now as the trade deadline approaches, despite the Phillies recent play, the front office must figure out the best strategy for the future. That may include trading Shane Victorino, Hunter Pence, or another everyday player, in order to build up a poor minor league system.
But I don't want that. You see grandpa, like the 1979 and 1980 Phillies, this team is good enough to win right now. Injuries have decimated the first half of the season, allowing a team, who many predicted to win the World Series this year, in the cellar of the National League East, 14 games out of first place.
Just like you in 1980, the current regime may have to stand their ground and avoid becoming sellers. The current club knows how to win. They have done it before. We can see it over the last four games as the Phillies won in dramatic fashion. Although the National League East title may be out of their reach, sneaking into the playoffs as a wildcard could still be attainable...They just have to win.
There can be no more bad outings, blown saves, or days off. No more mistakes in the field and poor at bats. Every play needs to be played as if it is the last. No more complacency.
I think about the famous "San Francisco Speech" that you delivered and wish someone in that organization would walk into the locker room after the next bad outing and deliver a poignant speech like that. If I were in charge, I would gladly do it.
I would tell Pence to stop playing the ball like a god damn minor leaguer and act like an elite right fielder. I'd tell Victorino, to stop his sulking and get his ass on base! I would tell our entire pitching staff to wake the hell up! I would make sure they knew there is no tomorrow. They like playing in front of a sold out stadium every game...In front of a fan base that is the best in baseball, then play that way, otherwise I'll send them to San Diego, Houston, or Cincinnati for young players who give a damn.
Finally, like you I would challenge anyone who had a problem with what I was saying to a fight. Because, like you grandpa, you can knock me down, but I will keep getting up until those sons of bitches know they are a good ball club!
Unfortunately, I can't give that speech. Although I grew up with the Phillies, I am just a fan. Bake McBride once talked about how that speech in San Francisco meant so much because it came from you. "Normally the Pope was nice and easygoing. We all expected Dallas's blowup, but when Pope lost it with us, I knew we had a problem. Everyone in that room sat up and paid attention."
I was lucky enough to know you, not as the "Pope," or the "Architect", but simply as Grandpa. The man who taught me how to dance (poorly), or who encouraged me to roll my "R's" to imitate my Belgium-born Grandma.
The man who would be at every one of my high school basketball games, despite a busy offseason with the Phillies, or who had such a knack for blasphemy with the words "god damn" and "Jesus Christ".
Reading McBride's comments gives me a further understanding of how respected you were...not only by your peers and the fans, but by your players as well.
As I sat at your funeral nearly nine years ago, I watched grown men sobbing uncontrollably. Men like then Phillies manager Larry Bowa...The man you once told would, "Pinch his god damned head off like a grape." These men, like me, had lost someone very dear to their heart. The man who was always there for them. Who pushed them. Who kicked their ass when they needed an ass kicking, and picked them up when they were down.
I never had the opportunity to tell you how much you meant to me. How much I appreciated you always being there. How grateful I am, for letting me know when I was not playing to my capabilities, and encouraging me when I needed it the most. As I reflect on our relationship, it is apparent how much of an influence you had on my life. I would not be the man I am today without your guidance. The same can be said for many others, whether they knew you as Paul, The Pope, or just Grandpa.
Your Grandson Kevin