The Checklist Doubleheader: Philadelphia

I’m a List Guy. I like goals. I like objectives. I like checkmarks. And I like sports. So it stands to reason, from my admittedly biased perspective, that I would have Sports Lists. Some of these come and go, some completed and some not. But one particular Sports List has endured: The “Baseball Team In Person” List.

See, some time ago it dawned on me that as a result of attending baseball games in the various parts of the country in which I have lived or visited, I had seen every team in the American League play in person – and that I had a pretty good head start on the National League as well. Intrigued by this realization, I sat down to tease out the particulars, all while attempting to keep the exercise from straying into OCD territory. Oops – too late. For once I had figured out that there were only seven Major League Baseball teams that I had not yet visited personally, there was no going back. A mini-quest was born. What is it with me and quests?

But what looked like such an easy task on paper didn’t turn out to be so in real life, and progress on checking off those final seven came slowly – finally stalling at three: the Philadelphia Phillies, the Florida Marlins, and the St. Louis Cardinals. And so I ask you…what better time to tidy up this list than in the midst of my current quest? And why not do it with flair? That is why, on an ideal night for baseball in Philadelphia, I was sitting at the base of the Steve Carlton statue outside of Citizens Bank Park – waiting for Buck.

The Phillies shouldn’t even have been part of the Gang of Three in the first place. My Dad grew up a Phillies fan, and Lord knows I’d spent some time in and around the City of Brotherly Love. Why these two variables had never coalesced into attending a Phillies game I do not know, but I was here to rectify that, and as the only Phillies fan that I know other than my Dad, Buck was more than happy to step up and serve as Honorary Observer for the first half of the Checklist Double-Header. And tonight we’d be seeing not just the Phillies, but the Marlins as well, conveniently in town to help out. A quick snooze, followed by a coast-to-coast flight would get me to L.A. just in time to catch the Cardinals wrap up their three game series in Dodger Stadium. Three Checklist teams, two games, two coasts – in 24 hours (with some generous time zone accounting factored in). What could be easier?

Buck is a consultant, and one of the smartest people I know – two things that can rarely be said in tandem of anyone. He’s one of few people that can actually bring real-life substantiation to the points he makes in a conversation, as opposed to the rest of us, who when asked for proof of our position merely talk louder. If he has a viewpoint on healthcare, well it comes from actually working in healthcare. Ditto for banking and a half-dozen or more industries – Buck even knows a frightening amount about cows, the result of a consulting stint in the dairy industry. But perhaps nowhere are his talents on display more than in his role as Commissioner of our fantasy football league. For ten years he has calmly steered our ship of fools through good times and bad. This is not a man to be trifled with. So naturally I trifled.

“Buck, I’m thinking this economy is never going to turn around – how about you?” I lobbed out. At that moment in the game things were pretty slow. The Marlins had scored early and often, taking the crowd out of the game for the time being. And just like that, an economics symposium broke out. It was like watching a game with George Will. Actually more like George Will channeling Larry Bowa.

We talked about business, history, geopolitical trends – you name it. Our best thinking however, was reserved for the business of sports. For example, we lingered for a while on this: If hypothetically the Phillies were to play the Yankees in the World Series again this year, what would people pay to come here to Citizens Bank Park and watch the games played in Yankee Stadium on the JumboTron?

It is obvious that the designers of the now seven year old ballpark sought to create an environment in which moving around to socialize was part of the fabric of the fan experience, so to a certain extent the game itself was already a virtual experience for many. Our concept would simply take that idea one step further. It would be like a huge outdoor sports bar – with assigned seating. If you pumped up the volume and creativity on between-inning activities, which you would be able to do without those pesky players clogging up the field…what would people pay? Twenty dollars, maintained Buck. The jaded industry veteran in me said that interest would top out at just ten bucks a head. But still…10,000 people at $10 a head…all spending money on food, drink and souvenirs…this could rapidly become financially compelling. And the on-field festivities and the sponsorship activation opportunities presented? My mind began to spin wildly. As for Buck – “Just give me Frisbee Dogs every other inning and I’d be happy”.

Amidst all of this compelling conversation, we rarely took our eyes off the field, for in the midst of our meandering dialogue a wonderful game began taking shape right below us. What had the makings of a blow-out when the Marlins went up 4-0 in the top of the third was rescued when Ryan Howard got the ball rolling for the Phillies with a 2-run homer in the bottom of the inning. From there it was back and forth for the rest of the evening. Marlins 4-3 after three innings. Then 6-4 after four. All tied up after five innings. Phillies up 7-6 after six. Tied after seven. The Marlins scored a go-ahead run in the top of the eighth, but the Phillies come right back with three runs to go ahead 10-8. Drama! Intrigue! The Wave – perfectly executed, no less!

The Marlins managed to load the bases with two outs in the ninth inning, prompting just the right amount of anxiety to make the evening’s story line complete, but when a pop fly to right was gloved to end the game at 10:21 PM, the P.A. announcer wished the 44,000 fans in attendance a safe drive home.

For me though, the journey was only beginning – I had a date in L.A. with the St. Louis Cardinals, aka The Last Team Standing.

To be continued…

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