Thursday, October 1, 2009

A Class Organization

Class is a word that gets thrown around far too often in sports terminology. But if any organization personifies the word in its true form, it would have to be the Philadelphia Phillies. The defending World Series Champions beat the Houston Astros 10-3 Wednesday (Sept. 30) to earn its third consecutive National League East Title.

They were lots of ways the “Phightin’ Phils” showed its class last night. It included paying its respects publicly to Harry Kalas, the longtime voice of the Phillies who died suddenly early this season; and by its pitchers, a close-knit group by all accounts, taking a moment to return to the bullpen to salute one another. But the way its class was best expressed was by Phillies manager Charlie Manuel’s decision to have Brad Lidge throw the last out. The fans went wild, along with the players in the dugout and the bullpen.

In 2008, Lidge, the designated closer for the Phillies, had a perfect 45 saves, including throwing the last pitch in the World Series to beat Tampa Bay Rays. This year, the story has been far different. Lidge blew 11 saves, a Major League Baseball record and his earn run average is 7.34, among the highest in the majors. After many chances, he finally lost his position as the team’s closer.

Players after the game in interviews described the move as a respectful gesture toward someone who has meant so much to the organization. Some observers also saw a show of confidence by Manuel and the organization. During the playoff run, the team will need Lidge at some point if they are going to repeat as champions.

Last night’s display wasn’t just a one-time occurrence. It’s the hallmark of an organization from the top down. Dave Montgomery, its president is committed the Phillies to be a fan friendly organization. For example, when the Phillies built its new ballpark (Citizens Bank Park opened in 2004), it made it a true democratic venue to watch a ballgame. Fans, no matter where their seats are located, have access to the entire park, which is rare in modern ballparks. Those with standing room tickets can watch the game in most areas of the ballpark. Behind the lower section there are long metals tables for these fans to buy a hot dog and beer and stand and have a high-priced view of the game.

Whatever happens in the playoffs, through its play and through its involvement with fans and the greater Philadelphia community, the Phillies have already earned a place in the hearts and minds of residents.

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