Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Cuzzes in Paradise

I, Big Firm, am fresh off what I hope will become my annual adventure to the sunny shores of Florida. While the white sand beaches (fo reals, them shits is white least in comparison to Margate) are always enticing, and scantily-clad coeds on spring break will forever be tempting, the real draw for me is the Phils. Last year I saw three games, following the team from Clearwater to St. Petersburg and back again. This year, I saw only one. But in my 3.5 hours spent at Brighthouse Networks Field, and the surrounding three days near the Gulf owned by Mexico, I realized that Philadelphians are a rare and incredible breed .

For those who have never been, let me set the scene. It's as though everyone in Philadelphia who you assume is too broke to afford a trip to Florida during prime spring break weeks decides to forego their unborn child's college tuition in favor of grouper sandwiches, bud light, and dip n dots (which by the way are indeed the fuckin wave of the future. I can't hype these little miniature pellets of ice cream up enough. It's as if Alf or some other extra terrestrial being ventured into the ice cream making business while simultaneously channeling my brain for the best flavors of creamy ice. A word to the wise, though: don't wait until the 7th inning to fill yourfavorite team's miniature batting helmet with countless round and delicious treats, as you might get stuck with strawberry...or something equally as unexciting. So put down that brat, delay that super pretzel, and shun frozen lemonade. Dip n Dots is the vatican city of tasty treats). Philadelphians of all ages collect in a shit town about 20 miles west of Tampa Bay, all to watch their favorite baseball players play three innings, sign some autographs, and retire to their condos. But the best part is, amongst these so-called Philadelphians I would honestly say 2% are actually from Philadelphia. You got South Jersey, Upper Dublin, Lower Moreland, Horsham, Norristown, Neshaminy... you might ask how I know this? Well I have an answer for you, my always curious reader: the scary concession guys throwing out peanuts and hawking programs who don't realize their skin is an ungodly orange spend the better part of the game actually yelling out various Pennsylvania counties to encourage fan response. I promise you that "Philadelphia county" got my blood pumping, but I was alone, if not joined by Johari Smith. Yet when "Montgomery County" erupted from the orange man's lungs, half the section went crazy like the Quaker City mummers had just won the fancy competition, and naturally...the other half booed.

So you roll into Clearwater and the first thing you see are Phillies fans. People everywhere sporting Utley jerseys, Burrell T shirts, Mike Schmidt throwbacks. I even saw a Freddy Garcia jersey, and someone making fun of it. Little boys, little girls, cuzzes and cuzzettes. And one thing unites them all: JORTS. Last I checked, jean shorts were not cool. In fact, last I checked, if they didn't have a rapper's face on them, jean shorts have no place in modern fashion. Sure, I wore jean shorts back in the day to compliment my growing collection of Izod and Structure polo shirts. And yeah, there wasn't much cooler than a crisp pair of Nautica denims to throw around my 26 inch middle school waist, but we all must come to terms with the future. That or embrace the notion of others questioning our sexuality and purchase tighter jean shorts and roll them up at the bottom and towards the lower thigh (I swear I'm not looking at you, PSK). If ice cream can, certainly fashion can adjust as well. But the folks in Clearwater, those proud Philadelphia-area cuzzes who want nothing more than an Iggles championship and a white quarterback to lead them there... those people love them some jean shorts. Moreover it would appear that the best way to compliment a pair of Bugle Boy jean shorts is to throw a fanny pack around your waist. Now you tell me: why is it called a fanny pack if every shmuck wearing one has it facing towards the front? Some questions remain unanswered, I suppose. But here I am, parading into the hotel, surrounded by "family," so to speak, yet I'm the only one who didn't get the message. I don't even have a pair of white Reeboks, a salt n pepper goatee, or silver caps on my far too viewable top teeth. It's as though I don't fit in. But all of these growing notions of self-doubt aside, its refreshing to see my people, most of whom can be overheard discussing their hatred for the Mets or their love for egg sandwiches. I'm serious, I heard both conversations...twice.

The hotel and beach scene is a far cry from South Beach. Perhaps the most exciting news is that a softball tournament is being held nearby, and some of the college teams are staying at the Hilton. Quinnipiac University appears to have taken over. I see big leg, strong shouldered broads (looooooook at all these broooooads) everywhere. Most of whom I can't stomach, a few of whom I'd like to magnetize. But in any event, the players, the parents, the loyal fans can be seen throughout the pool area, the beach, and the elevators. The night scene isn't exactly popping. The crowd looks and sounds better suited for the Melrose Diner. But I'm not in Clearwater to bob my head to terrible rap in a bar filled with people I want to beat up. I'm in Clearwater to embrace my home team in a sunny surrounding, pay 5 dollars for a ticket, and perhaps purchase a t shirt with a parrot or beer guzzling turtle on the back. That and eat grouper sandwiches. I don't even like fish, but grouper is advertised as barely tasting like fish. Drown that bitch in some hot sauce and I could be eating tofu for all I know. But grouper is EVERYWHERE. So I ate it. During the course of my stay I ate at a Frenchy's (twice), a Green Iguana, a Cooters, and a Hooters. Tell me I wasn't living the dream!

Rolled up to Brighthouse Networks Field and the first thing I hear is a guy in a Ford Explorer (PA license plate) cursing out a parking attendant (female) for making him go around a few cars while trying to park. Walking to the field you see jews, blacks, whites, (no Asians), some carrying gloves, some carrying beverage belts. I even saw a blind guy. That's how dedicated Phillies fans are: fuck if that guy needs to see Ryan Howard's inevitable homer (he hit one about an hour later) soar over the Radisson Clearwater sign in right field, alls he needs is the sound of that lumber connecting.

After brushing off some rather pathetic attempts by some local high school softball team trying to raise money, and motoring through a collection of old people, I'm in the stadium, right down the third base line, drowning in a sea of jean shorts and sleeveless shirts.

I'm starting to learn a few things: 1) if you have a sleeveless shirt, you are either a) out of shape or b) proudly displaying a barb-wire tattoo or c) both; 2) if you are over the age of 70, you are convinced anyone under the age of 30 has never heard of Jonny Callison or Richie Allen; 3) if you are from the Philly area and have pale ass skin, you pretend that suntan lotion does not exist; 4) if your name is Bill Giles and you are sitting two rows behind me, you don't like when I turn around and take your picture. And you wear velcro white sneakers.

But all of these distractions don't keep me from getting to my seat. 7 rows up from the Phils dugout, the old man next to me is telling me all about his bum knee and looking through what appear to be military issued binoculars. Mind you we are 15 feet from the field. He calls his son's attention to the two Hooters girls serving as honorary ballgirls (I can just imagine the selection system at the restaurant and the excitement each girl must have when they realize they are going to get banged by Burrell, stabbed by Ruiz, punched by Myers, and verbally abused by Uncle Charlie).

No one seems to even notice that in no time, not even two innings into the game, the Phillies are losing 9-1. Kendrick has me wishing for the day he gets traded to a Japanese team, though I'd prefer get back this man in return. How quickly we forget that Cerrano also starred in Japan! But honestly, no one cares that we are getting smoked. Charlie is cracking up, Jayson Werth is signing autographs, J roll has struck out twice and doesn't think twice about his girlfriend farting in jars and preserving them for 2012, let alone failing to capitalize on her venture... all is well in the world of the defending division champs. That is until Scott Rolen steps to the plate, and the house erupts in boos. I swear not a soul was paying attention until that bow-legged Nazi started wagging his bat in that obnoxious manner. Not even fat ass John Daly throwing out the first pitch (there were four first pitches, for some reason) could distract the crowd from their ice filled buckets of Bud Light, but Scott Rolen's at-bat attracts the masses. Like Flintskins sniffing out a teenage girl, or Eldiablo locating a pork spot... Phillies fans sense the presence of their enemies. Thankfully no batteries are thrown (regrettably no grenades were available), and just another sunny day comes and goes.

After the game J roll films a commercial for the United Way flanked by Little Leaguers sporting what appears to be their first respective mustaches. I, too, once thought it was cool to let my whiskers grow. And i distinctly remember thinking that I could grow a full stache in middle school. I also could at that time do simple algebra and run a mile without wanting to die. Those were the days. But the crowd slowly makes its way towards the exits, encouraged to come again, reminded to drive safely, and told to check out Frenchy's famous, a left field stomping grounds that stands as the makeshift Chickie and Pete's of the region. Undoubtedly they too will be gracing the Southwest terminal in Tampa in no time.

So another year passes for me in Clearwater. Last year the Phils went on to win the NL East. Now I'm no scientist, but you do the math: Big Firm in Clearwater 2007 = Phils in the postseason 2007; Big Firm in Clearwater 2008 = Phils in World Series 2008?? You can all thank me later. And just because this story is absolutely absurd, I have included it as well.