Why One Professor Is a Little Behind This Week

Paula Krebs writes about how the Philadelphia Phillies earned her devotion -- and the havoc that has been created in her life this fall by the team's success.

October 24, 2008

It hasn’t been a problem for the last 15 years. Fall semesters have come and gone, and I’ve managed to keep up with my grading and on top of my reading and even get some research done. I’ve done the routine administrative work that has come my way and been a good academic advisor to my students. I’ve gotten eight hours of sleep a night.

That is, until this fall.

The Phillies are in the World Series.

At almost three hours per game, in first a best-of-five-game, then two best-of-seven series that adds up to a whole lot of hours I don’t have during the academic year.

But I have no option.

This is a team that last year hit a U.S. professional sports franchise record of 10,000 losses. A team that was, during my entire childhood and adolescence, referred to in my house as “those bums.” A team who managed to win its only World Series title one month after I moved away from the Philadelphia area to go to graduate school. (Try looking for a bar full of Phillies fans in Bloomington, Indiana).

The Phillies earned my love and loyalty when I was a kid via the unlikely channel of my report card. In the 60s and 70s, the now-defunct Philadelphia Bulletin sponsored a challenge that awarded two Phillies tickets to four different games over the summer to every kid in greater Philadelphia who got straight A's on her or his report card in June. My sister and I used to score big every year, earning us four tickets to each of those four games. Our parents chipped in for the other two tickets that would enable our family of six to attend, and we set off across the bridge from South Jersey, first to Connie Mack Stadium and then to the concrete behemoth Veterans Stadium.

We never went to any other professional sports events – who could afford tickets for a family of six to the Eagles or the 76ers or, later, the Flyers? Consequently, none of those other teams or sports ever really caught my attention.

But the Fightin’ Phils had me for life. Free tickets for straight A's? How cool was that? And what’s not to like about a professional baseball game? From the hot dogs to the Cracker Jacks to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” baseball is tailor-made for kids. It’s the only pro sport that woos fans so young, and it certainly worked on me.

So now I’m in trouble. Hours and hours of baseball-watching time, plus chatting with my sister and my mom about the games, plus repeated washing of my Phillies T-shirts and jerseys is interfering with my ability to get through October as a respected professional.

The first problem is my lack of cable television. Because I am one of those annoying academics who can’t keep up with pop culture conversations because I don’t get enough channels, I found myself, come playoff time, in a pickle. Given how badly the Phillies have always done (until last year, but we won’t speak of that sweep in Colorado), I haven’t had to worry much about watching playoff games. I actually pay Major League Baseball a sum that is the equivalent of two or three good books in my field in order to be able to watch Phillies games during the regular season on my computer. But that fee does not cover the postseason. And my lack of cable means that I had to spend late September in bars. This is a sad, sad thing. Is there anything more pathetic than a lone, middle-aged woman (sometimes in a Phillies shirt) sitting at a bar, nursing a beer? (Try finding a bar full of Phillies fans in Red Sox Nation.)

The second problem is the time. Time for the games has to come, of course, out of my sleeping time and any social life I might have had – the grading and the course prep and the meetings just don’t go away. And I learned early that I can’t drink more than one beer during a game and expect to be able to stay awake to read Thomas Carlyle afterwards. I plan my days around the games, at the expense of my partner and child (though, to be fair, they do sometimes join in the game-watching). We all must live around this postseason, and housework, and sometimes even cooking, will just have to wait.

Professional credibility would be a problem as well, were it not for the enthusiasm of folks in New England for their own baseball team. Last week, while the Sox were still in contention, I was walking through campus in my Eastern Division Champs 2008 Phillies T-shirt (discreetly hidden under a zip-front cardigan), when I spotted a colleague from the computer science department. I unzipped and pointed to my Phillies logo. He responded by pointing to his Red Sox cap. The silent acknowledgment of our mutual (yet not) passion comforted me.

And now, instead of grading or prepping to teach or, heaven forbid, getting some work done on my research, I am following the Phillies and, what is more, I am writing about not grading or prepping to teach or doing research because I am following the Phillies.

Still, no one gives me anything anymore for getting straight A's. I figure I owe the Phillies this.


Paula M. Krebs is a professor of English at Wheaton College, in Massachusetts.


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