An Open Letter to
Ryan Howard, Kyle Kendrick, Carlos Ruiz, Jimmy Rollins,
Chase Utley, and Cole Hamels.
“The time has come, the walrus said, to talk of many things...”
Maybe this is a foolish task. Maybe this letter is an overwrought, and unnecessary gesture in this day and age. But I’m old school, and I believe in telling people that you care about, how much you care about them while you still can.
It’s sad for me to say, but I realize that by the time I get home to Philly again, and make a trip to Citizens Bank Park, some, or even most of you guys will be gone. Traded away to other teams, wearing someone else’s uniform, carrying the hopes of some new city on your shoulders. So I wanted to say this now, while you’re all still Phillies. Because in my heart you will always be Phillies, and the Phillies...particularly this version we’ve had for the last 12 years or so...mean more to me than just another baseball team. 2008 wasn’t merely a World Series win. Not to me.
I’m sure that by this stage of your careers, you have come to realize how much people love you and what you represent. You embody the dreams of little boys and the memories of their dads and grandfathers. They dream of being like you one day, or remember when they were a little like you in their past. They love you. The Phillies have had hundreds and hundreds of men come and go through their history, but few will ever be as beloved as you guys, or as endearing. You’ve brought smiles, ignited passion, rejuvenated the city and given us all reasons to walk with our chest out, and with a little more pride in our step.
And, in my case, maybe you saved a life.
I know none of you guys will ever forget October 29, 2008. You can probably close your eyes and feel the cold of that night, the roar of the crowd, the dazzling brilliance of the fireworks and the flashbulbs popping and the unbelievable feeling of being a champion. No matter where you go, from that night until eternity, you’ll never forget it.
Neither will I.
I wasn’t in Philadelphia that night. I wasn’t in a warm house watching the game on TV. I wasn’t huddled around a radio in a garage, like I used to do when I was a little boy, growing up about 15 miles from Veterans Stadium. I was zipped into a couple of sleeping bags, laying down in the front seat of my beat-up Volvo 850, hidden in some brush and overgrowth behind a church in Nashville, TN. I was homeless.
Earlier that year I had lost my job. I was a ten year veteran of the mortgage industry and I had done well for myself, and my daughter. I am a single dad and her mom and I split custody. In 2007 I lost my home when the business started to falter. I rented for a year and in May 2008, when the company I worked for folded, I couldn’t renew my lease and I was homeless. Just like that.
By that October I was a broken man. I was ashamed, embarrassed, defeated, and, worst of all, I was hopeless. I had no idea how I would rebuild my life, and I had nothing to look to and say “This is going well. This will get me back on my feet.” That’s where I was when you were beating the Rays that cold, nasty Wednesday night in late October, 6 years ago.
More than anything...I was lonely. I was homesick. No matter where I have gone or will go in this world, Philly is my home, and the Phillies are my team. In the months leading up to that October night, I was as lonely as I’ve ever been. Everyone I loved, and who loved me, with the exception of my daughter, was back there in my hometown, and with each day of defeat, I felt like I was taking another step further from them.
That’s how it felt for me, that night you became World Champions. I was listening to the game on my car radio. Listening to the roar. Listening to the play by play. Wishing I was there. I was remembering when I was little and dreamed of playing baseball one day. Playing for the Phillies. Playing for my hometown, like you do now.
When the game was over, I cried like a baby. For a few minutes, maybe a few hours, I wasn’t hopeless. I wasn’t broken or defeated. I wasn’t a homeless loser, sleeping in my car and trying to find work. I was a Philadelphian. And we were winners.
These past six years as I’ve rebuilt my life, you guys have given me so much to be proud of. So much to hope in. So many reasons to believe. When things were hard, and days were long, I could always find the occasional Sunday night game on the radio when you were playing, and just for a while I’d be home. At Citizen’s Bank Park. Watching my Phillies. I could feel the seats, taste the hot dogs, hear the crack of the bat. I walked with pride.
These past six years, as you men have written the greatest chapter in Phillies Baseball history, I was working on new chapters of my own life. I went back to school and completed the final two years of my bachelors degree online. In May, 2012 I graduated from Liberty University. I’ve written five books. I started a carpentry business. It was a tough road. Three times over those six years, I found jobs, and then the companies that hired me shut their doors and I was out of work again. But I endured. I stayed with my daughter instead of relocating to a place where I could find work. In the past six years, I have been homeless four and a half of them.
A month ago, my daughter and I moved to Lynchburg, Virginia, where I have a job opportunity with my alma mater. I am excited. I am hopeful. I have a nice townhouse here, and I have been busy and working and it’s great to feel like a success again. A chapter of my life is closed now. A chapter that brought pain, and sadness, but with those hardships also came amazing lessons, and the thrill of discovering something I love and am good at.
It’s no mistake, I believe, that my long path was book-ended by this team you play on, and by the best years of your careers. You were there for me –without even knowing me- when I was at my worst. And now, as my life has taken flight again, your time to fly is upon us too.
I don’t know which of you guys will be staying or which will be gone. Maybe some, maybe none, maybe all. But I wanted to tell you my story while you were all still there together. Still wearing that uniform. Still Phillies. I wanted you to know about that dreary night, and the dreariness of my life back then, and how you punched a hole in the darkness I was trapped in and gave me hope and pride from 800 miles away. I wanted you to know that what you do is so much more than play baseball. So much more than a game. I know you’ll never forget that season, or winning that championship, or the way this city has loved you. But I hope that now, in addition to those memories, you’ll also remember that on one magnificent night, you were winning more than a World Series. You were keeping a lonely, broken dad, alive, and giving him the hope to fight another day. And he did.
And finally...he won.
Ryan, Chase, Jimmy, Chooch, Cole, Kyle...thank you. Thank you for giving us all your very best. Believe me when I tell you, no matter where you go in this world...
...you’ll always be Phillies.
June 8, 2014