When I booked a trip for an October work conference in Austin, the Phils were not on my mind. At that time, they had lost more games than they won. Sports writers didn’t think the manager change could fix things. The Robyn song had not yet entered the chat.
But I haven’t felt this kind of energy since I skipped classes in 2008 to see Shane Victorino in the World Series Parade. And when the universe puts a Philly native like me within driving distance from Game 2, I had to at least check on tickets.
Seeing the prices (way lower than at Citizens Bank Park) led to texting my sports-obsessed brother. “Talk me off the ledge,” I begged.
His response was to Venmo me an early Christmas gift to offset the ticket price with a clear directive: “Have fun ya Philthy animal!!”
Saturday night, I rented a car and drove 2.5 hours to Houston. I parked in an eerily silent downtown parking garage, scarfed two slices of Frank’s Pizza (meh, at best) and made my way to Minute Maid Park.
I was nervous wearing my Phillies gear. I wasn’t expecting to be locked in a porta-potty, but Astros fans wouldn’t just let me walk in there without some proper heckling, right? Wrong.
Reader, there was not a peep.
The meanest thing that happened was when an older seat attendant gently asked me to stop blocking the fire exit. I asked if he knew a good place for standing room fans and he said, “I do — but I don’t think I’ll tell YOU,” pointing at my shirt with a smirk. We laughed, and he told me anyway. I was grateful, and thoroughly confused.
I bounced between pockets of Phils fans, who were easy to hear above the mild buzz of contented Houston fans. I tested rowdiness levels with a cursory “LET’S GO” which met with cheers in return, but even the Phillies fans in Houston seemed subdued.
At the bottom of the seventh, I posted up behind a row of great left field seats.
“Do you want to sit? My buddy left early.” I eyed the clean cut, middle aged man gesturing towards me. Seems risky, I thought, but if he pours a beer on me, it’ll make for a good story.
Yet his beer remained firmly in his grip while we chatted. He was visibly amused by my bewildered distrust of Southern manners. “I guess it’s not like that in Philly?” he asked. “No,” I said. “No, it’s not.”
Maybe it’s the domed stadium (soft). Maybe it’s the warmer weather, or higher median income. But something in Houston makes people unnaturally nice, and it honestly bugged me out. Then again, I am from Philly — so maybe I’m the problem, Houston.
Either way, I had no regrets as I walked back to my car with throngs of Astros fans. It was only then that I heard what could reasonably be called a heckle, directed at nearby Philly fans. “Did you lose a bet?”
“Better lose than cheat, right?” The Philly guy clapped back. I raised my eyebrows. Was it finally happening?
“Listen man, it’s a Series! It’s a Series.” The exchange fizzled out politely. I sighed, found my car, and drove back to Austin.
I arrived at my Airbnb around 2:30 a.m. My phone helpfully informed me that my alarm was set for 6:30, which I responsibly adjusted to 5:30 to ensure I didn’t miss my 8 a.m. flight. The thing is, my alarm was set for 5:30 a.m. tomorrow… and it was already today.
I woke up with the force of a snapped rubber band at 8:45 a.m. It took about two seconds to realize it was light outside, which meant my flight was gone. The plane was already in the air, allowing me to skip straight to the “acceptance” stage of grief.
After I booked the next flight home, I sat in the airport contemplating my experience. With this layer of inconvenience added to the disappointment of the loss, was it still worth it?
Yes. Hanging around those weirdly friendly strangers only made my love for Philly — her teams, fans, lore — even stronger. As I took my seat on the flight, the woman sitting next to me noticed my slept-in Phillies shirt and asked if I had gone to the game. I had, I told her.
“Me too,” she said. “I can’t wait to get home.”