More Sports:

July 22, 2015

After years of being held hostage by past, Phillies fans finally get glimpse of future

The sound of a heartbeat resonated from Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday night, and it wasn’t only coming from the chest of rookie pitcher Aaron Nola.


The sound you heard from the stadium was the sound of a heartbeat from the baseball fans of Philadelphia. It was the sound of a fanbase that has been waiting forever for something to get excited about and was rewarded with a wonderful first outing from the young pitcher who lasted six innings, giving up just one run.

For his part, Nola was remarkably poised. As advertised, he did not overpower hitters. Instead, he worked corners, varied pitches and looked very much like a pitcher who will know his way around both a strike zone and a batting order.

Well, if the Phillies ever needed any proof that the bottom line for Philadelphia baseball fans is winning games, all they needed to hear was the heartbeat of those fans on Tuesday night. 

He made a few mistakes -- one of which led to a bizarre piece of trivia in which the first home run he gave up in the Major Leagues was to an American League pitcher. Then again, he also banged out a single, and the overall first impression was a 10 out of 10.

But Nola was just one story Tuesday night, the others being the crowd of over 28,000 at the ballpark, the eyes that were tuned into the TV broadcast and all the ears tuned into the radio. True enough, the fans were mostly interested in Nola, but also any sort of good news about the future of the franchise.

Once again, there was a lack of offense, but this night wasn’t about winning THIS game, it was about winning in the future.

Like Maikel Franco, Nola represents the upcoming fortunes of the franchise, and he represents the hopes of a fanbase that has been so ready to turn the page on the past. Although the club’s ownership and management stubbornly held onto the past, the fans have long been ready to trade it in for the future.

While Chase Utley was sitting on the bench spitting out sunflower seeds, the crowd's collective eyes were on the new players on the field... especially the one on the mound. It was a special night because more than anything else it was a signal to the Phillies brass that the time has long come and gone to surrender the ghosts of the past and put the focus on the future.

Indeed, the players who brought so many fans to South Philly over the past several years have earned their spots in club history -- but the victory tour has run its course. For many of the players the final stop will be with another club, and then maybe a spot on the Phillies' Wall of Fame … a la Pat Burrell next month.

As for the present, the baseball fans of Philadelphia are ready to move on to the next era. Not so coincidentally, the Flyers, Sixers and Eagles have already shed much of their past skin and are armed for the future.

Mostly due to their relatively recent success, the Phillies are the last of the Philadelphia professional sports teams to gear up for the next generation. Ironically, part of the reason they held back was the notion that they could only fill Citizens Bank Park with names from those great seasons.

Well, if the Phillies ever needed any proof that the bottom line for Philadelphia baseball fans is winning games, all they needed to hear was the heartbeat of those fans on Tuesday night. 

Mind you Aaron Nola is not some can’t-miss prospect along the lines of Washington’s Stephen Strasburg.

He earned his stripes under the glare of NCAA baseball as LSU, and then a rapid progression to quickly land in Philadelphia. But baseball fans in Philly have been searching for any indication that this franchise can be rebooted, and they now have a seemingly important spark plug in Franco, and at least an initial spark from Nola.

For the people who own and run the Phillies, what Tuesday night should have amounted to was a mandate from the baseball fans in the area to move on to the future, and to do it quickly. There will be enough money in the Phillies’ wallet to make some free agent signings, and they have enough trade pieces to make things change a whole lot before the start of next season.

The first three months of this horrible season cannot be undone, but what happens in the next three weeks, or next three months can counterbalance a lot of that damage.

Despite the sadly diminished crowds that have been drawn to CBP this summer, and despite the sorry state of the outfield, and the anemic offense, baseball is hardly dead in Philadelphia.

Instead, the baseball IQ in Philadelphia is as high as it has ever been, and if you give the fans some reason to think things will get better -- give them a reason to see a plan for the future -- those seats will again begin to fill.

The trade deadline is looming, as are changes in the management team. And when the dust of this season finally settles, there should be a clearer view of a brighter future.

At least for one night, the heartbeat was back. And we can only hope ownership was listening.