Sunday, June 3, 2018

freeze frame

For eighteen seasons, Mrs. Pincus and I were proud Phillies season ticket holders. Well, maybe we weren't proud for every one of those seasons, but, you get what I'm saying. We first purchased our tickets — four seats in the lofty 500 level of Philadelphia's notorious Veterans Stadium — to qualify to buy two tickets to the 1996 All-Star Game that was scheduled to be held in our fair city in the mid-season break in July.  In 1996, if you recall, the Phillies were terrible. Just three years removed from a World Series appearance, they were now a bedraggled crew of over-the-hill under-achievers. Despite the pitching prowess of dominating southpaw Terry Mulholland and future asshole Curt Schilling, the Fightin's put up abysmal numbers, closing the season just five shy of losing 100 games. We had to literally beg friends and family to join us to occupy our fourth seat. We whittled it down to three seats the following season.

Our plan was especially prepared with families in mind. It was a 13-game plan, every Sunday home game. The April games were cold. The August games were broiling. But, all in all, it was a memorable piece of family bonding for me, my wife and our young son. We all grew to have a love of all things baseball. We visited other ball parks in other cities. We knew the goings-on with other teams. We could rattle off the current standings at any point during the season. My wife could explain the infield fly rule, fer crissakes! When the Phillies moved into their new digs at beautiful (and I do mean "beautiful") Citizens Bank Park, and started to get good again, we were right there with them. We got to know — and became close with —  the group of folks whose seats were surrounding ours. Even when our son decided he wanted his summer Sunday afternoons unencumbered by endless foul tips and Seventh Inning Stretches, Mrs. P and I continued to renew our Sunday plan with just two seats. And we did that right up until the end of the 2013 season, when we quietly opted not to purchase tickets for 2014. The last five years were the most exciting of our entire run... and for a reason that you would not expect.

As any true baseball fan can tell you, baseball is boring. Sure it has its exciting moments — the grand slam, the walk-off home run, the elusive triple play*, the no-hitter** — but, for the most part, not much happens in between. In June of 2009, a benign discussion at work yielded a brilliant idea. During a lull in the workday, some co-workers and I were discussing people wearing Phillies jerseys to Phillies games. I always thought it was weird, along the lines of wearing a t-shirt of the band you are seeing in concert.. Everyone knows why you're there! You're there for the same reason everyone is there. You're a fan! Do you really need to label yourself? I found myself in the minority, everyone in agreement that wearing a jersey of the home team shows support. Okay. I get it. It's just not for me. Then, someone brought up whose name is appropriate to put on the back of a jersey. Well, obviously, your favorite player's name would get the honors... I mean, as long as we're showing support. We all agreed that putting your own name was just flat out wrong! A total violation of the hallowed rules of baseball. An unforgivable infraction that must be dealt with... publicly. And so, my alter-ego was born.

The very next Sunday, I became "Photographer N." I was a silent, stealthy whistleblower exposing those who dare rank themselves among baseball's greatest — the Ruths, the Mayses, the Gehrigs — by displaying their own moniker across their shoulders while bypassing the earned respect and applied diligence. I am a firm believer that anyone over the age of twelve looks silly wearing a baseball jersey to a game — but that's my pet peeve and I know I am in the minority, But, an adult shelling out $200 for an officially-licensed Major League Baseball jersey and ruining it by getting their own name on the back — that's just stupid. Does some out-of-shape accountant sitting in the upper deck with his personalized jersey tucked into his dress pants really think he's gonna get a "call up" if the Phillies' bullpen runs out of relief pitchers? Well, it was my self-proclaimed duty to expose these guys for all the world to see.

With my digital camera battery fully charged, Mrs. Pincus and I arrived at the ballpark early and nonchalantly strolled through the crowds on the main concourse. I kept a keen eye open to my surroundings, hoping to spot someone — anyone — with their own name on a Phillies jersey. I was not disappointed. As a matter of fact, I was pleased — if not a bit disturbed — by just how many people had no problem displaying their innermost baseball fantasies to their fellow Phillies fans. Among the "Utley"s and the "Howard"s and the "Halladay"s, I saw numerous non-Phillie names in big red letters unjustly stitched across those red pinstripes. I got as close to the offenders as I could and snapped a picture, preserving the evidence for later display. On my first day of this project, I got five pictures. After we arrived home from the game, I started a new WordPress blog called "Who Does He Play For?" Every week, I would add to the collection of "jersey offenders." I posted the photos I gathered that day and captioned them with words of good-natured ribbing (well, "good-natured" unless you were the subject). Some days, I came home with a collection of pictures that numbered in the high twenties. As the weeks passed, I started receiving pictures from other Phillies fans, thanks to an anonymous email address posted on the blog's masthead. My blog was even acknowledged by a sportswriter from the Philadelphia Daily News and was mentioned in an online publication devoted to sports uniforms.

This blog had taken on a life of its own, as well as injecting new excitement into the boring routine of going to a Phillies game. Don't get me wrong. We enjoyed our Sunday outings, but, as I mentioned, baseball is not a particularly exciting sport. However, we were making our own excitement. But it didn't come without risk. When I spotted an "offending jersey," I would take off into the crowd, leaving poor Mrs. Pincus (now using the counterpart alias "Mrs. Photographer N") in the dust, worrying if some drunk guy with his own name on his jersey would catch me taking his picture and beat the crap out of me. Would she stumble across my bloodied and battered body a few hundred feet up the concourse with my camera stuffed in my mouth, mob hit-style? Nope. She never did. I was careful. Plus, I came to see that most people are oblivious to their surroundings. With the flash on my camera turned off, I have gotten within inches of a subject and remained undetected. As a courtesy to the folks who deserved no courtesy, I blurred any visible faces in every photograph, including innocent bystanders.

My "Who Does He Play For?" blog kept me busy with nearly 1500 posts over five years, including posts during the off-season (because there is no rest for the weary). But, at the end of the 2013, after 18 seasons spanning two ballparks, Mrs. P and I decided not to renew our ticket plan. I hung up my camera and "Photographer N." faded into the crowd, remaining unidentified until the confession you are now reading.

Mrs. P (or should I say "Mrs. Photographer N") went to a Phillies game just last week. I am saddened to say that the tradition continues among the fans. Luckily, I brought my camera and I snapped one for old times' sake.

Although the blog is no longer active, it is still available to peruse (HERE) as an archive until the internet takes it down. Enjoy. I know I did.

* saw one
** saw one

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