As Charlie loses, he reminds us what it means to win

     The author with son Jacob at part two of the  final game of the 2008 World Series. (Photo courtesy of the fan in the next seat.)

    The author with son Jacob at part two of the final game of the 2008 World Series. (Photo courtesy of the fan in the next seat.)

    I saw the Phillies win the 2008 World Series on my son’s face.

    I was actually in the stands for the final game that cold October night, but I didn’t see Brad Lidge throw his last nasty slider. My eyes were fixed on Jacob.

    Even cerebral nerds such as myself dream of those impossible peaks with their sons. Through fate and a good bit of generosity I attained one that few dads ever will. I got to bathe in the moment as my 12-year-old’s dreams came true right before my eyes.

    I will always be grateful to the old friend who let me have the two tickets at face value and to my wife, Cindy, and my other son, Rick, who let me take the second ticket. And, of course, to all the players on the 2008 team.

    Ultimately, though, I’m grateful to the man who earlier today had to publicly walk away from his own heart.

    Say what you will about the slow-drawling West Virginian’s last couple of seasons, it’s impossible to imagine that Jacob and I, and millions of other parents and their children, would have shared that moment in 2008 without Charlie in the dugout, leaning on that fence rail.

    During the live press conference, as I watched a man of very few words try to articulate an indescribable loss, I started to cry a little. The tragedy was inescapable: Charlie Manuel, who had reached a height that few people ever have, or will, became merely a commentator at the funeral of his Phillies career.

    That was only part of it, though. I also felt sad realizing that the hero-worshipping 12-year-old I took to the park that night is now a much wiser 17-year-old who must face the ruthlessness of time and the cruel ironies of life. Today, he understands keenly that his superhuman boyhood idol, Ryan Howard, has become little more than an expensive millstone around the neck of his struggling team. He has accepted the fact that moving forward often means leaving a lot behind.

    But there is still more that got to me. I’m pretty sure now that it was Charlie’s loving oaths to his Phillies, and his clear yearning to see them win again. He pledged to follow their ups and downs forever, just like the millions of Jacobs who celebrated back in October ’08.

    Charlie’s promises that he would always be in the game to win took me right back to that triumphant moment on the 400 Level of Citizens Bank Park, as I watched Jacob as he watched Eric Hinske square up for the 0-2 pitch. People have told me the stadium was incredibly loud, but all I really heard was my own frenzied screaming. Still, I didn’t take my eyes off my son. When Hinke whiffed, Jacob’s eyes lit up and a smile bloomed across his face.

    Craziness ensued, but the roars of the crowd got muted for a moment in the ice of frozen time. Then Jacob looked me squarely in the face, pumped his fist and yelled what I think a young Charlie Manuel might have yelled in the same situation: “Re-peat!”

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