Wins and losses take on new meaning

For the first time since childhood, I care about baseball.

I recently skipped a presidential debate to watch the Philadelphia Phillies trump the Los Angeles Dodgers for a World Series ticket. Now they're battling the Tampa Bay Rays, and in my new reality, baseball has taken on life and death meaning.

I grew up a Phillies fan. I was one of nine kids – our own baseball team – and a few times each summer, my parents would stuff us into the back of a station wagon and drive 30 miles from our West Chester, Pa., suburb to Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. At 50 cents, the Phillies were as affordable as a family outing for 11 could get.

My brothers and I would pick our favorite players and take on their identities. I was the young Mike Schmidt, who my brothers thought struck out too much. (He also hit a lot and ended up in the Hall of Fame.) We argued endlessly about this, and then one day, it didn't matter anymore.

As I got older, I realized that baseball's a rocky and often unrewarding relationship. You get all worked up over some complete winner, only to realize he's a loser after all.

You could stick by him, over and over, or you could cut and run. I figured I'd rather read or jog or do anything besides cheering on a bunch of over-priced athletes.

Then I married a diehard New York Mets fan, a breed Phillies fans view like a plague of rats. My family accepted my husband, but speaks badly of him during tight races like this year's, when the Phillies and Mets kept bumping each other out of first place.

The Phillies last won the World Series in 1980, when I was in high school. Twenty years later, I went into labor as the Mets played the Yankees in the historic Subway Series. The Mets won just one game, on Oct. 24, 2000, the night our son, Vincent, was born.

My husband spent that night juggling the action on TV with the delivery room drama. (Coming from my family, it never occurred to me that the birth of our first child – despite painful hours of labor – would ever keep my husband from his true love. This was, after all, the World Series.)

Vincent turned 8 on Friday. He mourned like someone died when the Mets missed the playoffs this year.

But in a dramatic turn, Vincent recently shocked us by announcing that he'd cheer for the Phillies – just this once – in the playoffs.

He told us as we drove from our Charlotte home to my mom's house in Pennsylvania, where everyone was mourning the death of his beloved uncle, my oldest brother.

My brother had just turned 54 in February when he found out that he had a very aggressive form of cancer. His illness played out like a bad baseball season: he started spring training with a rotten forecast, poured his heart and soul into getting his stride back, won enough games to give him hope, but lost the big one.

Euie (nickname for Eugene) was our leadoff batter, and our family – the most close-knit team you'll find – is left with a huge hole in the lineup.

He was a character, and one of the biggest sports fanatics in history. As his wife, Karen, and the rest of us planned his funeral; friends, cousins and neighbors stopped by to grieve.

The Phillies were playing the Dodgers and my mom's house took on the air of a Sopranos episode, with people crying in one room and cheering the Phillies on in another.

Euie would have hated that we scheduled the funeral home visitation during a game. My other brothers tried to get the funeral home guys to turn the game on, but those somber men – eyeing the hundreds lined up to pay respects – nixed that idea.

Now the wakes and the funeral are over and we're back in Charlotte, where I miss the Phillies fans in my life more than ever. So here I am, staying up too late again, rooting for Chase Utley and Cole Hamels and a bunch of other guys I didn't used to care about.

I'm cheering as if someone's life depends on the outcome, hoping that maybe this time, my team can pull it off.