Jun 3, 2013, 11:20 AM EDT
You don’t need me or anyone else to tell you that there hasn’t been a lot to cheer for this year in the city of Brotherly Love. The NFL playoffs occurred without the 4-12 Eagles even qualifying as an afterthought, the much-anticipated seasons for the Flyers and Sixers both ended disastrously, and over a third into the baseball season the Phillies are three games under .500, which is actually still a way better record than their run differential says it should be. Unless things get turned around in a big way for the Phils, 2013 will be the first calendar year of this century without Philly being involved in a single playoff game in any of the four major sports.
When your teams aren’t winning, and it gets past the point where winning even really does your team any good, you need another reason to get emotionally invested–preferably one a little less depressing than tanking for draft positioning. The best reason to watch a losing team is if they have a breakout player–a guy who gives you hope for the future and makes things a little exciting in the present. Through about 40 games for the Phils, though, such a player seemed unlikely to emerge from the roster, and we were stuck with holding out for a healthy Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz doing damage in the lineup together, and getting to watch Cliff Lee do his thing every fifth start. It wasn’t a lot to work with.
Then came Domonic Larun Brown. Technically, he’d been there all along, but somewhere along the line (ahem) the switch flipped from “tantalizing maybe-prospect” to “2001 Barry Bonds,” and now he’s not just the best hitter in the Phillies lineup–for the past two weeks, he’s been the best hitter in the National League, and up there with Chris Davis and Miguel Cabrera for the best in all of baseball. In those two weeks, he’s hit .400 with nine homers and 23 RBIs, scoring 12 runs and even stealing three bases. In the blink of an eye, he’s gone from being a fringe starter to an obvious All-Star, and someone who would probably be getting mid-season MVP consideration if his on-base percentage and defense were a tad bit better. (He has walked already this month, though. Twice!)
It’s unbelievable to watch. As a result, the Phillies have gone from “eh, I’ll watch them if I’m home and not doing anything else” to “OH CRAP DID I REMEMBER TO SET THE DVR??” You don’t want to miss a single Domonic Brown at bat these days, because there’s always a pretty good chance he’ll do something like he did in the first inning of yesterday’s game, where he crushed a Mike Fiers 3-1 fastball (at least I think it was supposed to be a fastball) into like the seventh deck for a three-run homer, his league-leading 16th on the season. It’s not even the least bit surprising anymore–hell, if he had laced an RBI single to right instead, it would’ve almost been a disappointment.
It’s been a little while since a Phillie, or really any Philly athlete, was this exciting to watch. Maybe Claude Giroux last season, definitely Michael Vick in his first year with the Birds, probably Ryan Howard during his 58-homer MVP run in 2006. Even if he doesn’t produce anymore all season–and he’s been so hot that once he cools off, it seems terrifyingly possible that he’ll go through a slump nearly as ice-cold to compensate–Domonic belongs in that class now for the run he’s had the last few weeks, and really the last month, making good on every positive long-term projection made of him that we had been squinting so hard to see in the man himself during his first three seasons of sporadic play in the big leagues.
Is it enough to save the 2013 year in Philly sports? Will we look back on this year not as the year of Andrew Bynum and Ilya Bryzgalov making all their headlines outside of gametime, of Andy Reid and possibly Charlie Manuel running their course in Philly, of the playoffs in all four sports going on without any home team to root for–but instead, as the year Dom Brown broke out as the next Philadelphia pro sports superstar? If he keeps it up, it’s not impossible. How much fun would it be to watch him put on a show at this year’s home run derby, to endure countless silly “Harper vs. Brown: Who would you rather have for the next five years?” debates, to be able to chant “M-V-P!” at him in August and September and have it be at least a slightly credible proposition? It’d wash a whole lot of the bad taste out of my mouth, for sure.
My roommate is a Mets fan, and as much fun as it is and has been for the last five years to make fun of him for it, I have envied this year that he at least had Matt Harvey starts to look forward to, that the team had a talent so electric that his presence alone could make a game a must-watch, and make every home game he pitched in feel like a playoff game. Now, the Phils have a player of their own like that, whose raw power and ability to put on a show makes you feel lucky to be a Phillies fan, regardless of how lousy their record is (and how much worse it probably should be). In this most dire of Philly sports years, we should be very grateful to the Domonator for that.
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