As the Phillies head back home for Game 3 of the NLCS, the first NL pennant since 2009 in reach, a brief note of gratitude for bringing me closer to my dad in ways I didn’t quite expect.
My father, John Wertheimer, was one of the biggest Phillies fan you’d ever meet. His love of baseball was only second to his family, even edging out his commitment to medicine and his patients.
To understand how much this team meant to him, a few anecdotes. We skipped out of synagogue early on Rosh Hashanah in 2003 to catch the last Phillies game at the Vet. We left a dear friend’s wedding after cocktail hour in 2008 to a rain delayed Game 3 of the World Series.
In 2010, he was diagnosed with a glioblastoma right before the Phillies NLDS series. On October 6, hours after having a brain biopsy, he insisted on going to Game 1 – and what a game it was. He finally got to see a no-hitter. A few weeks later, when we were at Duke for surgery and treatment, my mom and I bullied our way into the OR recovery room well after visiting hours so we could watch Game 4 of the NLCS with him. In 2011, we even skipped Kol Nidre services to see Game 5 of the NLDS. Ryan Howard falling in agony was the last moment of playoff baseball he ever got to see. But this is how much this team, this game, meant to him.
I don’t know exactly where his love of the game came from. Maybe it was the purest form of Americana for the only (surviving) child of immigrant Holocaust survivor parents. Maybe it was the proximity of his childhood home to Finley playground. He not only followed the game, but played and umpired in various rec leagues. And, for as long as I live, I’ll always know that Jim Bunning’s perfect game was not only on Father’s Day, but four days after my dad’s 13th birthday and one day after his bar mitzvah. And he thought it was the best gift.
My last texts from him were on October 12, 2012, exactly two months before his death, and were about former Phillie Raul Ibanez’s clutch performance for the Yankees in Game 3 of the ALDS. Most of our texts were about baseball.
When he passed in late 2012, his friends wore Phillies hats instead of kippahs or Phillies ties to the funeral. A red P adorns his headstone. He was the biggest fan they’d ever known.
But I don’t go to the cemetery to visit him. That’s not where his spirit is – it’s at the ballpark. I kept his season tickets after he died. I haven’t missed a home opener since. And so on Friday night, I’ll be sitting in the same seat I’ve sat in since the Bank opened, the same seat I was in, next to him, for the World Series in 2008 and 2009, and the same seat as the last game he attended. And I’ll be wearing his personalized jersey from 1987 Dream Week so that a piece of him will be there, too.
This year’s magical run has had family and friends reaching out, some who have fallen out of touch. knowing how excited he’d be, recounting memories of 1980, 1993, and 2008. The same couple sits behind us and spent the NLDS recounting memories of him.
And so, as a long-suffering diehard fan who has had to persist through this decade of drought without my biggest fan, this is much more than just the euphoria of finally being back to the big stage. Ten years after his death, it has made me feel closer to my dad than I have in a long time. So whether or not we win, thank you, from the bottom of my heart. (But please win.)