Manslow's famed Hierarchy of Needs does not specifically mention sports but a man that smart had to know, on some level, that they exist somewhere in that color-coded triangle. They do not provide physiological or safety necessities yet deliver an overwhelming sense of love and belonging, esteem, and in the rarest or rare cases, doses of self-actualization. Sports mean absolutely nothing at all and yet everything at once concurrently, a perplexing dichotomy that can be tough to explain because they are so inherently emotional with experiences varying from person to person. They are flawed and cause people undue and unproductive stress, aggravation and anxiety. They also possess the unique ability to transport spirits to the happiest places they'll ever go.
Phillies fans, still soggy from the rain and buzzing from Bryce Harper's opposite-field home run, cheered a SEPTA train on the euphoric streets Sunday night. They chanted for a slow-moving conveyance simply for doing its job. An unremarkable job they wouldn't appreciate in normal times. Without sarcasm or irony they banded together, bound by the shared experience of winning a National League pennant, and raised their happy voices toward the mundane, elevating it to something magical. It was both very stupid and very moving.
It does not get better than this. Other, more meaningful life events dig deeper in the soul. Getting married. Having kids. Professional success. Yet they all carry the aftertaste of increased responsibility and the haunting fear that one will lose what they've gained. Sports joy is ephemeral and requires nothing but savoring it for all its worth. And this specific joy is the best kind. The Phillies' remarkable turnaround is not complete. They'll face a Houston Astros side that is both more proven and more talented in the Fall Classic.
Not a single person was worrying about that in the haze of victory, whether they were throwing an impromptu batting practice to a little kid or doing shots with the ubiquitous Miles Teller at a cheesesteak factory. They were delighting in the past — rebounding from a 22-29 start under the dispatched Joe Girardi. They were drunk on the present of winning a third consecutive playoff series in which they were the underdog. They were looking forward to the future without worry of being hurt by disappointment.
The sweet spot in sports and in life is when they're much to be celebrated yet more to look forward to. As the SEPTA had more stops on its journey, so too do the Phillies and fans who know there's four-to-seven more nights of riding that intoxicating emotional rollercoaster.
Watching that realization plastered across their faces makes me envious but also appreciative of the few moments in my own fandom where step before nirvana coursed through veins. Magglio Ordonez's ALCS-clinching walk-off homer. Phil Coke slamming his mitt down as hard as Rhys Hoskins slams his bat. Anytime the final buzzer sounded and Tom Izzo had another Final Four he wouldn't win. It is just the best, something ultimate disappointment can't sully or cheapen.
This Philadelphia run has been magical to watch from the outside. It must be transcendent to experience from the inside as the team has ushered its supporters behind velvet ropes to their hearts. Harper, speaking after the swing of his life, was passionate and earnest in his all-for-one message. A message that will endear him forever to a city and allow fans to know that this time, they actually are part of the team.
No one can plan for this. The unscripted and unpredictable nature of sports renders all planning for the future meaningless. Highs come in unexpected packages and lows are delivered at the drop of a fly ball or drop of a penalty flag. No one knows their future includes chanting for light rail with scores of strangers who at that point of time are their de facto family. If you told them a few days ago, they wouldn't have believed you and, more importantly, it would ruin the spontaneity.
Human beings don't technically need this to survive. But goddamn do they crave it. And sports, for all their flaws, are the perfect and perhaps only conduit. The only moving vehicle we can get on with the hope it one day takes us some place both profoundly special and profoundly weird.
When that day finally comes, there's nothing better.