The Third Team

What a long strange year its been.

You remember where you were last year. The day the best pitcher in baseball chose less money and chose to call Philadelphia home. That joyous signing wasn’t without a gotcha! moment; to get the best, Philadelphia had to say goodbye to its best pitcher in years. Goodbye the pitcher who was the consolation prize at the 2009 trade deadline. The guy who carried us to our second consecutive World Series.

How could we let him go? We let the guy go who would have solidified one of the best starting rotations in the game. Even with our new guy, we we’re left with a collective sour taste; perhaps to forever wonder, “what if?”

Cliff Lee was the guy I wanted early in 2009 before Roy Halladay was “made available” during that 2009 trade deadline. When we landed Lee I was excited, however feeling like we had settled – that is, until Lee threw his first pitch as a Phillie. He was likable, focused, hard-working, and most important to us Philadelphia sports fans, determined to win. He even took to us as a fanbase, which we all know is difficult to do sometimes. When he was traded away one year ago, I was disappointed, but knew we got the better guy. I was disheartened by rumors that Lee had turned down a three-year deal to lock him up before free agency. He wanted CC Sabathia type money. Maybe it was him. Maybe it was his agent. We’ll probably never know. But with a deal unable to be reached, off to Seattle, eventually to Texas, and yet again to another World Series our once beloved ace went.

Its hard in this day and age for a professional athlete to not go for free agency. To not cash in on their one chance to provide for their families and to live comfortably. However, when you’re being offered millions upon millions of dollars, I often wondered why not take less money for what could be your only chance at winning it all? It’s easy to say you would turn it down boatloads of money that’s guaranteed in exchange for a chance to win in a game with a long season where anything can happen.  In 2010, not many guys are willing to leave anything on the table. Not even in exchange for a chance at greatness.

You knew where you were today (or for many of us, very late last night). You saw the rumblings of this third, mystery team in the mix for Cliff Lee. You glanced at it, payed little attention to it – Cliff Lee was going to the New York Yankees for CC money, wasn’t he? But as the day went on, this little mystery team that could rumor picked up steam. It was everywhere, it took Twitter and the Philadelphia area by storm for hours last night. Our Phillies outed at the mystery team, trying to compete with the seven-year deal from the Yankees and a seven-year deal from Texas. And just before midnight, the tweets came to cross the Yankees off the list. Then the second strike through Texas. Leaving the Mystery Team, who seemingly swooped in at the 25th hour in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, signed their former ace to a five-year contract.

Cliff Lee showed his true colors in this signing. His contract through the next five years will make him a much deserved rich man, but his signing for less money and years at age 32 proves that he cares more about winning above everything else. He recalled being traded away from Philadelphia left him in “shock and disbelief.” We loved him here and he loved us. And while he might have said no to a lot of things sign here, he simply said “yes” to coming home.

While the next few days will be filled with excitement over his return, this signing is of course so much bigger than Cliff Lee. It further solidifies that this ride is not over. This run has yet another unpredictable chapter. And reminds us yet again as fans of this often tortured franchise how far we’ve come from those abysmal late 1990s, to the promising yet disappointing early 2000s, and the greatness of the late 2000s. So here’s to 2011, which could yet be the greatest of them all.

Sleep well, Philadelphia. In just 61 days, Clearwater will welcome perhaps the greatest starting rotation in baseball history.

Hard to believe, isn’t it Harry?