Not even this can cool off Wheels right now.
— Philadelphia Phillies (@Phillies) August 8, 2021
I never thought I’d write a story about baseball.
As an HGTV enthusiast, yoga teacher, and die-hard Steeler fan, I only attend baseball games when necessary—mostly for work or family birthdays. The latter brought me to Citizens Bank Park for Sunday’s Phillies game.
Entering a stadium for the first time since COVID-19, I should have worried about the packed stands, but instead focused on getting a good tan and finding a bucket of Chickie’s & Pete’s crab fries. For the record, I got neither.
What I did receive was a bucketful of inspiration from Phillies’ pitcher Zack Wheeler—who provided a moving example of resilience and spirit. Spirit from Phillie fans—and Hall of Fame pitcher Roy Halladay—whose number 34 was retired that day. “Doc” Halladay was an eight-time All-Star known for strikeout and innings pitched streaks. He died in a plane crash in 2017—at the age of 40.
You are probably asking—what the heck happened on Sunday? (And when did you start writing like a sports columnist?)
It all began with Sunday’s first inning. Wheeler gave up a double to batter Brandon Nimmo. The Phillies crowd groaned, and the largely visible Mets fans in attendance cheered. My face warmed and sweat trickled down my arms. Would a fight break out between the rival fans?
What happened next is magic. Despite his disappointing start, which could have derailed many, Wheeler went on to walk one, strike out 11 and retire 22 straight batters. He even fielded one of the hits that slipped.
No Phillies pitcher has disappointed that many hitters in a row since Roy Halladay—the man honored on Sunday. His perfect game happened over a decade before—on May 29, 2010.
Watching from the stands, it was hard not to feel something special—bigger—was going on. As a result of one pitcher’s graceful skill, and the inspiration of a hero, a routine game was transformed into something extraordinary.
Phillies manager Joe Girardi agreed. “On a day that you honor one of the greatest pitchers that I’ve witnessed pitch, he [Zack Wheeler] goes out and it was like Roy had his hand on him,” Girardi said. “He gives a Roy Halladay appearance today.”
Or as Wheeler said it, “To do that on his day, what can you say? Today was his day; I just tried to pitch like him.”
And he did. Was it because of the multi-generational crowd—many who likely saw Halladay in his prime? Or the energy of that same hero manifesting in the arm of Zack Wheeler?
I believe it’s both. Studies have shown that spectators enhance the performance of athletes. Wheeler even said, “With the fans as crazy as they were and as loud as they were, it gave me that extra little bit that I needed to get through…”
And I’ve seen firsthand the inspiring influence of those who’ve passed. From cardinals on my doorstep the day my child had surgery to hummingbirds landing on lilies on an otherwise dreary Father’s Day, these heavenly interventions arrived just when I needed them. There are just too many instances to be a coincidence.
And one of them happened before 37,000+ fans (the largest crowd this season), right here in the City of Brotherly Love.
Congratulations to Zack Wheeler and the Phillies, who are now first in the NL East. And kudos to all their fans—which now include this formerly obstinate yoga teacher.
Have you experienced a moment of magic or the inspirational touch of someone who’s passed? Share your experiences in the comment section. May they be of benefit.