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Home Team

Citizens Bank Park, with the skyline of Center City visible to the right side, partially behind the bell.

For me, the summer of 2023 can be summed up in baseball games.

The first happened over Memorial Day weekend (and Quiz Bowl Nationals) - the Phillies versus the Braves in Atlanta. It was a perfect summer afternoon, just a few days after I had my last high school classes. I would've been happy to go no matter who the two teams were, but the fact that it was the Phillies made it even more perfect. I hadn’t even formally graduated yet, but I was already counting the days to college move-in at Drexel in Philadelphia. That day, as "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" played, I was root-root-rooting for my future home team.

To be fair, I didn’t exactly have a current home team. I was, at best, a sometime baseball fan (although that changed that summer with my newfound free time), and if pressed, I would have picked the Washington Nationals. My dad and uncle had taken me to a Nats game when I was just a few months old, and the DC area is the place I’ve lived the longest cumulatively. I ran the bases after a Potomac Nationals minor-league game in elementary school and went to another Nats game with my dad as a junior. All good memories, but also distinct memories. I genuinely enjoyed living in Burke and then Arlington, and I still miss them sometimes, but my affection for those places and teams is from a distance.

The summer before moving to college was crammed with bucket list items and trying to soak up time with family and friends (and without school). One of my to-do items was a Harrisburg Senators game. So, one fine July night, my parents, my best friend Grace, and I all headed to FNB Field. I very enthusiastically explained baseball stats to Grace for all nine innings, who still somehow had a good time and enjoyed warm weather, a good game, and time with loved ones. It was easy to see why baseball is America’s Pastime on a night like that.

When my dad asked what I wanted our last dad-daughter date before move-in to be, I picked a Senators game. We kept score the traditional way: assigning each inning a quote from the movie Bull Durham. A few days later, a selfie of the two of us was hanging on my dorm room wall. A slightly blurry photo of the skunk that snuck onto the field did not make the cut, nor did the photo of me and life-size bobblehead Bryce Harper.

A week later, I saw life-size human Bryce Harper as the Phillies took on the Mets, this time at home – Citizens Bank Park. It was Drexel Night at the Phillies, part of the Welcome Week festivities. It had been a whirlwind week of meeting new people and acclimating to college life. I leaned heavily on the skills that every military kid picks up – what questions to ask other people, how to answer, “So where are you from?” honestly but succinctly.

Of course, there were some differences, not least of which was the fact that everyone was a “new kid.” My parents and sibling were also not going through this change with me, with Philadelphia being decidedly my place. But perhaps most importantly, I knew with an unfamiliar degree of certainty that this was my home for the next four years. Looking out at the Philadelphia skyline from the upper deck, I felt that truly sink in. I had four guaranteed years of seeing that skyline every day, going to Phillies games with friends, and making this place home and the Phillies my home team.

Classes began a few days later, and I felt like truly settling in had begun. PCS summers always have a strange feeling, but the interval between arriving at a new place and starting school was its own special limbo. There was only a week between move-in and classes starting, but finally diving in felt like a relief. I was still stressed about classes, but at least there were specifics to stress about instead of the horror stories of introductory STEM classes.

Even as I found my days rapidly filling with classes, homework, and trips to the dining hall, I found time at the end of the day to watch the Phillies take on the Atlanta Braves in the National League Division Series. The first two games were played in Atlanta. Watching from my dorm room that afternoon in May felt like centuries ago. At that point, I already knew I would be at Drexel that fall, but just like almost every PCS, what I imagined was only a fraction of the reality of a new home.

Baseball season wound down within the first few weeks of the quarter, and the Phillies’ season ended even earlier with a loss in the National League Championship series. Hockey, however, was just getting started, and student-discount tickets to Flyers games beckoned. Growing up, hockey was more familiar than baseball. My sibling Gale and I constantly demanded to rewatch Miracle on Ice about the 1980 US Olympic men’s hockey team, and to this day, we watch it every winter break. In the past few years, we’d gone as a family to Capitals and Bears games.

However, going with friends felt different, more grown up. This time I was explaining what was going on, instead of listening to my dad’s explanations. We took the subway to and from the sports complex and even started a new tradition: Insomnia Cookies after the game. Even after a 5-0 loss, my friends were willing to go to more games, and over the fall and winter, Wells Fargo Center has become a familiar place, filling up with memories and strengthening my connection to my friends and the city.

Wells Fargo Center, home of the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Flyers may be my team now, but the Clarks are still Bears and Caps fans. Gale and I - plus my best friend Grace - jointly commiserate/celebrate Capitals game in our group chat, the three of us connected while spread out between three cities. At least ninety percent of my text thread with Gale is hockey-related, either about our shared teams or our rival teams, getting the Clark sibling version of the Philadelphia/Pittsburgh rivalry up and running before Gale starts college in Pittsburgh.

Spring is approaching, bringing baseball with it. Returning to Philly after winter break truly felt like coming home; the skyline I saw from Citizens Bank Park was a comforting companion as I walked to class. I am very much looking forward to a summer spent on campus, decidedly not moving, with friends I made during Welcome Week and the start of classes. One date in particular is circled, a baseball game with my dad at Citizens Bank Park. This time I can play tour guide, navigating us to the ballpark, pointing out specific buildings in the skyline, running down the stats and players.

While the Phillies are not my dad’s home team, his favorite player growing up was Mike Schmidt, who spent his entire eighteen-year career playing for the Phillies. I cannot imagine eighteen years in one place. But - I can relate to choosing a home, finding a team, and spending many happy summer afternoons at the ballpark.

Sports can be so many things – background noise, a fun night with friends, a shared interest where there is always more to talk about – but over the last year, I have valued it as a connection between me and the people I love, even if our home teams don’t match.


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