The Gritty of Brotherly Love: A Philly Phan Phiction

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Love, fame, power, respect, the Phillie Phanatic had it all. However, a changing of the guard in the form of a terrifying, yet beautiful new mascot sends his life into a downward spiral of chaos and confusion as Philadelphia becomes the "Gritty" of Brotherly Love.

Submitted: October 10, 2018

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Submitted: October 08, 2018

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Prologue

Philadelphia [fil-uh-del-fee-uh]

noun

A city in SE Pennsylvania, on the Delaware River: Declaration of Independence signed here July 4, 1776. The City of Brotherly Love. The greatest city in the world.

 

Mascot [mas-kot, -kuht]

noun

A person, animal, or object adopted by a group as a symbolic figure, especially to bring them good luck.

 

Philadelphia Mascot [fil-uh-del-fee-uhmas-kot, -kuht]

noun

A person, animal, or object adopted by the greatest city in the world as a symbolic figure, especially to bring them good luck. The highest honor a mascot can achieve.

 

I

September 24, 2018- Philadelphia, PA

A hot shower washed over every inch of his body, from his egg-shaped eyes, down his megaphone nose, past his hula-hoop belly, and finally, in between the toes of his size 22 quadruple-wide feet. As the Phillie Phanatic stepped out of the bathroom in the buff, steam filled the room on that hot, September morning in the City of Brotherly Love. Despite being a dynamo, in peak physical condition for a green, seven-foot-tall Galapagosian creature, every inch of him hurt.

He cleared the fog from the mirror and let out a trumpeting sigh. “God, I’m getting too old for this,” said the Phanatic to a stranger lying in his nest. During the baseball season, it’s easy for a celebrity like the Phillie Phanatic to meet adoring fans and give them the greatest evening of their life. A passion-filled tryst that once meant something to him but has since become a chore. This particular “chore” was a Drexel grad student named Brittany, who he met at Copabana the evening before. These were all facts the Phanatic had quickly forgotten. Just another fan of the Phanatic. Who wasn’t?

“Pass me that Yuengling, will ya?” Bellowed the Phanatic.

“It’s a little early for a drink, isn’t it?” Questioned the grad student.

“It’s never too early if you never stop drinking.” The Phanatic said, as if he were a wise sage. This obviously wasn’t the first time he’s used this rationale to quell the demons questioning his choices.

“Heh. Good advice.” Brittany meekly breathed. Heartbroken at the state of the man she once considered her hero. “Listen, I gotta go. I have a big test in my sports management class. Would you mind calling me an Uber?”

The Phanatic had already stopped listening. Tuned out from the pain. Both physical and mental. As he heard the door shut, he never even looked up from his green bottle of sweet, sweet lager. He fidgeted with the label, peeling at the bald eagle carrying a keg until it was unrecognizable.

“Unrecognizable.” He thought to himself. “Just like me.” Even though he hasn’t aged a day over the past 40 years, the Phanatic didn’t even recognize himself in the mirror anymore.

It had been nearly a decade since the last time the Phillies tasted glory, like a Jim’s cheesesteak washed down with a Yuengling. Delicious and decadent. He was 30 then, and the past ten years has been a rocky road, to say the least.

“Today is the day.” He mumbled as he polished off another room temperature Yuengling. A hiccup shot out more beer than he could swallow down his conical gullet. “Today is the day I end it all.”

As he rode the elevator from his palatial luxury Broad Street apartment, his life flashed before his eyes.

Hatching from his egg in the Galapagos Islands. Something inexplicable in his bones immediately calling him to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a place the newborn Phanatic had never heard of. Upon arrival, wandering on instinct alone, he found himself centerfield at Veterans Stadium, home of the Phillies. It was April 25, 1978, when he witnessed his first game. A 7-0 shut-out victory against the Cubs. He loved the thrill of the game, the excitement, and the athleticism. All that it was missing was pageantry. Like a fish to water, he knew his lot in life was to entertain the masses. He wasn’t sure why. Who knows why any animal does what they do.

He was instantly loved by the entire nation, but most importantly the city. His fame by far exceeded every member of the roster. There’s a reason why he wore a star on the back of his jersey. He wasn’t just a star, he was “the” goddamn star. Children wanted to dance with him, teenagers wanted to ride ATVs along his side, and adults, men and women alike...well, we all know what they wanted.

Thousands upon thousands of baseball games later, he had established himself as the greatest mascot in the history of the game. He was there for the highs of their 1980 and 2008 world series victories that, quite literally, set the city on fire. Not to mention the Pennants and Division Titles in between. He was always happy to play the jester, the joker, the jackanape. But one can only be considered the goon for so long before something breaks.

What was once new and exciting had sadly become trite. The YMCA dance, polishing the heads of bald fans, even his hot dog cannon - all things that he was known for became routine instead of passion as the years piled up. Even his more heroic deeds have been played up for laughs. This is the creature that single-handedly caught the Y2K Bug at the dawn of the millennium, saving humanity from reverting back to the Stone Age. He was the only one ever brave enough to stand up to Tommy Lasorda, the tyrannical manager of the Dodgers. He’s hexed countless opposing pitchers, fielders, and batters. He’s responsible for more Phillies victories than any athlete ever, but never once has he boasted, bragged, or demanded the glory.

He truly believed his 2005 spot in the Mascot Hall of Fame would finally bring him happiness, but all it did was make him realize that the game isn’t fun if there’s no competition. No other mascot could lace his size 22 quadruple-wide shoes. Mr. Met? A hack. Wally the Green Monster? A little on the nose. Slider of the Cleveland Indians? A coverup for the team’s racist overtones and quite frankly, a Phanatic wannabe. Even other sports avatars were underwhelming. K.C. Wolf, Viktor, Poe? The NFL’s best still never came close. Even the 76ers recent addition Franklin the blue dog, despite being a good friend of the Phanatic’s, didn’t have what it took.

Maybe when he’s gone they’d think of him fondly, like they do Darren Daulton. But he knew that wouldn’t be the case. “‘Here lies the Phillie Phanatic. America’s goofiest bird.’ Yeah, that’s what they’ll say.” Nothing angered him more than being called a bird. He wasn’t sure exactly what he was, but he wasn’t a bird. He was a Phanatic. A Phillie Phanatic.

“I’m not a bird. And these wings ain’t for flying,” said the Phanatic as he approached the ledge of his 69-story high rise. He looked down on the city that he had given so much to. He took one last breath, ready for death’s sweet release. With one foot in the air, he balanced like he had done so many times upon his foes’ dugout. Then something caught his eye.

A commotion coming from the Please Touch Museum across town broke his concentration. The famous museum and beloved centerpiece of the city is usually a popular spot on a Monday morning, but never this popular.

His cell phone rang to the tune of G. Love & Special Sauce’s “Cold Beverages.” It was former Phillies’ All-Star John Kruk. If it was anyone else, the Phanatic would have gone through with his plan, but this was the Kruker. His best friend in the entire world. A man with whom he’s shared drinks, secrets, hopes, dreams, wishes, and, of course, lovers.

“Hell, if the Kruker’s voice is the last thing I hear on this earth, that ain’t so bad.” He thought as he answered the phone.

“Double P,” said John.

“Kruker,” said the Phanatic. “It’s good to hear your voice.”

“Listen, I know today is the day you were planning on hanging it up for good. And I respect that. Going out on your own terms.”

“I just can’t---there’s nothing for me to do anymore, buddy.”

“That’s why I called. You have to head over to the Please Touch Museum. Something's going down.”

“I’ve been to the Imagination Playground, Kruk, it’s great. But this is it for me. Goodbye old friend.”

“No. It’s the Flyers. They’re doing something big. Huge. They’re--they’re unveiling a new mascot.”

The Phanatic was silent.

The Flyers hadn’t had a mascot since Slap Shot in 1976, two years before he found his calling.

“I’ll be right there.”

 

II

The Phanatic hadn’t marched with such purpose and determination in years. He usually takes his private helicopter wherever he goes, but he didn’t want to draw attention. He was hoping that after this, he could simply fade away. When he reached the stairs of the Please Touch Museum, he was winded, out of breath, and sweating worse than he did during the 2010 heat wave. Each step he took caused a knot in his hula-hoop belly to grow tighter and tighter. When he approached the door, he closed his eyes, took a deep breath and entered.

“What if this is the one? The one who can finally take my place?”

There was a frenetic energy bouncing about throughout the museum. News reporters pushed children out of the way to set up their cameras to get the best shot of the groundbreaking moment. For a second, the Phanatic thought about consoling the heartbroken youngsters with his trademark antics. He even reached into his pocket to pull out some confetti to brighten their day.

“No. I can’t. That’s not who I am. Not anymore. Hide out in the back, nobody will notice you,” thought the seven-foot-tall idol of freedom. He was right. It’s Philadelphia. It takes a lot to get noticed in this city.

Without warning, the lights dimmed, and smoke filled the stage, and music blared over the loudspeakers. “Ladies and gentlemen, meet the new face of Philadelphia sports - Gritty!”

Then, in a hurricane of confetti, not unlike what the Phanatic keeps in his pocket, Gritty was birthed unto the world. Gritty ran amok across the museum, skating like a mad man. His back to the audience the entire time. From what the Phanatic could glean, Gritty was giant, perhaps even taller than the Phanatic. He sported a wild mane, plus a hula-hoop belly that looked awfully familiar.

A hush fell over the crowd, the reporters stopped assaulting the children, and the children stopped crying. They all began to laugh. This wasn’t their hero. This wasn’t the mascot that would give their lives meaning. Gritty wasn’t love. Gritty was fear. Gritty was a joke. Soon enough, the laughs turned to boos. Before long, the new mascot was being pelted with trash and batteries like his name was Saint Nick.

“Hmph, just another poser,” mumbled the Phanatic as he turned to leave. That’s when Gritty performed an about-face. Spinning one-hundred-and-eighty degrees, revealing his face for the first time. He had a manic beard and an enormous grin, but that wasn’t what caught the Phanatic’s attention. It was something he’d never seen before.

You could almost hear the “Sproing!” as his eyes wobbled around his skull erratically. His shiny pupils surrounded by orange irises that matched his hockey jersey.

“My god,” cried the Phanatic. “They’re glorious. Googly eyes. Googly goddamn eyes.”

Overwhelmed with emotion, the Phanatic made a beeline for the door, only to trip over some loose cables left by a careless cameraman in search of the perfect shot.

“Damn these size 22 quadruple-wides,” cursed the Phanatic.

Stumbling, he knocked over lights, pulled down curtains, smashed catering, and destroyed a few exhibits that were supposed to be touched, but not manhandled.

The attention was no longer on Gritty. All eyes were now on the Phanatic.

“Aww hell naw. Is that the Phanatic? You’re not gonna ruin my debut,” said Gritty in a surprisingly high pitch voice.

“I’m sorry. I should be going,” apologized the Phanatic, who couldn’t get out of the museum fast enough.

“That’s right. Go on. Pick up your dumb ass and go home, ya washed up fool. Your days are numbered. It’s my time. Philadelphia is Gritty’s town now.”

That was when the crowd turned. Enthralled with his brazen disregard for the old guard and the fearlessness that allowed him to speak so flippantly, they were now putty in Gritty’s mitts. America didn’t “get” Gritty, the world didn’t “get” Gritty, but Philadelphia “got” Gritty. He was them, and they were him. Big, brash, unapologetic, and rough around the edges, yet flawless in every way.

The refuse that was once aimed at Gritty now found its way to the Phanatic. From Tony Luke’s wrappers to Condom Kingdom receipts, the Phanatic was bombarded with everything the crowd could get their hands on.

With his tail between his legs, the Phanatic began to shuffle away.

“Ha-ha keep on walkin’ ya silly-ass bird.”

The Phanatic stopped dead in his tracks. He fixed his posture and stoically marched his wide behind up to Gritty. Gritty was definitely taller than the Phanatic, but this wasn’t the time to back down.

“So, you think you’re hot shit do ya, kid? You know I’ve seen tons of mascots parade their sorry asses around this city. Hip Hop? He’s rabbit stew. Flex the Phantom? He haunts Lehigh Valley Now. Remember SocceRoo? Nobody does.” The Phanatic hated to stoop so low. Some of these fallen mascots were former friends of his, but he knew it would get under Gritty’s skin...or fur.

“Oh yeah? What’s the last thing you’ve done for this town, old man? It’s been a decade since you led your team to victory.

“If you keep running your mouth, you’re going to wind up like Slap Shot.”

The crowd gasped. It’d been 42 years since anybody in the city had spoken that name.

Somehow, some way, Gritty’s enormous grin grew even wider. He clenched his giant orange paw. The Phanatic, known for his incredible reflexes, would have seen this coming if he wasn’t distracted by the newcomer’s eyes. Those gorgeous, wobbly, googly peepers.

With a “Whack!” the Phanatic was floored. He’d taken his fair share of licks in his day, but he’d never been hit like that. As he struggled to stand, Gritty placed his skate on the Phanatic’s cone-shaped mouth, bending it in a way it was not meant to bend.

With his bladed foot stifling the Phanatic’s breath, Gritty produced a hockey stick from who knows where. He reared back like he was Eric Lindros, looked down at the fallen mascot and whispered, “The king is dead, long live the king.”

“Gentlemen. Gentlemen. Please. Not here,” cried a voice from the back. It was Jim Kenney, the mayor of Philadelphia. Gritty quickly released the Phanatic from his hold, allowing him to get up.

“Sorry, Jim. It’s, uh, good to see you,” said the Phanatic.

“The day is ruined. This was supposed to be a monumental moment in this city’s history, but it’s ruined,” said the mayor.

“You’re not long for this city, kid,” said the Phanatic to Gritty.

“No Phanatic. This is all your fault,” said the mayor.

“What?” asked the Phanatic.

“This was Gritty’s big day.”

“But he attacked me.”

“And you sabotaged his debut.”

“It wasn’t on purpose.”

“It doesn’t matter, Phanatic. You embarrassed yourself and the good people of Philadelphia. You should leave. Don’t bother showing up for any future games. Stay away from Citizens Bank Park. To quote your friend Eric Gregg, ‘you’re outta here.’”

Eric Gregg...the Phanatic hadn’t heard that name in years. A former umpire, Gregg and the Phanatic had shared the field many-a-time. Sadly, Gregg passed away in 2006, two years before the Phillies reclaimed the rightful place as World Champions.

“Yeah, get going old man,” Gritty chimed in.

The Phanatic looked around. “I...I…” The folks that were once his fans, his diehards, the ones that looked up to him, admired him, wanted to be him and be with him, had all turned their attention to Gritty. He was their hero now. They wanted to ride ATVs with him, they wanted him to battle opposing teams’ managers for them, they wanted to spend wild nights full of ecstasy with Gritty now.

The Phanatic walked away. Embarrassed. Humbled. Broken.

As the door to the museum shut, he could hear the crowd going wild. The sound and smell of hot dogs firing from cannons filled the air.

This wasn’t the Phanatic’s city no more. He’d been banned from using that very same hot dog cannon months ago. Philadelphia was now the Gritty of Brotherly love.

 

III

The Phanatic was back at his perch, looking down at the city, ready to end it all. This time was different than the last. Just hours earlier, he was ready to go out on his own terms. This time he was ashamed.

“It’s funny,” thought the Phanatic, “I have a view of everything from up here: Kung Fu Necktie, The Franklin Institute, Temple University. But all I can see are those eyes. Following me. Haunting me. I hate them. I hate them. He’s in your head. Don’t let him get to you. Don’t let your last thoughts be that bastard’s eyes. That bastard’s beautiful eyes.”

Just as he took a breath he heard a familiar song. “I like cold beverages, I like cold beverages, I like cold beverages, uh uh.”

He knew it was the Kruker. Everyone else just texts nowadays. John Kruk was the only one who cared enough to call.

“Not now, John.”

“Double P, I saw what happened. It was all over Fox 29.”

“Damnit, I can explain.”

“I know it's not your fault. But that’s not why I called. It’s Gritty. He’s all over the radio. 94 WIP. Dragging your name through the mud. Saying he’s the new King of Mascots, that he ended your career. That--”

The Phanatic hung up the phone, rushed to his radio and turned it on. Sure enough, Gritty was live, talking to Philly radio legend Angelo Cataldi.

“That’s right. I took his sorry ass out. Ended him. And listen I was a fan of his...when I was six! Hell, I was in the stands when he caught the Y2K Bug. I’m not denying that he’s a hero. He saved the world that day. But he’s grown soft. Mascottin’ ain’t his jawn anymore. It’s my jawn now. I’m here to take the game to the next level. And those of you who doubt me. Check me out at this Saturday’s Phillies game. That’s right. I’m pulling double duty, because you know the Phanatic wouldn’t be dumb enough to show his face at any stadium after the way I treated him today. No more questions.”

“I hate to say it, but I agree with you Gritty. The Phanatic is old news. You’re the wave of the future. I humbly bow down to you, my liege,” said Cataldi. This caused a fire to burn in the Phanatic’s eyes. Back in 1990, the Phanatic put his long neck on the line for a young, fresh-faced 39-year-old from Providence, Rhode Island.

“Alright Cataldi, I see how it is,” said the Phanatic as he turned his radio off.

For the first time in a decade, the Phanatic hadn’t felt so alive. There hadn’t been a challenger this big in Philadelphia since the Tampa Bay Rays came to town in ‘08.

“Saturday. My turf. It’s on. And just like the Rays, you’re goin’ down.”

 

IV

The Phanatic couldn’t sleep. Those eyes were watching him: unblinking, googling, chasing after him with their menacing yet beautiful orange hue. He was too embarrassed and exhausted to show his face in public.

Gritty, on the other hand, had no problem. He was making daily appearances on all the major networks - ABC channel 6, CBS channel 3, NBC channel 10. His nights were filled with wild parties at Cav’s, Tavern on Broad, and Ladder 15. It didn’t matter where Gritty was, that’s where the crowds gathered. Nobody could get enough of the talk of the town.

 

V

September 29, 2018- Philadelphia, PA

It had been four days since the incident at the Please Touch Museum. Four long days since Gritty tarnished the Phanatic’s reputation on 94 WIP, and his former friend Angelo Cataldi hung him out to dry live on-air. So, it’s safe to say the Phanatic was pissed. But he also ached. Ached physically, because he hadn’t been hit like that since the Lasorda event of ‘88 and ached emotionally because deep down, he knew Gritty was good. He knew that Gritty could even be great. Maybe even better than him one day. But today wasn’t that day. This was the day the Phanatic would reclaim what was his. The day he would take back his city and show them all that he still had what it takes to entertain the masses and bring victory to Philadelphia. He called for his helicopter and was ready to go to battle. Perhaps, for the very last time.

 

VI

The Phanatic knew security would be on high alert, since the mayor banned him from Citizens Bank Park, but he had his ways. A series of forgotten tunnels were created so some of the more high-profile Philadelphia athletes could pass through stadium to stadium and arena to arena unnoticed. Athletes like Allen Iverson, Randall Cunningham, Extreme Championship Wrestling’s the Blue Meanie, and “Tollman Joe” Paul, the legendary winner of the 2000 Wing Bowl. Of course, the Phanatic, being the most high profile of them all, used them regularly before they were shut down after a Made in America Festival gone awry.

Despite most of the fans being there in support of Gritty, there was a small but vocal contingent who were there for the Phanatic. He could see a smattering of green-painted Phanatic Fanatics as he secretly made his way to the tunnels. It almost brought a tear to his big, non-googly eyes. He thought they had all turned his back on him.

While in an abandoned locker room that used to be reserved for Chase Utley, the Phanatic began to suit up. He looked at his red pinstripe jersey with a star on the back and put it on slowly. He felt the fibers across every inch of his muscular yet somehow doughy torso. The original dad bod. Then, he expertly placed his hat on his head the way he always does. Backward, but not all the way, he positioned it around 5 o’clock. It’s a look that’s often imitated but never duplicated. Finally came the size 22 quadruple-wide shoes. Massive clodhoppers that would certainly look foolish on anyone else. Many partners have had the pleasure of massaging his powerful, sturdy feet. He looked at himself in the mirror.

“This star is about to go super goddamn nova.”

Just as he was pumping himself up for the performance of a lifetime, the Phanatic heard a familiar voice coming around the corner. Luckily, he was able to hide in a catering cart.

“You can get changed in here, Gritty. Thanks for covering for us tonight. A game ain’t a game without a mascot.” It was Phillies manager Gabe Kapler. Kapler was new to Philly and frankly, he and the Phanatic never saw eye to eye. It was probably the Phanatic’s fault - he’d lost his edge by the time Kapler came around. He was too proud to admit it, resulting in a nasty grudge.

“You got it, Gabe. Anything I can do for this city,” said Gritty.

“That’s great. You’re on in ten.”

“Ten minutes,” thought the Phanatic. “I gotta get up there and beat him to the punch.”

Just as he was planning his escape, the catering cart started the move. The Phanatic certainly couldn’t get out, he’d blow his cover. Just as he began to panic, he smelled a familiar smell.

Old Bay seasoning! It was the Chickie’s & Pete’s catering cart. The Phanatic had been around long enough to know that before every sporting event in Philadelphia, the home team gorges on troughs and troughs of Chickie’s & Pete’s Crabfries. It’s what gives them their winning edge. He was heading right for the Phillies’ dugout. It was about to go down.

As the Phillies were chowing down on their delicious, energy-filled pre-game treats, the Phanatic saw his opening. Like kismet, one of the greatest songs by one of Philadelphia’s greatest bands blared over the speakers. “And We Danced” by the Hooters. The perfect opportunity for the Phanatic to show the crowd that he was still the greatest mascot the world had ever seen.

He dove from underneath the catering truck, causing the Crabfries to spill onto the field, and quickly hopped up on top of the Phillies' dugout. It was the place where he had felt the most comfortable for over 40 years. He started off with his standard routine, a little soft shoe, a little cabbage patch - easy stuff to get the crowd’s attention. Of course, the Phanatic Fanatics were the first to stop and cheer along. He had them eating out of the palm of his hand. The rest of the crowd, however, still wasn’t buying it. The Phanatic knew he had to step things up to get the respect he deserved. This wasn’t just another game where he could phone it in. He looked to his left and saw his trademark ATV now painted orange with a giant Gritty beard and googly-eyes for headlights. Surely the Phanatic blasting a couple of laps around the park in an ATV would get the crowd nice and riled up.

Suddenly, the music cut off. Gritty had obviously grown tired of the Phanatic’s schtick. The song quickly switched to Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger,” the theme to Rocky III.

“A little on the nose,” thought the Phanatic. “But just like Rocky III, the hometown hero might be down, but he’s sure as hell not out.”

Gritty emerged dressed as Apollo Creed in red, white, and blue boxer shorts and a top hat.

Rocky III music and Rocky IV clothes. Doesn’t even understand the greatest franchise in all of cinema. But I’d be damned if he isn’t charismatic,” thought the Phanatic.

Misinformed or not, Gritty was truly ready for a one-on-one bout.

“I thought I told you to stay away from here,” shouted Mayor Kenney from his mayoral box seats.

“Relax Jim, I’ve got this,” said Gritty.

“You’re the boss,” said the Mayor timidly.

“You’re the boss?” thought the Phanatic. “He’s really got his blades deep in this town.”

“How about you and I have a Mascot-Off?” Gritty proposed. “Two mascots enter, one mascot leaves.”

The crowd gasped. There hadn’t been a Mascot-Off in Philadelphia since Philadelphia Phil and Philadelphia Phillies took down Slap Shot in 1976.

“You’re on,” said the Phanatic.

The two behemoths knew they had to be cordial. They knew another fist fight like the one the other day would destroy the city. If they were to come to blows in front of a stadium filled with rowdy, red-blooded, passionate, and hammered fans, it could be disastrous for the 1.5 million people who called Philadelphia their home. These were people who rioted when they lost and rioted when they won. All hell would break loose if they had to choose sides. An uncivil war in the Birthplace of America.

Before the contest began, the Phanatic couldn’t help but get one final barb in. “People keep saying how you remind them of me. The only Philadelphia icon you remind me of is the Swiss Cheese Pervert.”

“I’m gonna tie you up like a soft pretzel,” said Gritty, trying to play it off as if he was joking. He wasn’t.

As “All You Zombies,” another hit by the Hooters, played for the audience, the Phanatic couldn’t help but laugh to himself about the irony of the music choice.

“Bring. It. On.”

 

VII

The contest started out simple enough, with a hug between the two. Even though it was filled with anger and aggression, something in the back of the Phanatic’s mind couldn’t shake the brief feeling of calm it gave him.

Gritty was up first. He ran around the top of the dugout recreating his debut. It was hectic, bone-chilling, and yet graceful. His mannerisms truly couldn’t be put to words.

When it was the Phanatic’s turn, he also decided to start it off with a run across the dugout, motioning to the audience on each side, trying to win their love. The response was lukewarm, to say the least.

Gritty retorted with his patented Blue Steel-like turn, stunning the audience with his peepers. They were overjoyed.

In a flash, the Phanatic resorted to his time-tested hula-hoop belly trick. It’s been working for 40 years, so it had to work tonight. Before the audience could even react, Gritty answered with his own tantalizing tummy tricks, spinning his gut around faster than the Phanatic had ever seen before. The crowd was mesmerized.

Back and forth, the two shook their butts at a dizzying pace. Adoring women and men fainted. Of course they did.

Spotting a bald man in the front row gave the Phanatic an idea. The classic “Buff a Bald Man’s Head” trick worked every time. Surely, this would be what put him ahead of Gritty. Before he could even approach the gentleman, Gritty had beaten him to the punch. He pulled out a Philadelphia Flyers rally towel and shined that man’s head up until he could see his beautiful reflection. The bald man even got to keep the towel. This was the greatest day of that man’s life. Not only was Gritty faster than the Phanatic, but he also gave out swag.

“I’ll be damned. He’s good.”

In a hurry, the Phanatic rushed over to the ATV. He knew the crowd would love to see him pop a couple of wheelies. Unfortunately, Gritty didn’t seem to be the stickler for safety that the Phanatic was and failed to deploy the parking brake. As soon as the Phanatic started the vehicle, it shot out from underneath him and crashed into Rhys Hoskins. The poor 25-year-old was never the same again.

The Phanatic was out of options. There was only one thing left he could do. If there is one thing fans in Philadelphia love more than two seven-foot-tall goofballs shaking their tushes, it’s a no holds barred, knock-down, drag-out brawl. The Phanatic was going to give it to them. While Gritty was teaching a group of children the latest dance from Fortnite, the Phanatic coldcocked his rival. It made a sound loud enough to crack the Liberty Bell 1,776 times over. The crow went nuts. For the first time that evening, they were on the Phanatic’s side.

The shot rocked Gritty so hard that, for a moment, his eyes stopped wobbling.

“Aight old man, you just turned this jawn into a hockey fight.”

The orange monster charged the Phanatic, tackling him to the ground. Gritty pelted the Phanatic with a flurry of fists. He grabbed the Phanatic by the scruff of his neck and lifted him to his feet. The Phanatic flailed helpless, struggling to get the upper hand but his efforts were futile. Gritty then reached down and pulled the Phanatic’s jersey over his head. He was right, this was a hockey fight.

Gritty was channeling his inner Frank "The Animal" Bialowas, the storied Phantoms enforcer and the gold standard for Philadelphia roughnecks. Gritty pummeled the Phanatic mercilessly, dishing out a punishment that would have made Joe Frazier blush. Just as he had the opportunity to deliver the final blow, Gritty’s mascot instincts took over. He began playing to the crowd. With the Phanatic at his feet, Gritty began to do the Chicken Dance. There was nothing he could do, it was in his blood.

This gave the Phanatic his chance to get the upper hand. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his old friend: his trusty hot dog cannon. This weapon of chaotic cookout carnage had been banned from the stadium since June, when the Phanatic shot an errant frank sailing into the crowd, injuring a woman in the front row. He swore off using the powerful weapon of heat-seeking hot dog horror, but now was the time to break promises. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Plus, if it was good enough for Gritty, it was good enough for the Phanatic.

“Hey yo, Gritty! I didn’t hear no bell!”

The Phanatic quickly mounted the cannon and began firing a barrage of buns and a shower of sausages at Gritty, finally knocking the young mascot from his feet. This was his one shot, the Phanatic’s chance to end this once and for all. Charging at Gritty like a young Duce Staley, the Phanatic speared him the ground.

All he could think about were those eyes, those haunting eyes. The Phanatic took his thumbs and gouged Gritty’s googly eyes. He was finally going to stop them from watching him.

“I’m the most beloved mascot this city has ever seen! I am the reason for the fans, the championships, I am Philadelphia! You will never replace me! Do you hear me?!”

The Phanatic looked around. The crowd was no longer cheering for him. He had gone too far, even for Philadelphia standards, but he knew there was no going back. He was about to clench victory, and it would be sweeter than a Tastykake.

“I never wanted to replace you. Hell, I never wanted to be you. I just wanted to be with you,” coughed Gritty, desperately trying to catch his breath.

“What? What did you say?” asked the Phanatic.

“I just wanted to be with you. You’re the reason I became a mascot. You’re my reason for living. My world. My muse. I love you.”

The Phanatic removed his thumbs from Gritty’s eyes. The line between love and hate can be so thin that it is often too difficult to tell the difference. The Phanatic didn’t hate Gritty either. He loved him. Those eyes following him - they weren’t meant to intimidate him. They were flirting with him. Those feelings of fear weren’t because the Phanatic feared Gritty taking his spot. They were there because deep down, he knew that Gritty was the key. The key to a new life. A life that wasn’t mundane and boring. A life where the Phanatic didn’t wake up hungover next to strangers, but where he woke up next to the man he was destined to spend the rest of his life with. Gritty was the spark that would rejuvenate the Phanatic’s career, but not through a rivalry, through romance.

The Phanatic helped Gritty to his feet and stared into his big, beautiful, goofy, googly eyes that wobbled, trembling with excitement. Gritty’s grin grew as the Phanatic leaned in for a kiss, while his party-favor-like tongue unfurled slowly and deliberately from his gaping mouth.

 

VIII

Author’s Note:

It takes a skilled wordsmith to translate what happened next. Luckily, I was there in attendance that very night and can be your eyes, ears, nose, and mouth for what happened on home base that fateful evening in September. The next 10 chapters are dedicated to what can only be described as the greatest night in Philadelphia history.

The following text is not for the faint of heart or the prude. It is strictly for those who believe in love and hope. It is for those who know that when you’re in the 9th inning of life, you go down swinging.

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XIX

As you can tell, it was a wild and beautiful night. That night became day, that day became night. People lost track of time and bore witness to an event like they had never seen before.

What began with a confused audience soon turned into a standing ovation that lasted almost as long as the act itself. Everyone in attendance, watching at home, and listening to 94 WIP agreed that the display that took place in front of their very eyes and ears was the sexiest, most passionate, incredible, lust-fueled act they had ever witnessed. The Phillies, who still played a baseball game during the early hours of the mascots’ unadulterated pleasures, went on to defeat the Braves that night 3 to 0. But they weren’t the only winners. The Phanatic Won. Gritty Won. Philadelphia won. Love won.

 

Epilogue

June 25, 2019- Philadelphia, PA

“It’s time.”

“It’s time? Oh god, it’s time!”

“It’s okay, we’re ready. We’ve prepared for this.”

“I know.”

“I love you.”

“I love you too.”

“Now push. Breathe and push.”

To say it wasn’t an easy labor is an understatement. Doctor’s had never witnessed a mascot pregnancy. Frankly, no one knew where they came from, but once that egg hatched, the world knew.

They named the little green and orange fur ball Liberty. She was perfect. An inspiration not just for Philadelphia but the entire world. A beacon of hope that would inspire generations to put aside their differences, work together, and create a new, harmonious society. But that wouldn’t come for years, when Liberty would be elected the first female mascot President of the United States.

For now, she was a newly hatched baby with an adorable hula-hoop belly.

For the first time in 40 years, the Phanatic truly understood love. Fatherly love. Husbandly love. Brotherly love.

“She has your eyes,” said the Phanatic. “Your gorgeous, orange, heavenly, googly eyes. I hope they follow us forever.”

 

Phin.


 


© Copyright 2018 Matt Kerstetter. All rights reserved.

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