2013 Phillies Report Card: Justin De Fratus

The unknown is a seductive idea. When we were young, we looked off into the distance, into the future, with wonder, enraptured by the possibilities that the devil you don’t know can entail. Your life is boring, your routines tiresome, your friends wholly known. This is the appeal of a series of works of fiction that have become popular in the recent past, where a meek, unhappy man is lifted from his banal existence and into an exciting new future–Fight ClubAmerican BeautyBreaking Bad. Hope is escapism, and as long as that hope is deferred, we can continue to wonder if life might be better if we made a leap of faith and threw off the shackles of the known.

And so we once dreamed on Justin De Fratus.

It reminds me of a young woman I knew once.

When I was 17 years old, I spent the weekend at the University of Evansville. Back then, Evansville used to set aside a weekend to invite all of the high school seniors they’d accepted to come out to campus, go to various events and stay in a dorm. It was the first time I’d traveled any substantive amount completely on my own–no parents, no friends, no adult supervision. And it was a great time–I saw the campus, hung out with my fellow prospective students and met with professors and admissions staff–culminating in the basketball game that Saturday night.

We took buses from campus to the arena, and on the way back, I found myself in a conversation with the people around me. Now, I hate talking to strangers–I can’t break the ice, for starters, and the thing I want more than anything else out of most of my human interactions is just to be left alone. But out of politeness, I kept up my part of this conversation, never expecting to interact with any of those folks, nice as they were, once that bus stopped and we all disembarked. One of the three people I was talking to was a girl, who was listening to what I had to say (I can’t tell you what I was talking about) with rapt attention. I don’t know why–I was kind of an awkward kid with a bad haircut and a Sonny Gray beard, and I may literally have been wearing a jacket that declared me to be the drum major of a regional champion marching band. And this girl was, well, remarkable. She had long, blond hair and eyes like an anime character. I found out later that she was a cheerleader at her high school, which made sense, because I found her physically intimidating enough that it never occurred to me that she was laughing at my jokes because she was interested, rather than polite. (Though growing up in New Jersey, I’d had even less experience with politeness than I’d had with pretty girls being interested in me.)

Once the bus stopped, everyone on board filed off and I was prepared to go on my way, until she sidled up next to me on the sidewalk and asked “So what are *we* doing now?”

It hadn’t ever occurred to me that *we* would be an issue. But I went along to the pool hall in the basement of the student union, where we played billiards and laughed and had just an incredible time, then when the student union closed at 1 a.m., walked around campus in the February cold for hours and hours. It was the mythical summer romance, but instead of taking shape over weeks in the sun and the surf, it was for eight hours in the freezing rain of the Indiana winter.

When I dropped her off at the dorm she was staying at, just before dawn, I was delirious from lack of sleep and two hours from having to leave for the airport. We’d exchanged phone numbers, and we resolved to meet up again if we both wound up going to Evansville, and we corresponded periodically in the days to come. Four weeks later, I told her I’d decided to go to USC, where the academic, financial, cultural and meteorological conditions were more to my liking, and I never saw or talked to her again.

There were times when I’d think back to that night, wondering what would’ve happened between us over the long run if that had been in the cards. Not often, but more than once. And I regret nothing, because while the unknown is a powerful attractant, sometimes your hopes are dashed. And other times, something worse happens. You hope and you wish and your dreams are granted, and it turns out to be mundane. Unspectacular. Average. I’d just as soon not have known.

Grade: B- 

Bill Paul Eric Ryan
B- C+ C+ B-

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18 comments

  1. Oskar

    October 07, 2013 09:02 AM

    Boy are these posts depressing.

  2. Fantusta

    October 07, 2013 09:03 AM

    I feel like this review would have much more appropriately ended with a “C”.

  3. JettMartinez

    October 07, 2013 09:10 AM

    I believe this is a better column than Justin De Fratus deserves.

  4. NatsLady

    October 07, 2013 09:16 AM

    Really? You liked California more than Evansville?

    Not kidding–I find that inexplicable.

    Academic: You can learn anywhere, that’s on YOU.
    Financial: ????
    Cultural: OK, you might have me there, but nowadays, with the Internet and all…Still there’s something to be said for sitting on the porch and watching the kids zip by on their motorcycles.
    Meteorological: humid sub-tropical, just like DC. Yes, there is winter, but winter is short, not like Chicago or Fargo or even New York. And the summers… Ah, hot and humid and endless…

  5. Matt

    October 07, 2013 09:20 AM

    Made it to the “It reminds me of a young woman…” part and realized this post wasn’t worth the 5 minutes. This is like the start of a conversation at a party you immediately scan the room for a friend to save you. Really, can we stick to baseball?

  6. Michael Baumann

    October 07, 2013 09:22 AM

    Sorry to make you go through that rigmarole, NatsLady, but if I’d meant Southern Cal I’d have said Southern Cal. I went to South Carolina.

  7. srl19

    October 07, 2013 10:17 AM

    As an outsider with no ties to either school, what is the fairest way decide who gets to claim the USC moniker once and for all? Through its exposure in football and basketball during my formative years, I think of Southern Cal when I hear “USC” and I tend to refer to the Gamecocks as “South Carolina.” I would have made the same mistake as NatsLady if I hadn’t read previous articles from you, MB. It seems like Carolina people don’t take too kindly to this mistake. So what do we do?

    —South Carolina was there first (although not initially as “University of South Carolina”)
    —Southern Cal is bigger (considering only the Columbia campus)
    —Southern Cal comes up first in a Google search of “USC”
    —That’s all I got.

  8. Larry

    October 07, 2013 10:36 AM

    That wasn’t nice Matt.

    “She had long, blond hair and eyes like an anime character. ”

    Bill, are you sure this girl wasn’t Ida Quagmire?

  9. bubba0101

    October 07, 2013 11:02 AM

    That’s harsh Matt. I love a good romance gone lost story. For a second there (or maybe 5 minutes) I actually forgot about how meh De Fratus and the rest of anyone else we brought up from the farm to pitch in the pen was this year. And for that, I will say that this was a successful article. B+

  10. Bill Baer

    October 07, 2013 11:37 AM

    Larry, you’re mistaking me with Baumann. As much as I’d like to take credit for the article, A) I don’t talk to girls; and B) I don’t write nearly as well as Baumann.

  11. Andrew Cleveland Alexander

    October 07, 2013 01:06 PM

    I have no opinion about Justin de Fratus–which is probably a reaction in keeping with the spirit of this article–but I do want to speak up in favor of Michael’s refusal to cave to Big Market pressure and cede “USC” to the private university in Southern California. Having grown up in South Carolina, I well know the frustrating experience of having to say, “No, not that USC.” (What makes it worse is that the other option, “Carolina,” elicits the same reaction from people who think you’re talking about the Tar Heels.) The final option is just to say, “I root for the Cocks,” which–some might be surprise to learn–is something that people in South Carolina say all the time, without a hint of salacious irony. For a while, the school was trying to rebrand itself as “THE USC,” which was a little desperate.

    South Carolina did get the upper hand in one way, at least apocryphally. After South Carolina beat Southern California in 1983 (the last recorded meeting between the two teams) it is said that students waved a sign on national television reading: “Your Trojans can’t hold our Cocks.”

  12. Robby Bonfire

    October 07, 2013 02:50 PM

    Different subject, but I see the Flyers have fired their coach, after three(!) season-opening losses. Why it didn’t take them eight
    years to get around to it, we will never know. Can Flyers ownership just buy the Phillies, please?

  13. Robby Bonfire

    October 07, 2013 02:57 PM

    Re USC vs. USC, there is a vegas-type website which has them “USC,” for the Trojans, and SCAR (as in “Scarface”) for the Gamecocks. Not sure the Gamecocks come out ahead on that one.

    Interestingly, if you look at old (50′s and 60′s) basketball pix of the Trojans, their uniform in those days read “Southern California.” Media outlets detest long names and take the liberty of truncating every name longer than two syllables.

  14. Larry

    October 07, 2013 02:58 PM

    Ah yes, sorry Baumann. I didn’t mean to confuse with Bill. BTW, don’t sell yourself short Bill.

    These grade articles are a good idea. Though I’m not quite sure of the criteria. Are they based on expectations, contract vs value, or something else?

  15. Robby Bonfire

    October 07, 2013 03:07 PM

    Wonderful story, above. But sometimes getting what you want in life can be accursed, beyond you wildest dreams, before the fact.

    Thank God I didn’t marry that girl in New York I was nuts about, when I was 23, and thank her, too, for calling it off. Years later, when I was 44 and she was 42, we ran into eachother on the street just off Wilshire Blvd., near the UCLA campus. She had completely fallen apart, over the years. As unattractive then as she was stunning when time was on her side.

    So don’t anguish too much about “what might have been,” because it might have been hell, or at least divorce court, had it gone the other way.

  16. WayneKerrins

    October 11, 2013 04:59 PM

    But Michael what is once mundane can, rarely, become fabulous.
    There’s a hero in him: I can smell it.

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