Serenity Now

Serenity Now

By Chamomiles Davis 

If there is one that I, speaking as
a Philadelphia sports fan, have in short supply it is serenity. The
word itself means little to me. It is a state of mind experienced elsewhere
only.

Living in a town with four major sporting
franchises that did nothing but get gut-punched season after ringless
season for twenty-five years, the words best used to describe our own
state of mind would be, to suggest a few: "anguish," "turmoil,"
"despair," "disgust," "belligerence,"
"self-hatred," "stress leading to premature baldness,"
and "drunk." Not necessarily in that order, mind you.

The Phillies finally ended the drought
last October which, don't get me wrong, was absolutely beautiful. I
cried, let me put it that way. But I'm not talking about the Fightins.
Or the Flyers. Or, um... (Geez, what's their name? You know, that basketball
team that used to play in Philly? They were pretty good, too. What were
they called? Oh, right -- the Warriors.)

Every year at an Eagles press conference
that follows yet another fruitless season (this year makes 49, for those
masochists who keep count), I'm supposed to be sucked in by a self-deluded
cabal of owners and coaches who want us to believe that "this is
the year," when I'm not entirely sure these people are convinced
by their own words.

Or maybe they are, when I hear some
of the insane quotes emanating from the Eagles team president. We're
the "gold standard," Mr. Banner? Really? So then I guess that
would make the Patriots the platinum standard, and the Steelers some
kind of ultra-precious metal that hasn't been discovered yet.

Banner also likes to point out that
for the last several years the best team has NOT been the one who won
the Super Bowl. Riiiiight. And I'll bet the teams that keep beating
Philly in the NFC Championship Game must downright SUCK. Please.

Getting back to this "serenity"
concept: Each year Eagles fans are taunted with the recurring notion
that the missing pieces are finally in place. Everyone's happy, sufficiently
healthy and focused on one goal: Mr. Lombardi's trophy. Experts will
wax endlessly about how much of a threat the Eagles are going to be
in the NFC, blah blah blah, then generously present Philadelphia with
10-12 gift-wrapped wins before a single meaningful down has been played.

Then we as a fan base get to spend
an evening in early February following a decades-long tradition: Watching
another team win the Super Bowl. What fun, especially when that team
we're watching happens to be the Cowboys, Giants or Redskins. Suddenly
their fans crawl out from the sewers, appearing before our eyes as if
by magic. They take great pleasure in reminding us that, with the departure
of Arizona to the NFC West, that we are the only team in our division
not only without a single championship, but at least three.

The summer months just fly by after
that, I can tell you. Then we have to perform a collective lobotomy,
block out the pain, and renew our hopes that this year, Joe Banner and
Jeff Lurie aren't just talking out of their asses. Well, you can; I'm
done.

I've decided that it is time that serenity
trumps crushed expectations. In order to achieve this elusive mindset,
I've had to come to grips with one sad, yet undeniable fact.

No matter how good they become, no
matter how weak the competition may seem, the Philadelphia Eagles are
never, EVER going to win the Super Bowl. Ever.

If the National Football League lasts
for another 200 years, I am convinced that every team (yes, even Arizona)
will win at least one Super Bowl. Except the Eagles.

The Lions can't suck this bad forever.
The Browns were once a mighty and glorious team and I believe they will
be again. Houston will stumble into a championship sooner or later.
Tennessee is due. Buffalo and Minnesota are WAYYYYY due.

The Eagles will never win one, though,
because they've never been able to defeat their toughest opponent: themselves.
Whenever they are poised on the brink of glory, there is a self-manufactured
catastrophe brewing on the horizon. I'll blame the fog for what happened
in 1988. But I blame nerves for 1980, overconfidence for 2002, weak
receivers for 2003, and vomit for 2004.

No game plan devised by an opposing
team's coach could have done more damage than the Eagles did to themselves
in those years, years in which the Promised Land was just in sight,
tantalizingly close.

Don't get me wrong. I WANT the Eagles
to win a Super Bowl. I want them to win ten of them, all in a row. I
want the fans of other teams to hate us for something other than our
reputation as a sports town. But ask me if I think they will, and my
answer remains, "No way. Never."

There's my conundrum. How can I root
for a team that both my gut and my brain says has no shot to soothe
the anguish which has been accumulating ever since Buck Shaw(!) outcoached
Vince Lombardi in December of 1960? Why put myself through this?

Why? Because I love football, and because
I could never root for another team. I could especially never root for
a team that has already experienced success, which would make me that
despicable breed of sub-human known as a front-runner.

If nothing else, I can tell myself
that believing the Birds will never achieve total success is simply
a reverse-jinx, and thus I can hope for a parade down Broad Street any
day now. But I'm not holding my breath. Instead I will settle down and
watch my beloved Eagles grunt and sweat their way through another disappointing
season, awash in a sea of newfound serenity.

Joel Embiid says he's '100 percent' back from foot injury, excited to play with Ben Simmons

Joel Embiid says he's '100 percent' back from foot injury, excited to play with Ben Simmons

Avalon, N.J. -- Joel Embiid has been waiting since 2014 to make his NBA debut. Two years later, the former third overall pick is nearing that day.

“I feel a hundred percent,” Embiid said Saturday at the Sixers Beach Bash. “I’m ready to get started. My summer has been great. We’ve been working out a lot this past summer, just getting some runs in. I’ve gotten a chance to play a little bit against the guys.” 

Embiid’s pro career has been sidelined by injuries, undergoing two foot surgeries in as many years. The first was to repair a stress fracture in his right navicular bone. The second, a bone-graft operation on the same bone. 

The 7-foot-2 big man has been rehabbing since then, traveling as far as Qatar in the process. This offseason Embiid was cleared for monitored, five-on-five drills. He joined the Sixers during the Las Vegas Summer League to continue his recovery away from game competition.

“It’s been really tough,” Embiid said. “The main thing is, I haven’t gotten a chance to get on the court and play, or help my teammates, or play in front of Sixers fans. I look forward to it and I can’t wait.”

Embiid said he “definitely” plans to be a go for training camp. He expects there will be a transition period once cleared to play given the length of his rehab, but notes he is a quick learner. Embiid also anticipates having restrictions, but has not discussed the specifics with the Sixers. 

“Probably,” he said. “But I think the restrictions would probably be about the fact that I haven’t played in two years. It’s not going to be about because people are worried that I’m going to re-injure myself, which I don’t think is going to happen.”

One player who is eager for Embiid’s return is rookie first overall pick Ben Simmons. The two have been friends since high school. They easily gel off the court, and plan to do the same in games. 

“He has great footwork, he has great touch, so I’m looking forward to playing with him,” Simmons said, continuing, “Off the court, we’re like brothers. We have fun.” 

Embiid has been present with the Sixers for games and practices. He has had numerous conversations with head coach Brett Brown about his days on the San Antonio Spurs coaching staff and how the organization achieved success with fellow big Tim Duncan, one of Embiid’s basketball role models. 

With an abundance of bigs, the Sixers will have to determine how they share the floor. For Embiid, who can also knock down long-range shots, he plans to fill whatever role the coaches outline for him.

“I think I’ll take a couple threes, but I’ll do what’s best for the team and whatever I’ll feel comfortable doing,” he said. “Obviously they’re going to need my presence inside and that’s what I’m going to do. But when I’m open, I might fire some threes.”

After a series of setbacks, Embiid is enthusiastic about the thought of making his NBA debut. 

“It feels great,” he said. “Especially after the past two years, I haven’t been able to do what I love. It just feels great.”  

A.J. Ellis still adjusting, learning names as he joins the Phillies

A.J. Ellis still adjusting, learning names as he joins the Phillies

NEW YORK – It wasn’t easy leaving the only professional organization he’d ever been part of, but new Phillie A.J. Ellis, acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Carlos Ruiz trade Thursday, is coming to terms with it.

“To find out that the trade went down, it was hard,” Ellis said upon reporting to his new club Saturday. “It was so immediate and sudden, really hard to say goodbye to a lot of relationships I had been blessed to forge for more than a decade.

“But the waves of emotion are getting farther and farther apart, which is a good thing.”

Ellis, 35, was drafted by the Dodgers in 2003 and rose to the majors with them in 2008. With the Phillies, he will serve a similar role to the one he played with the Dodgers – backup catcher. Ellis wasted no time getting to know the pitching staff he will now work with. He arrived at Citi Field early Saturday afternoon and caught Jake Thompson and Jerad Eickhoff in their between-starts bullpen sessions.

Ellis said “Eichorn” when referring to Eickhoff. He’s forgiven. It’s been a whirlwind week.

“See?” he said. “I’m still learning names.”

Ellis, who served as the personal catcher for Dodgers’ ace Clayton Kershaw, was blindsided by the trade.

“When I was summoned to the ballpark, that’s never really a good thing, especially when the front office wants to meet with you as far as where you’re at with the club, you know some kind of transition is happening,” he said. “The first 12 hours were definitely the hardest.

“But to arrive here and arrive in the clubhouse, meeting the staff, I’m starting to feel re-energized, refilled with a sense of purpose as to why I’ve been placed here, and why this is where I need to be at this time. I’m excited about that.

"I know I have huge shoes to fill. Carlos Ruiz is such a fixture in the Phillies organization. The work that he’s done here behind the plate, you can’t fill. This guy is a world champion catcher who has been back there for so many great baseball memories. So it’s up to me to do my part to fill the void.”

Manager Pete Mackanin thought about putting Ellis in the lineup Saturday night then had some mercy when he figured facing hard-throwing Mets right-hander Noah Syndergaard might not be the best indoctrination for a guy who just flew cross-country. Ellis is likely to start Sunday afternoon’s series finale and catch Vince Velasquez.

That doesn’t mean he wasn’t asked to make a contribution to Saturday night’s game. Mackanin said he wanted Ellis to speak with the Phillies hitters about the weaknesses the Dodger pitchers tried to exploit.

“We talk to them about this stuff all the time, but it might help to hear it from an outside source,” Mackanin said.

Ellis left a first-place club for a rebuilding team. That’s not easy. He has come to terms with that. He likes the young talent on the Phillies’ roster and hopes to help it come to flower.

“Guys are playing for their careers,” he said. “Guys are playing to make their mark in this game and create a winning franchise once again in Philadelphia. 

"You see the talent, you see their desire to learn, their desire to get better. You just know the youth on this staff, the talent level on this staff. And if I can in some short time here impact some wisdom on those guys, share some of the wisdom along the way that I’ve picked up from some great mentors I’ve had in my time in the game, I need to pay it back, from what all has been given to me.”

Ellis hit just .197 with a .285 on-base percentage in 53 games for the Dodgers this season. That’s one of the reasons the Dodgers acquired Ruiz – to get more production from their right-handed-hitting backup catcher. Ruiz had a .369 on-base percentage at the time of the trade.

Phillies’ general manager Matt Klentak was “adamant” that Ellis come back on the deal because he wanted someone who could fill Ruiz’ void on (behind the plate) and off (with clubhouse leadership) the field. Ellis’ time with the Phillies might be short. He will be a free agent at the end of the season and his playing time might be scant as September unfolds. The Phils will probably add prospect Jorge Alfaro to the catching mix sometime during that month. Management seems eager to get a look at him while still getting No. 1 catcher Cameron Rupp the game reps he needs.

Carson Wentz goes through lengthy pregame warmup in Indy

Carson Wentz goes through lengthy pregame warmup in Indy

INDIANAPOLIS -- Carson Wentz isn't playing on Saturday night against the Colts, but the No. 2 overall pick might have a chance to play in the preseason finale on Thursday, which has been the hope all along. 

Wentz went through a lengthy pregame warmup -- about an hour -- on Saturday as his teammates prepared to face Andrew Luck and the Colts. Long after Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel went into the locker room, Wentz continued to throw. 

This week's pregame warmup was much more intense than the one he was put through last week in Pittsburgh. On Saturday, he dropped back to throw and looked smooth throwing on the run, even across his body. Quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo put Wentz through the hour-long workout on Saturday. Leaving the field after the workout, offensive coordinator Frank Reich agreed that Wentz looked good. 

The real test will be the X-ray, because no matter how good he feels or how much he lobbies, he'll need to be cleared before he's allowed to return. Shortly after the injury, Wentz said practice would be determined by his pain tolerance and game action would be determined by medical personnel. If he doesn't play against the Jets, it could be a while before Eagles fans get to see their quarterback of the future. 

Another hurdle is the short week of practice thanks to a Thursday game coming after a Saturday game. 

"It's interesting because next week we only got really two days of practice," Doug Pederson said earlier in the week. "We'll see. We'll evaluate him through the weekend. [We’ll] take him on this trip and work him out a little bit when we get to Indy [Indianapolis], and then again next Monday and Tuesday. We've got to at least get a day's work with him in order for him to go in the game next Thursday."

Along with Wentz, there are several other Eagles who won't play against the Colts: Aaron Grymes, Alex McCalister, Joe Walker, Jordan Matthews, Isaac Seumalo and Mike Martin.