Brett Phillips is an outfielder with the Tampa Bay Rays. Chloe Grimes is an eight-year-old baseball fan. Tuesday night, the two of them shared a moment at Tropicana Field that’s a perfect reminder of why sports are just the best.
Phillips plays baseball in a way that occasionally ticks off old-time baseball fans, which is to say he actually looks like he’s having fun. He’s probably best known for his game-winning pinch hit in Game 4 of the 2020 World Series. Overwhelmed with joy at beating the Dodgers, he began running around the field with arms outstretched like an airplane. It’s a celebration Phillips, his teammates and Rays fans have busted out several times since then.
He’s as endearing a ballplayer as there is in the game, and prior to Tuesday’s game, he met with Chloe, who’s battling cancer for the second time. She gave him a wristband commemorating her fight, and he wore it as he took the field against the A’s. “It’ll bring me good luck,” he told Chloe.
In the third inning, the Rays’ sideline reporter interviewed Chloe while Phillips was at the plate, and she broke down why she likes him so much: “Because he has the best smile. He’s always having fun and I like how he does his airplane.”
And then something right out of a movie happened – while the interview was taking place, Phillips crushed a 404-foot home run down the right-field line. “Brett Phillips just hit a home run!” Chloe cheered.
After the game, a 9-8 Rays victory, Phillips spoke of meeting Chloe, and he got choked up in an emotional interview. “I hope I can meet Chloe in the future,” Phillips said, his voice wavering in the weight of the moment. “What an inspiration, the energy she brought.”
“𝘾𝙝𝙡𝙤𝙚 𝙮𝙤𝙪’𝙧𝙚 𝙖𝙣 𝙞𝙣𝙨𝙥𝙞𝙧𝙖𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣!”
— Bally Sports Sun: Rays (@BallyRays) April 13, 2022
In a click-driven, controversy-sells media world, a story like this stands out. Outrage is addictive for both readers and media; it’s why you see it pumped out every day and recycled on social media. If you’re not angry, the underlying message goes, you’re not paying attention.
But what if there’s nothing to get angry about? What if a good moment is just that, a good moment?
The Chloe Grimes-Brett Phillips story is one that doesn’t fit well into our current media landscape. There’s no victim here, nobody to blame, no reasonable way to tie this story to some larger theme of societal outrage – just a guy doing what he does best, bringing joy into the life of someone who really needs it.
Certain fans and media, fearful of the vulnerability of sincerity, crack open a sad, predictable playbook in moments like this. Some mock a player like this for showing any emotion at all. Others will dig into his past and try to unearth bad tweets or rip him for his political beliefs, as if either of those disqualifies him from ever again being able to act like a decent human being. Still others will complain about the attention that a professional athlete is getting, why we even spend any of our brainpower on sports at all when there are so much greater problems in the world.
The goal is always the same – bring the moment down to ground level, rather than rise up to appreciate the moment.
We can’t, and shouldn’t, disregard the ugly side of sports – the tragedies, the arrests, the vast inequities, the soulless pursuit of revenue. But every once in a while, it’s also worth remembering why we fell in love with sports in the first place, and it wasn’t so that we could bitch online about somebody’s mock draft, or despair that our team has lost its moral compass chasing rings and cash.
Phillips – like so many athletes, like so many people – is an easy guy to like, whether he’s buying armloads of Girl Scout cookies from a young fan or laughing like a deranged cartoon character. You can see why kids look up to him, and why maybe a few grownups ought to start, too.
Sure, it’s safer to be a detached and cynical adult, sitting back and critiquing the world with arms folded. But every once in a while, you need to just put those arms out like an airplane and fly.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at [email protected]