- Rick Reilly, Columnist, ESPN.com
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Approximately 2.6 million Americans lost their jobs last year. One of them couldn't have been happier about it.
His name is Lionel Rodia, of suburban Philadelphia, and if they ever build a national Fan Hall of Fame, what he did in Game 5 of last year's World Series should get his face on the logo.
When Lionel's staffing company was sold and he was pink-slipped, it knocked him flatter than forgotten beer. And it's not easy to flatten Lionel, who is as pessimistic as a rainbow and twice as colorful. His real name is Mike, but they call him Lionel because, like the train, he can't be stopped.
So Lionel, 42, did what any true Philly fan would do: He started begging, borrowing and stealing his way into every Phillies, Eagles, Flyers and Sixers game he could. And nobody nudges better than Lionel. "I've never been to a Springsteen concert with him where he didn't say, 'Follow me,' and we didn't end up in the front row," says Lionel's best friend, Tom (Tush) Millison.
When the Phils played in the soggy World Series Game 5—up three games to one—Lionel sat along the leftfield foul pole in a seat he'd gotten for free. With the game tied 2-2 in the sixth, rain checks were issued for the rest of Game 5, to be played two nights later. That is when Lionel somehow sneaked into the swanky Diamond Club section behind the plate, where Tush has season tickets.
Ten minutes in, Tush is in his seat—five rows up, just off home plate—when his cell buzzes. It's Lionel. "Look to your right," Lionel says. And there he is, sitting TWO rows back, DEAD CENTER behind home plate, grinning like Phil Mickelson.
Now, the Phillies have just won, 4-3, when Lionel notices a 6'8" guy in a suit begin to walk down the aisle. Lionel figures the guy's important, so he slinks in behind him, through a gate and toward the Tampa dugout. Who's in there but Bud Selig, some suits and the World Series trophy, all of which are on the field a minute later for the presentation of hardware to Phillies boss David Montgomery. Which is weird, because the way Lionel is strutting around, you'd think he were the boss.
That's when a bat boy starts throwing championship T-shirts to everyone, including you-know-who. Now comes a Hawaiian woman handing out leis. And because Lionel has all kinds of time to read every word about his beloved Phils, he knows it's Shane Victorino's mom. He says, "Hey, Mrs. Victorino!" And she puts one around his neck and kisses him and cries some more.
Tush's cell rings again. It's Lionel. "Look on the mound." And there he is, arms raised in victory.
"Jesus H. Christ!" says Tush.
Lionel goes 5'8", 240, and he's got the same shirt and lei as the players, so he looks like a player, which is maybe why he's suddenly in the middle of every hug. And that's about when Chase Utley says to Jimmy Rollins: "Let's go celebrate!" And Lionel says exactly what you'd think he'd say, which is, "I'm with you guys!"
So now Lionel is in the madhouse clubhouse, where he sees tubs of champagne and beer. Naturally, he chugs a beer. He has become a human Bud Light commercial.
And it hits him. "The last time Philly won anything was in 1983, the Sixers over the Lakers," Lionel says. "And I watched Dr. J get the trophy in the locker room and thought, Wow, I'd like to be there."
Bucket list? Check.
Now Lionel starts going lotto-champagne crazy, squirting multimillionaire athletes up the nose, in the eyes and down the shorts. He pours an entire bottle over the head of slugger Ryan Howard. Matt Stairs gives him a head butt. He kisses pitcher Jamie Moyer on the cheek and yells, "Thank you for everything!" And Moyer yells, "No, thank you!"
Now Tush's cell rings again. But it's not Lionel. It's a buddy going, "I swear I just saw Lionel on TV celebrating in the clubhouse! But that can't be, can it?"
Oh yes. Yes, it can.
Finally, Lionel comes out with a bottle under his coat, and they all end up at their favorite canteen, Barnaby's, where Lionel pours out the bubbly and his story to anyone who will drink it in, which is everybody.
Greatest fan day ever.
"I'm just so glad it happened to Lionel," Tush says. "He's been through a really rough time with the job stuff. But this kind of eased the sting."
And now I see the Flyers playing well. And my only thought is: Wonder how Lionel will spend his day with the Cup?
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Don't recognize this man? He's the luckiest fan in America.