The real (and surprising) story behind the 'N Sync Phillies jersey photo that's going viral [UPDATE]
To the delight of pretty much anyone with eyeballs, Phillies Nation posted this picture of 'N Sync on Facebook earlier today: the marginally pubescent boy band models Phillies jerseys for what is perhaps the most '90s photo ever taken.
The shot appears to have come from a teen magazine, but with virtually no information to contextualize it. Our curiosity was piqued. When and where is this photo from? Are Lance, Joey, Chris, Justin, and JC really Phillies fans? How come my chain wallet don't look that fly?
Even our most lethal Google-fu turned up no further evidence of 'N Sync's apparent Phillies fandom. Besides, 'N Sync was formed in Orlando, and the band members' diverse roots indicate no obvious ties to Philadelphia. In fact, the only Pennsylvania native among them is Chris Kirkpatrick, whose hometown of Clarion is a five-hour drive from the city -- and smack dab in the middle of Pirates country, at that.
It seemed a little fishy. So we did some digging, Woodward and Bernstein-style. Hashtag serious journalism, folks.
The best connection we could draw between 'N Sync and baseball was the romantic comedy On the Line, a forgettable (literally: until an hour ago, my brain had wiped this part of its hard drive clean) Lance Bass vehicle about a missed connection on Chicago's L train. The movie, released in 2011, was partly shot at Wrigley Field.
During production, Lance Bass and Joey Fatone sang "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" at a Cubs home game -- when, ironically, Chicago was hosting the Phillies. But this wasn't the source of the Phillies Nation photo. We had to go deeper.
Our best guess as to the picture's backstory was that they'd sung the national anthem at a game, but where? Our final clue was that the backdrop didn't look much like a Major League stadium. On a whim, we checked the Phillies' Minor League affiliates, and discovered that they maintain a Class A team, the Threshers, in Clearwater, Florida.
Clearwater, you say? That's a convenient 90 minutes from Orlando, 'N Sync's former base. And it turns out the Threshers changed their name in 2003: until then, they were also known as the Phillies.
A little more investigation revealed that, throughout the 90's, the Clearwater Phillies played at Jack Russell Memorial Stadium. It was on the ballpark's Wikipedia page -- the ultimate reliable scholarly source -- that we finally hit the motherlode: 'N Sync is known to have performed at the Phillies' Stadium in 1996. (Keep in mind that the group was only founded in 1995 -- we're talking old-old-school 'N Sync.) Mystery solved.
So fear not, Phanatics. 'N Sync belongs to the Phillies Phranchise Phamily after all ... even if they're a slightly more distant cousin than you may have originally thought.
The plot thickens. A hat tip to commenter Adrian Martinez, who informs us that Justin Timberlake is the nephew of John Timberlake, GM of the Clearwater Threshers.