My wife and I continued our quest to go to a new ballpark each year, and two weeks ago, we went to Philadelphia’s new Citizen’s Bank Park for Opening Day. As it turns out, Citizen’s Bank is actually nicer than the Vet, if you can imagine. Instead of being a bland, dark abyss of rat-infested, artificial sludge, the new Phillies’ home is open and inviting, with a noticeably absent detention center, something the infamous Vet could never boast. But this trip in particular wasn’t as much about the stadium (although, let it be known that this park is on par with Camden Yards as one of the most beautiful on the East Coast) as it was about attending a Philadelphia Phillies’ game with a true Philadelphia sports fan - my ol’ college roommate, Brandon.
If our paths never crossed at school, I might feel the same way about Philadelphia sports fans as most people from this area do, which is to say, I would utterly despise them, condemn their incessant booing directed at the likes of injured players and Santa Claus, scoff at their infamous impatience, and label them as the worst sports fans in America. That is, after all, their reputation. But besides getting an inside perspective on their sports consciousness by living with one of their own for several years, I never really hated Philly sports fans that much in the first place. Before any other local sports team, I’m a Yankees’ fan, so I never really developed a hatred of Philadelphia sports. Sure, I love to see the Giants beat the Eagles, but I don’t hate the Eagles as much as I do the Cowboys. And my disdain of the Cowboys isn’t even in the same ballpark as my loathing of the Red Sox. So, I’ve always been able to approach the Philly sports scene with an open mind.
An interesting case study in his own right, Brandon both defies and encompasses the perception of the Philadelphia sports fan. On one hand, he’s logical, knowledgeable, and has a respect for other teams and their fan bases. On the other hand, as we were sitting in our seats watching batting practice, with the Eagles’ home, Lincoln Financial Field, just across the street, Brandon explained to me that during an Eagles/Giants’ game this past season, he, literally, urinated on the Giants’ fan in front of him. According to Brandon, the guy deserved it. Funny too, because knowing Giants’ fans, I believe him. “He was wearing a big leather jacket, dude...He didn’t even feel it.” And now that I think about it, Brandon probably does very little to shed the Philly sports’ fan infamous rep. But he didn’t pee on anyone during this game, which was nice.
And hey, I’m certainly not judging an entire city based on my friendship with one Philadelphia sports fan. I’m not even judging anything, really. I just always find it interesting to gain perspective on other American cities’ sports cultures. Brandon doesn’t represent all of Philly, but in a lot of ways, his points of view echo what I’ve already understood to be common knowledge throughout the city of brotherly love, which may be the most contradictory city slogan ever as it relates to sports.
Like a healthy chunk of Phillies’ fans, Brandon can’t stand Pat Burrell. Can’t stand him. I’m pretty sure he was more excited to boo Pat Burrell as he was being introduced for his first at-bat of the season than he was to watch the actual game. (Unfortunately, he forgot, and was getting a beer when Burrell was first introduced. Brandon has ADD. Then, he booed the fact that he wasn’t there to boo.) In Philly, Pat Burrell gets as much negative attention as A-Rod in New York, except he’s considerably less talented. Like me, an objective observer, Brandon doesn’t understand what Charlie Manuel is doing managing this team. “He sucks. We used to call him Elmer Fudd because he looks and talks like him. Then, after he openly admitted that he did not know what a double switch was, he became Elmer Befuddled.” And while he acknowledges that this season is the most anticipated Phillies’ season in recent memory, his excitement is tempered by the subtle reminder that these are, in fact, the Phillies.
The glass shields the lower decks from splashing pee-pee
A great, passionate sports town, Philadelphia has been without a championship since 1983, when the Sixers captured the NBA title. Before that, the Phillies won it all in 1980. It’s been almost a quarter-century since the city of Philadelphia has experienced a title, a fact that’s made all the more frustrating when you consider that the city is never bereft of good, competitive sports teams. For 24 years, nobody has come through when it mattered - not Barkley, not Iverson, not Roenick, not McNabb, and sure as heck not Mitch Williams. The fans’ frustration has festered for years, leaving them with little hope to believe that anything will ever change, which may serve to explain the perceived negativity the city blankets itself in. But unlike Boston pre-2004 (which, lest we forget, experienced a basketball dynasty in the ‘80's), the city and its fans aren’t defined by this drought. They’re not losers, and they’ll kick your ass if that’s what you think. Or, at the very least, they’ll pee on you. To boot, I’m not even sure that success would alleviate the city’s harsh personality. On our way into the stadium, my wife asked Brandon to take a picture of her and I in front of the statue of Mike Schmidt, who Brandon called a “jerkoff.”
That Schmidt-led 1980 team aside, the Phillies epitomize the city’s frustration like no other local team. They are such colossal underachievers that it borders on comical. (The underachieving part is how Burrell earned his scorn.) They will never exceed expectations, and the fans have countered by not expecting much. That said however, with last season’s trade of Bobby Abreu (quoth Brandon: “He’s so soft. Never had a big hit here. You can have him.”), the emergence of NL MVP Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Cole Hamels, and the second-half surge that almost - almost - vaulted the team into the playoffs, expectations have (gulp) inevitably resurfaced. Which brought us to Opening Day.
Even America likes the Phillies' chances this year
Brandon and I both agreed that it was in the Phillies best interest to get off to a good start this season. Their penchant for making a second-half run only to fall short simply was not going to fly this season, not with the Mets looking as good as they do, and not with the talent that this Phillies team boasts. So after Atlanta’s Brian McCann put the Braves on top 2-0 with a fourth-inning home run off of Brett Myers, it wasn’t looking as if the Phils had the same mind set as we did. To make matters worse, two Atlanta Braves’ fans, with jerseys and all, celebrated the home run a few rows behind us, which infuriated Brandon to no end. “Are you kidding me?” Probably more so than anywhere I know, you just can’t go into Philly and openly root for the other team without repercussions. When Jimmy Rollins cut the lead to one with a solo shot in the fifth, Brandon stood up and sought out the Braves’ fans behind us. He clapped in their direction, told them to go back to Atlanta, and warned them that he’d be on them all game, and he wasn’t the only one in our section dishing it out. When hits by Wes Helms and Philly favorite Aaron Rowand put the Phils up 3-2 in the sixth, Brandon turned around again to talk some smack, but the two Braves fans were gone, which was probably a good thing. Friggin’ Braves’ fans…ugh.
Rollins hits a home run...Charlie Manuel immediately benches him
So here were the Phillies, up 3-2 with two outs in the eighth inning, with a pretty good closer, former Yankee Tom Gordon, waiting in the bullpen to seal the deal on what was a gorgeous day, and what should have been a positive start to the season for Philly. Then Edgar Renteria hit a game tying, solo home run off of Myers to tie the game at three. A “here we go again” sigh echoed throughout the stadium, as everyone around us questioned why Manuel hadn’t relieved Myers, whose surrendering to Renteria was his 106th, and final, pitch. Matt Smith was brought in to finish the inning, one batter too late. Elmer Befuddled.
The game went into extra innings, with no Phillie able to come through in the clutch. In the tenth inning, with a runner on, Renteria was up again, and in an attempt to move the runner over, he squared to bunt, but failed to execute the bunt twice. Now with two strikes, Renteria was left no choice but to swing, and when he did, he hit a go-ahead, two-run home run that would eventually give the Braves a 5-3 victory. Since that opening game loss, the Phillies have won just three ballgames, and sit at 3-9, good for last place in the NL East.
We left the park amidst the groans and curses of angry Phillies fans, but we were on our way back to McFadden’s bar, so all was not lost. As we were walking throughout the stadium, the four of us noticed an exit door that was guarded by an elderly man, who was at least 70-years old. Brandon tried to go through, but the old guy stopped him and asked him to show his ticket. “We’re trying to leave, buddy.” But the guy blocked the door and told us again that we couldn’t go in. Possibly out of frustration by yet another inauspicious start to yet another Phillies season, or possibly just because, Brandon, with a full head of steam and smoke coming out of his ears, stepped back, looked straight at the old man, performed what I would describe as a double chop-down groin thrust, and did what any true Philadelphia sports fan who was denied access to an exit would do. He called the old man a douche bag. Only the way it came out, as he simultaneously and disrespectfully thrust his crotch in the old man’s direction, was, “You’re a DOOOSH-bag!”
And on that note, we left Citizen’s Bank Park, and eventually, the City of Brotherly Love, a little more confused by the city moniker, and a little more comforted by the fact that we don’t root for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Navy parachuters flew down with the game ball...they were booed.
Inscription: Here stands Mike Schmidt: MVP, World Series Champion, Hall of Famer, Ambassador to the Game of Baseball, jerkoff.*
*Not my opinion, just what it says.**
**Not what it says.