Walking around a jam-packed Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia last week, I couldn't help but wonder: was this what Toronto's SkyDome was like back in the late 1980s and early 90s, when the Blue Jays ruled the baseball world? Was the joint always sold out, and full of rabid fans? I think it was; I hope it was. But to be honest, I don't remember. I turned 10-years-old a month before Mike Timlin tossed the ball to Joe Carter at first base in October 1992, a couple of strides before Atlanta Braves' outfielder Otis Nixon could get to the bag, to make baseball history. While I remember family outings to the ballpark, the atmosphere at the Dome and the game day experience escape me.
This I know: the Phillies faithful were the most passionate I've encountered so far on The Baseball Road Trip Of A Lifetime. Moreso than the Massholes in Boston, and the spoiled New York Yankees fans. (I heard a great line in New York about Yankees fans: "They don't cheer for the Yankees; they cheer for the World Series." Nails!1) Phillies fans were loud, well-behaved (at least they were on Friday night), and 85 per cent of them were decked out in Phillies red and white; everyone was wearing either a T-shirt jersey, or an actual jersey. It was fantastic. Even while their team was getting spanked, Phillies fans were busy enjoying themselves. And they almost kept me out of the ballpark.
The game was sold out. Online and, according to an announcement upon my arrival at Phillies Drive and Citizens Bank Way, at the box office. To my bewilderment, even ticket scalpers were looking to buy, and not sell. I was down to my last resort: a prayer to the baseball Gods. And they continued to heed my calls. After initially saying nothing was available, and then saying a $60 seat was available, the lovely Phillies employee I was speaking with informed me that she'd found one seat in the upper deck right field grandstand, at $23. Sold.
You take what you can get. And, after a conversation with my older brother in Chicago this past weekend (he joined me on one half of the Chicago leg of #TBRTOAL), he reminded me that the same old tune was sang in Toronto back in the day. He recalled how the only tickets we were able to get our hands on at times were in the last row of the 500 section. The last row! Where the air is thinner. Sometimes we even had obstructed view nosebleed seats. But it didn't matter. Because we were going to see Devon White and Dave Winfield. Roberto Alomar and Paul Molitor. Jack Morris and Kelly Gruber. John Olerud and Joe Carter. Jimmy Key and Tom Henke. Well, parts of them, at least.
And you know what? Citizens Bank Park should be sold out every night. Because of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins. And Jason Werth, Shane Victorino, and Placido Polanco. And Raul Ibanez, and Jamie Moyer. Okay, fine, not Moyer, but Cole Hamels. And - sigh - Roy Halladay. World Series champions in 2008, and runners-up in 2009, there's something special going down in Philadelphia.
The Same Old Song
Citizens Bank Park delivers all that you expect of a brand new ballpark that opened in 2004; she can't possibly let you down. You'll find her in Philadelphia's South Side stadium complex, across the street from Lincoln Financial Field, where the Philadelphia Eagles break hearts, and both the Wachovia Center and Wachovia Spectrum. Take the Broad Street subway line all the way south to Pattison. It doesn't take long from downtown, or "Center City," as the locals call it; you can't miss her.
By now, you know the drill: great sightlines, a massive scoreboard in left field, some bleacher seats, a wide variety of food options, and plenty of microbrews at reasonable prices. I don't know about you, but I'm just about used to it by now. I'd recommend, either before the game or after, a trip to McFadden's Restaurant & Saloon. It's connected to the ballpark, there's live music, and cheap beer; what else do you want in life?
Inside the stadium you'll find ... a ton of Phillies fans. The main concourse is crowded because the place is sold out. And that means lineups for concessions and the washrooms are long, but, really, you know you wouldn't have it any other way. If you're looking for food, head to the area behind the outfield walls, Ashburn Alley. I went with Chickie's & Pete's famous crab fries; they're $6. Because I wasn't feeling quite fat enough, I went with the $2 cheese dip as well. And a Coke Zero for $4.50. Let's just say that out of the three, I'd recommend the Coke Zero. They're regular fries, with some crab seasoning. Try something else, and don't bother with what was at least a 100-person-deep lineup for the fries. Don't get me wrong, the line moved fast; it's the only reason I gave it a whirl. But the fries left more to be desired. The quest to find life-altering fries continues.
Beer. It costs you $7.25, both domestic and premium. Check out this lineup of beers available at the ballpark that I'd never heard of before: Flying Fish Farmouse Summer Ale, Landshark Island Style Lager, Redbridge Gluten Free, Victory Hop Devil, Long Hammer IPA, Yards Extra Special Ale, Newcastle Brown Ale, and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. You've also got your usual suspects: Bud and Bud Light, Blue Moon, Sam Adams, etc. The point is: options. And that's all you can ask for, isn't it?
He's In A Better Place
I've been putting off writing about this, but it's time: Roy Halladay's found a good home. Philadelphia, rightfully, has taken to him. Doc's going to get the chance to win it all, and that's what matters. The good Lord above knows he deserves that opportunity.
I saw a ton of Halladay T-shirts and jerseys at the game on Friday. He hasn't been a Phillie long, but my worst fears were that he wouldn't be appreciated like he was in Toronto. And let no one tell you that he wasn't appreciated in Toronto. Because he was. And, while with a heavy heart, I'm glad to report that Halladay is indeed appreciated in Philadelphia. Here are some of the better responses I got in regards to Halladay now rocking red pinstripes, and wowing the city with his penchant for complete games and shutouts:
"Twenty-million a season? Worth every penny."
"He was always putting up good numbers up against the Red Sox and Yankees, but I had no idea he was this good. You know, because he was up in Toronto."
"We thought Cliff Lee was great. Halladay's on another planet." (Editor's note: He's not on another planet; he's from another planet.)
"I'd let Doc have my babies." (Editor's note: me too.)
My favourite Halladay remark came from a gentleman named Tony. Wearing a Doc jersey, he simply reached out to shake my hand and said: "Thank you."
You're welcome, Tony. Enjoy Doc. There will never be another Roy Halladay.
They, the Americans, tailgate before baseball games in Philadelphia. Did you know this? Because I did not know this. I thought it was a football only phenomenon. But it makes complete sense. And I can't believe I didn't think of it before.
I met three gentlemen -- Jack, Chuck, and Ron -- in the upper deck Friday night, and they were telling me all about it. They'd been at the game since 1 p.m. Friday afternoon, cooking and drinking and having a jolly old time. They explained how the tailgate party was a thoroughly coordinated experience; they even brewed their own beer. And their little barbecue was a sight to behold: it was a beer keg, cut in half, with a grill inside. She was beautiful. One of the guys, and I can't remember which one, is even a member of USTGA - the United States TailGating Association. These guys were professionals, folks.
And they were huge Phillies fans. They were well aware of the reputation of Philadelphia's sports fans, and did their best to let me know that those sick puppies who threw snowballs at Santa Claus way back in 1968 don't represent all of them. I let them know that I'd been to Philly years before for a Toronto Maple Leafs and Philadelphia Flyers game and, while some of the comments did get racial, I didn't hold it against the city. When you're in enemy territory wearing enemy colours, you've got to expect it. And ignorance is everywhere. Probably a little moreso in the U.S.A., post 9-11. (If you're going to be racist, at least make me laugh, and Flyers fans threw some gems our way, including this one: "If you guys are here, who's working at the convenience store?" Gold.)
Jack, Chuck, and Ron. Good people. They appreciate their Phillies, and baseball history, and American history. They're fans until the bitter end, and support their team even though it hasn't always been easy. For the three of them, it's about solidarity; about getting together hours before the game and having a good time. A drunken good time. And, you know what, why not? They did their part in dispelling the rumours that all Philadelphia sports fans are insufferable pricks. Thanks, boys.
When In Rome ...
You know when you're in Philadelphia that you've got to have a cheesesteak. And according to Jack, Chuck, Ron and their posse, Geno's and Pat's, the two most famous joints directly across the street from each other in Philly, are overrated. They told me to head for Jim's Steaks, at 4th and South Street. So I did. And it was divine. I'm not even going to bother telling you the price, because you can't put a price on that experience.
Coming up at Stealing Home, a post comparing attendance in Toronto and Philadelphia, following the 1993 World Series. And: the Chicago baseball experiences. Both of them, the south side and the north side. I'm done with the Windy City, and it was a busy weekend: Chicago Blackhawks and Vancouver Canucks Saturday night, Chicago Cubs and Arizona Diamondbacks Sunday afternoon, and finally the Chicago White Sox and Kansas City Royals Monday night. Yeah, life is rough these days.
I'm off to Minneapolis and the twin cities Tuesday afternoon. I'll surely be tweeting from the bus, and you can follow along while I lose my mind on the eight-hour journey at twitter.com/eyebleaf.