Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Four Hours In Phili, All At The Ballpark

When it comes to the Phillies, there are two ways to look at it:

1) As Tom Petty reminded us, even the losers get lucky sometimes, and no team has ended more games with that moniker than the City of Brotherly Love's beloved baseball team. Over one hundred years and just five pennants to show for it. The Yankees have won that many in the last ten years. Or...

2) But there it flies. 1980, the Phillies beat a better Royals team and finally bring a diamond championship to Philadelphia. While some writers have referred to this as a bit of a false spring, as the team hasn't won any since, they've certainly been more competitive since, winning pennants in 1983 and 1993. Since '79, only the Cardinals and Braves have won more, and the Braves have as many championships to show for it. And at least they don't have the honor of being the worst team to ever not lose a World Series, which would be the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals.

No, I don't like the Cardinals, and you will hear more about that next week. But first, let me tell you how I ended up passing through Phili for a game.

My father has brain damage. Not severe enough to warrant constant supervision, but he has no depth perception, suffers from periodic, intense headaches, and cannot fly on airplanes. He technically can, but should the cabin depressurize (they are called accidents because they're unplanned) then he could die. As a result, he always travels by train or car. Andre Dubus wrote that flying is not true traveling, it is merely a change of location. My father, a New Englander like Dubus later became, seems to appreciate the gradual alterations in landscape that accompany an earthbound journey. Much like the cadence of seasonal changes that is an alien concept this far West, but which he always speaks of fondly. In Los Angeles county, there is no hot or cold. Days are merely warmer or cooler than the day before.

So when my uncle got a nice deal on a house in Cape Cod for a week, he was kind enough to invite my family (myself, mother, father, brother, sis-in-law) along. Because of this, my parents had to drive. Because my father would be spending the summer in Connecticut with his family, I went to help my mother on the trip back. Because my cousin Casey (my uncle's son) has a writer's appreciation for leisurely travel, he came on the trip to the Cape, after which he would catch a plane to Spain. The travel agent misunderstood his requests to fly out of "New York" and instead booked a flight out of "Newark."

That's another story entirely. Suffice it to say that for years I've heard and seen endless jokes made at the expense of the Garden State. I now fully understand and encourage said jokes.

My mother's friend Gina lives in Virginia-near-D.C with her boyfriend and her children, so we stopped by for a visit on our way up the coast. A pleasant, short stay, and I discovered that evening that the Phillies would be playing the Mets the next afternoon. This would allow us the opportunity to catch a game and still get to Connecticut that evening.
My cousin had decided he would spend game time with a friend he knew in the area, allowing us to purchase only three tickets. However, a basic misunderstanding of geography and fear of taking public transportation left him alone in the parking lot of Citizen's Bank Ballpark. As a result, we were forced to scalp a ticket outside, which I happily accepted. I'd have to sit by myself but the seat was much closer to the field. It had started to drizzle as we parked, so we quickly made our way inside.

An entrepreneurial fellow was standing in the parking lot selling t-shirts that featured a young man urinating on Terrell Owens, which had his name printed underneath his visage lest the uninformed not know who was the intended object of ridicule. My cousin, who doens't follow football, asked who T.O. was, and I explained that he used to play for the Eagles. He then asked why they had a picture of him on a T-shirt with-I explained that he had left the team on bad terms. He then inquired further as to why they were selling football related shirts at a baseball game. I told him to ask my mom, who had the year before gone to the City of Brotherly Love on a business trip. She explained to him how...attached Philidelphians are to the Eagles.

While I'd heard terrible, terrible things about the Vet, actually, horror stories is probably the correct term, the Cit was a refreshing amalgam of the old-fashioned ballpark mode with modern amenities and spacing, akin to Oriole Park at Camden Yards and (I've been told) PNC Park in Pittsburgh.
Steve "Lefty" Carlton

Also, the Phillies appear, like the other NL team across the state, to pay proper homage to the team's finest. I was not able, alas, to get a picture of the Mike Schmidt statue, which was on the other side of the Park and we wanted to beat the traffic. Ah well, now I have an excuse to go back, as I've never eaten New York pizza or a Phili cheese steak. Plus they now have a Robin Roberts statue.

Richie Ashburn, "The Nebraska Comet"

I was walking, quickly, to my section I heard a groaning coming from the field. I'd glimpsed the score on the stroll through Ashburn Alley and imagined the Mets had scored again when I turned the corner to go into my seat only to find myself facing everyone in the area scrambling to get out of the rain that was now pouring onto the field.

The thoughtful gentleman at the front of the line kindly turned me around and shoved me back through the passageway, where I saw the occupants of the other areas spilling out and crowding the concourse. Being at the front of the line allowed me to make a beeline for the nearest concession stand so I could grab a dog and a coke.

That task accomplished and with time to kill and rain to avoid, I wandered around the area, signing up for a credit card and getting a Phillies shirt (It was that or a towel), buying a copy of the DVD set of the 1980 championship team, which featured a pair of documentaries as well as the complete broadcast of game 5 of the NLCS vs. the Astros and game 6 of the World Series against the Royals. Also, a postcard for a near-Phili native at the office. So I have my tray with the food, the DVDs and the shirt when I hear a high vibrating wail, sounding similar to air-raid sirens in the movies. I looked to my left, and there he was, the Phili Phanatic, riding through the concourse on an ATV and blaring the siren attached to the handlebars as the people cleared a path for him.

Wow. A sighting of the Phanatic, one of the holy trinity of baseball mascots, along with Mr. Met and the San Diego Chicken.

The camera was in my pocket, and as I fumbled to get it out without spilling anything from my tray in the packed walkway and turn it on and then just as I got it ready he was round the corner.

D'oh! I was lucky to get this shot of him atop the dugout, trying to in vain to rally the Phillies to a comeback.

Eventually the crowd began meandering back to their seats, so I followed. Luckily, I grabbed a large handful of napkins at the condiments table, a trait inherited from my father, who reminded me when I was young it was better to have too many napkins than not enough. I was able to use most of them to wipe off my seat, now coated with water from the summer shower. I sat down and immediately snapped the above picture.

The seat was terrific, here's a better picture, taken after the clouds had rolled away.

I nice afternoon at the yard, and a welcome break after spending three days on the road. The Mets won, 5-4, as Wagner got the save to a chorus of boos, which were loud but not quite as angry as I expected. I imagine that might have been because of the prominant number of New Yorkers (or maybe Mets fans who live in Philadelphia?) in the crowd.
I've seen the Mets six times in my life (twice in Los Angeles, twice in Phoenix, once here and another at Shea) and they've never lost. Coincidence?

On the trip back home, after Newark, we stopped at Busch Stadium and saw the Cardinals, a team that, as a Red Sox fan and Cubs sympathizer, are the National League version of the Yankees.

Speaking of which, remember the "Got Rings?" t-shirt sad Yankee fans wear? Well, St. Louis has their own version, laughing at the Cubs and their lack of success. I think this tells you all you need to know about Cardinal fans.

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