The Philadelphia sports fans have taken a beating through the years and often received a bad reputation for their conduct. Some of that is earned (booing Santa, throwing snowballs, throwing up on a kid, streaking on the field), some of it is not. My belief is that we are the most passionate fans in the country (and that is saying a lot when you look at the Mets, Yankees and Red Sox supporters.)
I base my belief on the Phillies' fans. When I was in West Chester State College (PA) I remember seeing a bumper sticker on the studio door of a voice teacher (I was a music major) that said "Joy Is A Phillies Phanatic". Very fitting considering her name was Joy. And this was back in the early 1970s before two world championships (1980 and 2008) and three other trips to the world series (1983, 1993, and 2009). We Phillies fans have been suffering for a long time: the 1964 collapse, 10,000 losses, many last place finishes. So forgive us our exurberance as we celebrate these heady days of four straight National League Eastern Division titles and a team that currently has the best record in baseball and what some consider the top three starters and most potent lineup in both leagues.
Can any other team boast 123 straight home sellouts? Does any other team have such faithful fans that follow them to other cities as far away as California and Florida? On Monday night in Washington DC there were far more Phillies fans in the stands than National fans. They were rewarded for traveling more than 2 hours and sitting in the rain by seeing their franchise win the NL Eastern Division title behind pitching ace Roy Halladay, who delivered a 2-hit complete game shutout for his 21st win as the Phillies won 8-0.
It was fitting that Doc Halladay was on the mound in DC to end their quest because this is where the season started with him on April 4th pitching against the same Washington starter, John Lannan. The Phils won that one 11-1.
The Phillies fans stayed in the stands after the game on that dominating Monday night clincher waiting to see a glimpse of their hometown heroes as they have done in past years at Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park. Alas, it didn't happen in DC as they had the lights turned out on them. My guess is the Phillies didn't realize they were still there or they would have come out to celebrate with them.
Instead the festive rite was held in the clubhouse. The fact that the team waited for and allowed the three veterans who have never been in the postseason before, (pitcher Roy Halladay, catcher Brian Schneider, and infield utility man, Mike Sweeney) to pop the first bottle of champagne exemplifies the team spirit of unselfishness and unity of this year's gang. They are team players, every one of them.
And this team realizes the significance of the fans and what is means to winning for them. Several team members have often said the hometown crowd is the tenth player on the field. When interviewed Ryan Howard, cleanup and homerun RBI man, said he had a tear in his eye when thinking of the fans. Closer Brad Lidge spoke directly to the fans and thanked them for their support and said we need you.
All I know is that the energy is electric in that Philadelphia ballpark, especially in September. My dad and I went twice this month and had a great time cheering on the Fightin's. If I could take that positive, exciting feeling of hearing 46,000 cheering a home run while waving their rally towels and bottle it, I would and then I would send it wherever peace was needed. There is nothing quite like experiencing the oneness of a Phillies crowd at a winning home game.
Now, losing is another story. Phil's fans are passionate and not afraid to let you know when they are unhappy with an error or stikeout. But lately their ire is mostly directed at the umpiring crew if they make a bad call. I've noticed because of this four year winning streak, Phillies fans have taken on the demeanor of the team's skipper and mentor, Charlie Manuel and become more patience with the players.
For example, this season was no walk in the park. They started out strong, but after injuries to 17 out of 25 players, they faltered in June and July and were 48-46 and 7 games behind the Atlanta Braves for first place. Throughout this slump the sold out crowds kept coming and cheering them on. I remember a close friend of mine was lamenting that maybe this wasn't their year because they weren't hitting and I said: "They have always been a streaky team and this year their losing streak was a little longer than usual. They will come back in the second half as they always do." And I was right.
The patience and trust Manager Charlie Manuel gives his players allows them to relax and come back from any adversity. I read an interesting article in the Philadelphia Inquirer by Bob Brookover. This story came to light to him during the Phillies' recent Division title celebration. He related how after a low point in the season right after the All Star break when the Phils lost three of four games to the Cubs in Chicago and the first three in St. Louis, Shane Victorino, center fielder asked: "Oh my God, what's going on here?" Backup catcher and prophet Brian Schneider sat down in the visiting clubhouse of Busch stadium and worked on the math. He figured out for everything to come out OK they would need to go 50-18 the rest of the way. He said there were 68 games to go and he wanted to make the math as easy as possible.
Victorino thought Schneider was being overly ambitious saying it was a ridiculous number. However, since that date, the Phils are 47-18 with three games to go until the end of the regular season. Not so ridiculous now.
What is ridiculous is the lack of support from other cities in the country for their baseball teams. Only 12,446 fans showed up Monday night to see if the AL East leading Tampa Bay Rays (FL) could clinch their second playoff berth in three years. All season the Rays have been battling the Yankees for the AL East lead and the best record in baseball. Rays' all star third baseman, Evan Longoria called it "disheartening" and "embarrassing." The Rays then made 20,000 free tickets available for Wednesday night's game against the Orioles.
These tactics would never be necessary in Philadelphia. Maybe it is because we have a long history of being staunch, die-hard Phillies fans. Maybe it's because we have begun a baseball dynasty that may eventually rival the Yankees and Braves and Red Sox (take that, Ken Burns, director of The Tenth Inning, baseball documentary.) We also have the best mascot in baseball, the Phillie Phanatic.
2010 may be our best year yet. Phillies fans are everywhere and we are joyful phanatics. Phillies, we appreciate you and will follow you faithfully anywhere, even to the ends of the earth.