Friday, August 20, 2010

Filled To Capacity And Then Some

As the Phillies played and lost last night before their 100th consecutive sellout crowd at Citizens Bank Park, it occurred to me how much had changed in the ways the fans and players perceived this team.

Those of us old enough to have endured the lean years in the '80's and '90's when the Phillies called the Vet home, and there are plenty of us and plenty of those years to choose from, will recall a cavernous, rarely full stadium patrolled by largely mediocre players. Sure, there were two World Series teams sprinkled in those two decades, but for every winner there were a half dozen losers.

The Vet was one of those multipurpose stadiums built around the country in the '70's. Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati and Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh were among the most prominent. Baseball and football fields could be fit within each so naturally, they were round monstrosities possessing absolutely no charm to say nothing of distinguishing marks. No Green Monsters or short porches. Perish the thought! And last but not least, they had artificial surfaces. At the time they must have seemed like a great idea in the way that so-called "maintenance-free" products always seem like a great idea until, lo and behold, they fall apart.

Today, of course, each of these cities has a stadium dedicated to each sport replete with natural grass. The multipurpose stadium has gone the way of the dodo...thank goodness. Their relatively short time on earth a cautionary tale about being all things to all people.

It was always easy to get a ticket to at the Vet except for a World Series or All Star game. Now, of course, a Phillies ticket is the hottest one in town. Every night, for a hundred straight games, more people than the officially listed capacity, fill the seats, aisles, walkways and standup counters.

During the '80's and '90's and into the early part of this century, players didn't want to come to Philadelphia. When Citizens Bank Park opened, pitchers in particular avoided coming here because of its bandbox reputation. Now, all of that has changed. Players want to come to Philadelphia. Look at Roy Halladay. Winning improves every outlook, of course, and the Phillies have been winning the last several years. Players want to come to be a part of winning, but when a player comes to Philadelphia these days, invariably one of the first things he mentions is the atmosphere. Playing before full houses. The electricity in the air. Yes, they say, the fans are tough but only when they want you to play up to your potential. Tough but loyal. Tough but knowledgeable. The boorish fan the national media has portrayed can be found in many other ballparks including in alleged laid-back LA, but when those rowdy types are rooting for you, that's a different story!

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