Full-on Phils

In Philadelphia, they're going wild over baseball

Baseball Playoffs

October 03, 2007|By Dan Connolly | Dan Connolly,Sun reporter

Philadelphia -- Philadelphia Phillies left-hander Jamie Moyer knows what it will be like if his team can give this city a championship.

He knows because he has seen it -- roughly a lifetime ago.

It was back in 1980, when a parade honoring the Phillies' only World Series title jammed the city streets.

Moyer, the Phillies' venerable old man at age 44, was a senior in high school back then and said he skipped school with some friends to be at the parade.

"I can remember people climbing up the light posts -- the street light posts -- people in trees. Everybody was happy," said Moyer, who grew up in Souderton, Pa., 40 miles north of Philadelphia, and attended St. Joseph's University in the city.

What would happen if the Phillies won this year?

"It will be like that again," Moyer said. "Even more."

That's the common sentiment in this sports-crazy city that hasn't had a World Series winner in 27 years, hasn't hosted a baseball playoff in 14 years and hasn't won any championship in the four major sports since the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers beat the Los Angeles Lakers in 1982-83.

The excitement bubbled over Sunday, when the Phillies clinched an improbable National League East title by winning 13 of their final 17 while the New York Mets went 5-12 to blow a seven-game lead.

"It has been insane," said Sonny Drapczynski, manager of Chickie's and Pete's Cafe, a sports bar across Broad Street from Philadelphia's stadium complex. "The city is on a high. The staff is on a high. The organization is on a high."

She said her restaurant erupted with emotion when the Phillies' regular-season comeback was complete Sunday afternoon.

"I cried like a baby," she said. "Men in here were hiding their eyes. There was a lot of good energy in here."

On Monday, thousands of people attended a rally at City Hall.

This afternoon, the Phillies will begin their pursuit of a championship by hosting the wild card-winning Colorado Rockies in the opener of the National League Division Series at Citizens Bank Park. For the first time in more than a decade, they have the city's attention in October while the Philadelphia Eagles -- the longtime kings of the city -- are scuffling at 1-3.

"I think the Eagles are in decline, and I think if the Phillies would be fortunate enough to win a World Series for this town, it would be a Phillies town for the next five or 10 years," said Joe Vallee Jr., who runs the Philadelphia-based Web site disgruntled fans.com.

"I think Philly fans, and even myself, want to win so bad that we are going to gravitate toward any team that is going to win," said Vallee, 29.

Mark Hennessey, a retired roofer from Northeast Philadelphia and a Phillies season-ticket holder, said now when fans do their "E-A-G-L-E-S" chant at Phillies games, it's "not cool." The city's reputation of being football-foremost, he said, is overstated.

"It's a football town because they were winning. It goes in waves," Hennessey said. "Come out here [for today's NLDS game] and see what kind of football town it is."

Philadelphia is also known as a rough place to play if you aren't winning -- no matter the sport. And the Phillies, after all, are the losingest franchise in baseball history, becoming the first organization to reach the 10,000-loss mark earlier this year. They have a tradition steeped in failure, and the fans don't accept it silently.

"I think we understood the frustration they were going through every time we lost," quipped Phillies young ace Cole Hamels, today's Game 1 starter.

That's why, he said, it's so exciting to be involved in this postseason.

"When you're dreaming of making the major leagues, you dream of a sellout. You don't dream of maybe 20,000 fans booing you," Hamels said. "It's going to be something, you know, spectacular. ... You can see it in the streets and the signs that [fans] have when you drive home."

It's not just that this team is winning, but who they are winning with, said Todd Flynn, 30, a fan from nearby Woodbury, N.J., who was eating crab legs at Chickie's and Pete's yesterday.

The Phillies' top four stars, Hamels, first baseman Ryan Howard, second baseman Chase Utley and shortstop Jimmy Rollins, are homegrown. They are all 28 or younger and seem to be hardworking grunts.

"This is the first time in forever we have that core group of youngsters: Rollins, Utley, Howard, a group you can build around," Flynn said. "And we can see that the laissez-faire attitude from the [Bobby] Abreu-led Phillies has been transformed. We can identify with these young Dirt Dogs."

It was Phillies general manager Pat Gillick, who ran the Orioles the last time they were in the playoffs in 1997, who decided in July 2006 that the club needed a change in attitude. So he dealt the mild-mannered Abreu, an All-Star outfielder, to the New York Yankees and handed the leadership reins to his more outgoing base of Rollins, Howard and Utley.

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