Notes from the Championship Parade

By now everyone has seen the amazing footage of the Phillies’ championship parade through streets filled with what some estimates have put at over two million people, so I’m not going to spend time rehashing what other journalists have already discussed. Instead I am going to write about my experience from a personal perspective.

When the tickets became available online for the parade I tried simultaneously for tickets to both Citizens Bank Park (the main show) and Lincoln Financial Field (where, at the time, all we knew was that we would be able to watch the festivities on the giant screens with the possibility that a couple of players might stop by). I was unable to obtain tickets to the Bank, but managed to score two lower-level tickets to the Linc. The tickets to both parks, by the way, were free, so kudos to both parks for not gouging the fans. At the same time, shame on some of the parking vendors who were charging as much as $30, and an even bigger thumbs down to the a-holes who were selling tickets to both parks online for hundreds of dollars within moments of getting them for free. Most of the true fans were shut out of the celebration because of these greedy bastards. One guy actually made the trip to the Linc and had his young son stand outside the gate holding up a sign that said: “Have Tickets, Make Offer.” Real classy.

So I printed out the two tickets to the Linc and crashed at my buddy’s house that night in South Jersey so I wouldn’t have to wake up as early (being a very late night owl, getting up an extra hour early to make the trip down from Central Jersey would have been rough). As it was, I only managed three hours of sleep, but I wasn’t driving into the city so I didn’t care. We decided to leave around 9-9:30am to avoid the worst of the traffic. We had considered taking the high speed line in, which many city officials were recommending due to the expected heavy traffic volume but I’m glad we didn’t—reports had waits of over two hours to even get a seat on the train.

By driving we got into the city very quickly, though parking was already filling up everywhere. We entered a free parking lot, but when no spots were available we decided to park on the side of a road exiting the parking lot behind a locked gate. The guy who parked in front of us said they never ticketed there and he was sure the gate would be open at the end of the day, so we took the chance, and it wound up being a good move as we were able to zip right out of there on our way home.

Anyway, it was around 10am and we decided to walk around for a while soaking in the atmosphere. The streets and lots around the stadiums were already flooded in a sea of red— people cheering, high-fiving, and waving at all the cars driving by beeping their horns. Everybody was friendly, chatting with strangers as if they were the oldest of friends. It’s amazing what a championship can do for a city, though I would point out that, contrary to popular myth, the majority of Philly fans are always friendly, but it was definitely ratcheted up on this day.

A man was walking around snapping photos for the Phillies web site, and he took the following shot of me and my friend, Bruce. The Linc is in the background and we’re holding championship signs that were being handed out for free. It wasn’t until later that I realized the signs were from a [gag] country music station. Oh well. I’m wearing an old raggedy Phillies hat barely held together in the back, as it is the only piece of Phillies paraphernalia I own. Most of my stuff is Eagles and Flyers, which is why I am wearing an Eagles jacket over a McNabb jersey, but I wasn’t the only guy there with Eagles gear on, so I didn’t feel out of place, and since my tickets were for the Linc anyway, it seemed an appropriate mixture of the two sports.

They put a giant “PROOF” over the picture in order to force you into buying something, but it’s good enough for the purposes of this blog. I foolishly forgot to bring my camera, so this is currently the only shot I have, though Bruce and my uncle (who we met up with later) both took a lot of photos throughout the day and have promised to send them to me.

After a while of walking around we met up with my uncle at the Linc gate. He had managed to secure six tickets for his entire family, though the tickets were only available in pairs so we would all be sitting separately. In the meantime we got lunch at the concessions (a cheesesteak, fries, and snapple for $16!) and then hung out together in the lower level since the stadium wasn’t full yet. After a while we realized that the stadium probably wasn’t going to fill to capacity as many people had likely got the free tickets and then decided not to come, while others had only got the tickets with the intention of selling them and had hopefully ended up stuck with them. Thus, my uncle decided to stay where he was with his family while Bruce and I headed to our assigned seats.

We were about 20 rows up from the field in the shaded end zone so it was pretty cold. I noticed many empty seats down lower in sunny sections, so we decided to move all the way down to the bottom of one of these sections right next to an entrance tunnel and hang out there until somebody came to kick us out. As it would turn out, nobody ever came to boot us out so we got to enjoy all the festivities from fantastic seats. My uncle and his family were able to eventually join us (the beauty of cell phones) so we all ended up getting to sit together.

We soon learned that not only were some players dropping by the Linc, but the entire team would be coming to do a victory lap with the trophy and make speeches, so although we were shut out of the main event, we were getting a nice ceremony of our own, making the trip more than worth it. Then we just sat back and watched the parade on the giant screens, reveling in the cheers of the crowd as each new player showed up on screen. This was when the championship really hit me. Of course I was happy and jumped out of my seat when Lidge threw the final pitch to clinch the World Series, but over the next day I wasn’t feeling as euphoric as I thought I would. That all changed when I was able to experience the celebration among thousands of fans in the stadium, and millions in the streets.

Finally, the players arrived. The coaches led the procession, coming right up to the stands, where I high-fived Milt Thompson as he walked by. Next came Charlie Manuel on a cart that held the championship trophy. Then the rest of the players followed on foot, doing a victory lap around the stadium before winding up at the podium, where we heard speeches from Manuel, Victorino, and Moyer, to thunderous cheering and applause. After the festivities ended we decided to leave and listen to the main ceremony on the radio so we could beat the worst of the traffic. We got to see a championship ceremony live, so we didn’t feel the need to watch another one on TV from across the street, and we could always catch the highlights later.

Beating traffic, however, was easier said than done. It still took us a good hour to get out of the city, but considering how bad it would later get, that was nothing. Overall, it was a tremendous experience and I’m glad I went. If you live within driving distance of your favorite sports team and they win a championship, I highly recommend attending at least one victory parade in your lifetime, especially if it’s in Philly, where our two-million-strong, multi-stadium celebration dwarfed any other city’s.

Now I want to see another parade in February—Go Eagles!

World Champions!!!

Curse, schmurse!

The Phillies were not going to be denied tonight. Every time the Rays tied it, the Phils grabbed the lead right back, and fittingly, Lidge clinched the championship with a strikeout. Then the fireworks started, the champagne flowed, and the streets flooded with Philadelphians in a massive party that is probably still going strong as I write this. I’ve never seen anything like those crowds in the streets. It was like Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

What an incredible postseason the Phillies put together. The so-called experts picked them to lose every single series, and all they did in response was rack up an 11-3 record and go undefeated at home. Everybody on this team contributed at some point in the playoffs; there were no weak links. And Manuel, who I’ve never been the biggest fan of, deserves a lot of credit as well. He pushed all the right buttons and got this team to play like champions.

By the way, it turns out the Tampa fans were right after all when they sang “na na hey hey goodbye” . . . that was indeed the last time they were going to see the Phillies 🙂

I was 12 years old the last time a Philadelphia team won a championship (and 9 when the Phillies did it). Although I have memories of those moments, they are somewhat fleeting. This championship, after 25 years of close calls and heartbreaks, is the first one that really belongs to my generation. How sweet it is!

The parade to celebrate the Phillies’ heroic slaying of the city’s 25-year-old demons will appropriately take place on Halloween. I plan on attending . . . hope to see some of you there!

Phils Foiled by Mother Nature

Well, we’ll have to put that parade on hold for at least another day, as tonight’s game was suspended due to rain. Contrary to what the broadcasters were blabbering about (more on them later), this blustery rain delay has clearly favored Tampa. There’s no doubt in my mind that under normal conditions Hamels would have shut this team down.

For those inclined to believe in curses, they can’t be too comfortable with a game in which Hamels was cruising until the downpour and subsequent horrible conditions caused Rollins to bobble a ball that might have prevented the Rays from ever scoring that second run. And one can’t help wondering how much the downpour had to do with the Phillies hitting three straight popups in the top of the 5th with two men on. However, both teams had to play in the same conditions so I’m not going to blame rain for the Phillies’ consistent inability to bring home runners in scoring position. One thing that can be blamed on the rain, though, is the loss of Hamels, who had thrown only 75 pitches through six innings. He was clearly on his way to at least an 8-inning performance, but now the Phils must turn to the bullpen much earlier than they otherwise would have—and that clearly benefits Tampa Bay.

But you would never know that listening to the biased broadcasters. I don’t know whether McCarver is overcompensating for being an ex-Phillie, but he has been terrible; they both have been blatantly one-sided. Listening to these guys talk, you might think that the Phillies have done absolutely nothing to win in this series except to be the beneficiaries of a bunch of bad calls. All these broadcasters did for the entire game was whine about bad calls against the Rays and then boohoo about how the sloppy conditions really hurt the Rays: “Whaaa! No fair, this rain affects their running game!” As if the Phillies don’t have a strong running game of their own that would be impacted. And then later on: “Yipee! The Rays just tied the game under horrendous conditions, aren’t they great?”

They’ve been like this all series: playing up Tampa; playing down Philly. We’d get more balance if we were listening to a broadcast out of Tampa Bay. These guys are a disgrace.

Anyway, we must have faith. The rains pouring down may lead some to believe that the curse of William Penn is once again rearing its ugly head—sports fans in general are a superstitious bunch, especially in Philly where our championship futility has reached near mathematically impossible proportions—but the Phils are still ahead 3-1, they still have the better pitching and defense, and they have hit better than the Rays for the entire series. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t still win this thing. So take a breath and come back Tuesday night to watch our Fightins make history. Go Phils!

Phils Bats Spring to Life as they Clobber the Rays, 10-2

Is this really happening? Are the Phillies really just one win away from a championship? Are they really just 27 outs from breaking the curse of William Penn and releasing this city from 25 years of championship futility? As Philly fans whose hearts have been broken so many times in the past, we have learned to take every step toward salvation with a grain of salt, but with a 3-1 lead, the odds are overwhelmingly in our favor. If we don’t win this year, we never will.

The bats came alive big time tonight, and Howard could not have picked a better time to go on one of his patented hot streaks. It’s also no coincidence that the runs finally started coming when Rollins finally started hitting. Up and down the lineup, almost everyone contributed.

Meanwhile, Blanton, except for a couple of mistakes, was absolutely dominant tonight, and how about going deep? You know it’s your night when that happens. When all the big-name trades happened back in the summer, Blanton largely flew under the radar in most people’s eyes as yet another half-hearted acquisition by a franchise not willing to pull the trigger on a major deal (I admit to being less than excited myself, though I never hated the move), but all Blanton has done since arriving in Philly is win. Meanwhile, the more glamorous acquisitions like Sabathia and Ramirez are currently watching the series on TV.

On a side note, thumbs-down to this umpiring crew for some big-time blown calls against both teams. During the previous couple of games those bad calls mostly favored the Rays, but tonight one bounced our way after the third-base ump called Rollins safe when he was clearly out, leading to the Phils’ first run. Thankfully, the bad calls have not determined the outcomes of the games, but come on, this is the World Series—blowing that many calls is simply unacceptable—both teams deserve better.

Anyway, this was the Phillies’ night, and now they have a chance to close this series out in front of the hometown fans with their ace on the mound. You couldn’t write a better script. Go Phils!

Two down…

The Phillies managed to scratch out a last minute victory doing what they failed to do most of the season: playing a little small ball. Great baserunning by Bruntlett (for once I was glad that Burrell wasn’t still in the game) put the Phils in a position to win on what amounted to a glorified suicide squeeze by Ruiz (who has actually been one of the more valuable offensive players in this series). It was fitting that Tampa helped give away the game after that horrible call at first base in the 7th gave them two free runs. The umpiring in this series overall has been well below the standards one would expect in the World Series, though it thankfully has not affected the outcomes of any of the games.

I had a feeling Moyer was going to pitch well in this game and he didn’t disappoint, though the aforementioned horrible call cost him perhaps his only chance at a World Series win—Moyer busted his butt on that play and deserved a better fate. Still, I know he’d much rather have the championship ring anyway, and thanks to his performance (along with big hits by Ruiz, Utley, and Howard), the Phillies are one step closer.

It’s a Series, Phils Fall, 4-2

The story of Game 2 was stranded runners. The Phillies got away with it last night with Hamels dominating, but not tonight. This was a very winnable game as Myers did not pitch badly (three earned runs over seven innings should have been enough to win the game), but the offense was woeful with runners in scoring position. Of course it didn’t help that the home plate umpire was atrocious—he cost the Phils a run in the second inning with that non-strikeout call and he cost them an out in the 9th with that horrible missed call on Rollins. But the bottom line is that the Phillies should never have put themselves in the position of needing good calls by umpires. Championship teams take care of business regardless of any calls they may or may not get. If the Phils want to stay in this series, the offense better find a way to start knocking in runs. Twenty-two stranded runners in two games is a disgrace.

At least in the 9th inning the Phillies put a little scare into those obnoxious Tampa fans who started singing “na na hey hey goodbye” in the 8th inning. Apparently they forgot that their team blew a 7-run lead late in a game last series, and they obviously are too ignorant to realize that you don’t sing that song unless your opponent is about to get eliminated, not when you’re down 1-0 in the series. Great sports fans down there in Tampa.

Anyway, we get the next three in Philly. A home sweep is probably too much to ask, but we should at least take two of three and head back to Tampa with a 3-2 lead. We really need the Moyer who pitched so well in the regular season to show up on Saturday . . . and the offense better wake up.

Good First Win

Three to go, as the Phillies took Game 1, 3-2. I was getting nervous with all the runners the Phils were stranding, but the pitching from Hamels, Madson, and Lidge was phenomenal, as was the defense with a couple of key double plays. Utley’s two-run blast set the tone, and Hamels did the rest. After a slow start, Utley is putting together one hell of a postseason.

They can’t keep getting away with stranding all those runners, though. One thing I would change is the DH. Coste has really slumped in the second half of the season. I would go with Dobbs, Jenkins, or Stairs. And even though he got a couple of hits, I still disagree with Werth hitting in the 2-hole instead of Victorino.

Anyway, the first game in any series is huge and the Phillies found a way to win. Here’s hoping Myers pitches well tonight and the Phils’ big bats wake up.

World Series, Baby!

I have to admit that of all the Philly teams with the potential to win a championship, I would have placed the Phillies third behind the Flyers and Eagles. That was prior to the season, before we saw how good the Phillies’ pitching staff was to become, particularly the bullpen. As the season began, most people thought the Phillies would give up a lot of runs and score a lot of runs, but virtually the opposite happened. The pitching staff kept the Phillies in almost every game, while the supposedly potent offense would go through long stretches of struggling to score runs and a frustrating inability to manufacture runs without the benefit of a home run. That has continued in the postseason to some degree, but the offense has also found a way to produce runs when it counts, particularly with two outs, as they showed again in Game 5 against the Dodgers.

Another sometimes unappreciated aspect of the Phillies postseason success is their fantastic defense, especially the infield. Feliz, for instance, may be mostly a waste at the plate, but at third base you know he’s going to gobble up almost everything that comes his way. Also, the ability to easily turn a double play to escape a jam cannot be underestimated—it can often mean the difference between winning and losing—and Utley and Rollins are among the best at it. Meanwhile, Victorino covers so much ground that he could practically play the entire outfield by himself, ala Bugs Bunny against the Gas House Gorillas. People can talk about offense and home runs all they want, but defense and pitching wins championships. The Dodgers found out the hard way in Game 5 what can happen when you don’t play good defense.

Speaking of pitching, Hamels is showing the world why he is one of the best pitchers in baseball. Even when he didn’t have his best stuff early on in Game 5, he fought through and eventually dominated. When he’s on the mound you never have to worry about being out of a game. The outcome of the series with Tampa, however, will hinge on the performance of the 2-4 pitchers. Myers has actually been more of a hero at the plate than on the mound, but he has also pitched effectively enough to help the Phillies win his two starts. Unfortunately, he won’t be able to add to his postseason legend at the plate since both of his scheduled starts are DH games, but it also may allow him to pitch more deeply into games. Since coming back up from the minors, he has been mostly dominant (except for a couple of late season starts), so the hope is that we’ll continue to see that Myers and not the one who began the season. Moyer is perhaps the biggest question mark, as he has been shelled in his two postseason starts. He is the consummate professional, though, so I have faith that he can recapture the ageless magic he displayed during the regular season. Blanton, for his part, has been solid since coming to the Phillies. He eats innings and keeps the score manageable, and there’s no reason why that shouldn’t continue.

It’s hard to make a prediction because I admittedly know little about Tampa as I don’t follow the American league much. What I do believe is that the Phillies’ pitching and defense will keep them in almost every game, and if the offense can keep coming up with clutch hits, they have a great chance. Everyone seems to be picking Tampa, but they also all picked the Dodgers, and we know how that worked out. I’ll say Phillies in 6.

Go Phils!

Phillies Climb ‘Stairs’ to Victory

I know, I know, horrible pun, but I couldn’t resist. The Fightins are now one win away from the world series after tonight’s gut-check come from behind victory. They trailed by two and were down to their last five outs, but one thing about this lineup is that, even when they are struggling, they are never out of a game. It’s always only a matter of time before they have one of those offensive explosions in an inning. Sure, you’d like to see them score in more innings, but they’re getting it done when it counts–three more runs tonight with two outs.

Tonight’s heroes: Victorino (arguably the Phillies’ playoff MVP to this point) and Stairs, whose massive two-run blast put the Phillies ahead to stay (now there’s a little late season acquisition by Gillick that has paid huge dividends). Also providing heroics was Utley who, besides getting three hits, made an outstanding defensive play in the 6th that saved two runs and kept the Phillies in the game. At the time I thought that could prove to be a turning point, and indeed it was. Things got a little dicey with Lidge when yet another inning was kept alive by a strike-out-wild-pitch (the same thing happened to Myers in Game 2—I’ve never seen that happen twice in such a short span of time—isn’t Ruiz in the lineup because of his ability to block those kinds of pitches?), but in the end Lidge closed the door as he has all season.

Now the Phils enter Game 5 with a chance to clinch their first World Series berth in 15 years. It’s a shame it won’t be at home (I’m not a fan of the 2-3-2 format; it should be 2-2-1-1-1 like the other sports) but this team is more than up to the task of taking another one in LA, especially with their ace on the mound. Go Phils!

Well, we knew it wasn’t going to be a sweep…

The Phillies fell in Game 3 thanks in part to a listless performance from the offense, which pretty much went to sleep after the Phils found themselves in a 6-1 hole. Kuroda certainly had a lot to do with it, but some of the problems with this lineup are becoming magnified in the postseason (i.e. all of the strikeouts and the inability to manufacture runs). For his part, Moyer, after being the Phillies’ second best pitcher during the regular season, has been a big disappointment so far in the playoffs, though you also have to give credit to the Dodgers for jumping on him early and knocking him out.

The only real drama in the game came from the retaliation shenanigans as the Dodgers overreacted to a couple of perceived intentional hit batsmen. Now let’s get real: Myers’ pitch in game two obviously slipped out of his hands; he’s not going to throw behind Ramirez, despite his fiery reputation. And Moyer clearly had no intention of hitting anyone when he was ahead in the count 0-2 with no outs and a run already in. But the Dodgers did what they felt they had to do, fine, and Victorino reacted understandably after having a ball aimed at his head (there’s a right and wrong way to retaliate), and after the inning the benches momentarily cleared, giving resident punk Ramirez his chance to act like one of those drunk guys at a bar who says to his buddy, “hold me back,” and then proceeds to act like a wild man.

Oh well. The Phils need to put this one behind them and get back to the business of closing this series out. They get Lowe on short rest in Game 4—that would be a good time to start.