Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Counting Down | Opening Day is less than a week away -- it's pretty hard to think of the Yankees/Devil Rays series in Japan as real baseball, isn't it? -- and the Phillies are the consensus choice to win the National League East.

Did I really write that?

This year's offseason moves, combined with the significant losses of the division's other teams, have rendered the Phils the team to beat.

Did I really write that?

Well, yeah. You know it's been some kind of spring when two enormous keys to the season -- slugger Jim Thome and closer Billy Wagner -- get shut down with injuries, only to fire it up again within a few weeks. You know it's been some kind of spring when the biggest roster decisions involve the last player on the bench -- Chase Utley or Doug Glanville -- and the last reliever in the bullpen -- David Coggin, Ryan Madson, or Amaury Telemaco. You know it's been some kind of spring when Bill Conlin is raving about your new spring training digs:

Bright House Networks Field was such a breathtaking joy of a ballpark, it seems almost sacrilegious to complain about the very real parking problems that had so many senior citizens literally exercised about the long hike from the Joe DiMaggio Field lots on the north side of busy Old Coachman Road. But it was what it was -- a problem that needs to be fixed so the real enjoyment of what might be the most fun spring-training ballpark ever is not diminished. I mean, where else in baseball can you walk a complete lap around a ballpark's incredibly wide mezzanine level, run into dozens of people you know, stop for a cheesesteak on the first-base side, lounge with fans on the grass of the rightfield berm, stop behind the bullpen in left to watch Billy Wagner dialing up his super-unleaded gas, enjoy a cold beverage of your choice at the enormous Tiki Bar, then shop for souvenirs in the shop down the leftfield line? And never, not once, will you miss a pitch. I am told Citizens Bank Park will be just as wide open to cruising, schmoozing and, yes, boozing. If so, fans will die poor, but happy, now that the Phillies' average ticket price for 2004 is No. 3 in the majors.

Late March is a time of optimism for fans of every team, of course, but for once, we Philadelphians can say with legitimacy that our glass if half-full. So let's drink up.


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