Monday, April 12, 2004

Reds 4, Phillies 1 | It was Sergio Leone Day this afternoon in South Philadelphia, where the Phillies updated the classic Spaghetti Western The Good, the Bad & the Ugly. Its 2004 working title: The Park, the Game & the Weather.

*** Citizens Bank Park ***

Remember when you already knew what the best present under the tree was going to be when you got up Christmas morning?

You knew, but that didn't stop you from blasting down the stairs and bolting for the tree. Then you got there, tore off the paper, and that shiny, perfect bauble looked even better in your hands than it did in your imagination the night before.

Welcome to Citizens Bank Park.

The color green whooshes out to meet you the instant you're within sight of the field. Lush, perfect grass contrasts nicely with the more olive leftfield and centerfield walls. The outfield is pleasantly asymmetrical, with a great out-of-town scoreboard and video screens spanning the rightfield wall. The concourse which circles the stadium is conveniently at entry level and provides stunning views from just about every vantage point. A huge Liberty Bell replica in center glows and moves, the bell one way and its clapper the other, whenever a Phillie homers. The big-screen TV in left-center offers jaw-dropping clarity in its instant replays.

Today's weather -- cold, rainy, and windy, a truly nasty early spring day in the Northeast -- prevented a great deal of reconnaissance, but on a quick trip around the park after the second inning I saw a great many things to like. Lots and lots of fans agreed with me; I overheard many, upon their first view of the field, say something like "Oh, my God." And in a good way.

The ballpark's startling openness is a refreshing change from the concrete monotony of the Vet. There is a large break in the outfield, and the previously mentioned concourse offers the welcome impression that you're just off the field, not sequestered from it in a soulless food court. Shallow metal shelves, designed for stand-up eating, are plentiful and afford the opportunity to hang with a pal and check out the action while you chow down and drink up. It's a stadium with atmosphere, and I don't just mean ambience; I mean moving air, and sights beyond the stadium, and sound that is clear but never overpowering, now that it has someplace to go instead of just booming around an empty upper deck.

The Phillies did a superlative job in localizing the place, too. Yes, the location sucks -- I mean, it really and truly sucks, as Phil Sheridan explains more eloquently in today's Inquirer -- but the number of local nods in food choices is dazzling. Want a cheesesteak? You could hit any of the many grills lining the concourse, but the better idea is to stroll down Ashburn Alley for a sandwich from Tony Luke's. (There's a Geno's outlet, too, but if you're going to spend that kind of scratch, don't get suckered into the tourist trap -- Tony Luke's is the way to go.) Turkey Hill ice cream, Peace a Pizza slices, Schmitter sandwiches from McNally's Tavern in Chestnut Hill, Yards beers -- there are many fine options if you want to extend beyond a lukewarm hot dog and a watery Bud.

About the only complaint today is that the lines at the good places were so long, and appeared to be moving so slowly, that I opted for said dog. As people get used to the options near their seats and grow more comfortable with the park, I envision that situation easing. As Yogi might say, maybe no one will go there anymore once it gets too crowded.

Ladies and gentlemen, we Phillies fans finally have a real ballpark to call our own.

And the Phils didn't just not screw it up.

They got it really, really right.

*** You Snooze, You Lose ***

As far as the game itself, highlights for the home team were few and far between. Bobby Abreu lined the ballpark's inaugural home run into the leftfield seats in the bottom of the first, and Ryan Madson pitched three fine innings of scoreless ball after the Phils pinch-hit for Randy Wolf in the fifth, and that was about it.

If you're keeping count -- and judging by the unrest that rumbled around CBP as the game drew to a close, quite a few fans are -- that's 16 runs in seven games to start the season. This will change, of course, and the Phillies will begin to win more ballgames than they lose. There's simply too much historical evidence to expect otherwise.

In the meantime, what has become exceedingly frustrating over the season's first week is not the losses, but how they're being incurred. The Phils' bland acceptance of defeat, their passive, uninspired play, is no better in person than it is on television. I don't expect water coolers to be hurled out of dugouts, but I'd like to see some signs of life. The Phillies are committing perhaps the worst sin of all -- not only are they losing, they are boring as well. Does anybody on this team's bench even know what a rally cap is?


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