Young stars fueling ticket sales

Posted: April 02, 2007

IT'S NOT like when Billy Wagner, Jim Thome, Kevin Millwood and Eric Milton opened Citizens Bank Park, but it's something.

The Phillies sold a record 23,000 season tickets for that 2004 edition, which featured a 100-mph closer, a future 500-home run hitter, two potential No. 1 pitchers and a new hardball cathedral.

They're right around 17,500 season tickets today, and they're plenty happy about it. It's a 10 percent increase over last season's base, when the club had an aura of same-old, same-old.

"There's a different feel about this team," said John Weber, the team's vice president for sales and ticket operations.

Maybe it has to do with the second straight late-season run the Phillies made at the playoffs. Maybe it has to do with the higher energy level that emerged after a roster purge at last season's trading deadline.

Maybe it has to do with three little letters:

"M-V-P," Jimmy Rollins said.

For Rollins, the people want to worship at the shrine of Ryan Howard, baseball's hottest young star. He followed a Rookie of the Year campaign in 2005 with an MVP run last season, in which he hit a team-record 58 homers.

Typically, Howard demurs.

"There's just a lot of excitement in the air," he said.

Most of it generated by his megawatt smile, his larger-than-life persona, his monstrous homers?

"I don't get into all that. It is what it is."

It is more than that, of course. The Phillies added starters Freddy Garcia and Adam Eaton. They signed gritty All-Star second baseman Chase Utley (the ladies' new Pat Burrell) to a long-term extension. They have embraced the ultraconfident Rollins as the team's spokesman. They have overseen selfless, talented outfielders Shane Victorino and Aaron Rowand connect with fans the way Bobby Abreu and Doug Glanville never did.

Still . . .

"No. 1, Ryan won the MVP," said Utley. "No. 2, we have an exciting team. It's fun to watch. We've got more guys who can run, steal a base, stretch a single into a double."

And his appeal?

"Fans have treated me pretty well here," the newlywed acknowledged.

There's a sense of security, too. Fans might be more likely to invest in a team they believe will be together for a while, and the Phillies control the futures of the four favorites - Utley, Howard, Rollins and Victorino - for the next four seasons, and they've locked up Eaton and Brett Myers for three.

"It doesn't appear that any of them will be taken away for a long time," said team president David Montgomery, a Roxborough native. "It's like when I rooted for the Phillies in the '50s."

Weber hopes a strong April will help his office sell even more partial plans. The Phillies have a chance to get the city excited in April, when they play 20 of their 26 games against National League East opponents.

Then again, the Phillies went 10-14 in each of their last two Aprils. *

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