Phillies fans invade Rays territory

Posted: October 23, 2008

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - How is the Phanatic population taking to its first World Series in 15 years?

"It's everything I hoped for and more than I expected," replied John Coskey, a Pennsauken native transplanted to Orlando, as his Fightin's clung to an early lead stand-up deep into the game.

In a World Series-opening game that could have been in Philadelphia but for the failure (again) of the National League all-stars, a bevy of transplants like Coskey lent unusual Tropicana Field a familiar feel for the Phillies Diaspora.

"There's a lot of red here," said Craig Tabackian, a Richboro native who moved to Florida a dozen years ago. He was lingering in the stadium's cigar bar, the only one in the major leagues, and extolling the different nature of watching sports here.

"In Philly, you're born into the sports atmosphere, and it never leaves you," Tabackian said. "Here, they set it up almost like a party. In Philly, it's business. You go to watch the game."

Traveling and transplanted Philly fans each turned up in quantity last night to savor the rare World Series appearance, hoping - but rarely daring to speak the wish - that it would help break the city's 25-year championships drought.

Jeff Gressel, of Thornton, wore a Pete Rose throwback jersey for the occasion and, while visiting the stadium's tank of swimming ray fish, was tossed a scuffed baseball by Jamie Moyer.

"It's called right place, right time," Gressel said.

Yo, Philly, feeling lucky? Perhaps.

Fightin's diehard Eileen Rouse, of Melbourne, Fla., went from squirming with every Brad Lidge strike to gazing at the field, rapt with joy, after Pedro Feliz snagged Carl Crawford's foul fly to preserve the 3-2 win.

"Anything is possible," she declared. "We just beat them in their home park, for cryin' out loud."

Before the game started, just in case this is once-in-a lifetime stuff, South Jersey transplant Walt Kressler backed out of plans to come to Tropicana Field with his adult friends, and brought his two sons instead.

Phillies history has taught him the hard way to treasure any postseason moment.

"I still remember that my parents went to World Series Game 6 in 1980," said Kressler, now of Melbourne, "and I was at home."

He pulled on a baseball glove and started playing catch with sons, Ryan, 11, and Drew, 9.

"I said, 'I can't do that to them,' " said Kressler.

Inside the stadium, another father-and-son pair rooting for the Phillies, Paul and Kyle Mallory of Portland, Ore., spoke openly of their optimism and high-fived as Hamels pitched his way out of early bases-loaded trouble.

"I figured I had 1980, so at least I got one time," said Paul Mallory, a Philly native. "Now I've got this. And I rate this team above the 1980 one. As good as they were, this one's better."

The rarity of the occasion drew Phils fans in droves.

Flights into Tampa's airport found red-clad Phils fans cheering the sight of each other, which spilled over into scenes across sprawl-wracked Tampa all day.

"You guys are in the right place!" shouted Zach Kessler, formerly of Roxborough and now of Tampa, across the Doubletree hotel sports bar to two demonstratively Phillies-clad newcomers fresh from the airport.

Lew Indellini of New Castle, Del., walked in wearing a Phillies T-shirt and red-plumed centurion's hat. He ordered a Yuengling - on tap, even - and, finding himself among allies, immediately questioned the Rays' World Series worthiness: They are nothing but arrivistes who haven't been around long enough to experience 28 years of suffering, as Phillies fans have.

"Eleven years, you don't deserve a ring," Indellini said.

Perhaps. There's a long series to go that will decide that on the fields of Florida and Pennsylvania. Will the long Phillies drought be broken?

Andrew Farrington of Collegeville, who picked up his Game 1 ticket yesterday morning, hopes so.

"I was born in 1981, so I missed '80 by a little bit," Farrington said. "But my mom was pregnant when she went to the championship celebration, so, technically, I've been to a Phillies parade before.

"But I'd like to see one."

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