Sam Donnellon: Lovefest between Phillies, fans turns to boos after shaky start

Phillies players walk through a line of fans before the start of the Opening Night game against the Braves at Citizens Bank Park.
Phillies players walk through a line of fans before the start of the Opening Night game against the Braves at Citizens Bank Park.
Posted: April 06, 2009

OK, SO Charlie Manuel had a little trouble hoisting the championship flag.

OK, so everybody, fans and players, then left the on-field pregame ceremony - and forgot about good ol' Charlie.

OK, so the first of four guys to parachute down landed a little off the mark - in Parking Lot S.

OK, so Brett Myers pitched for the cycle in his first two innings of 2009, surrendering home runs to right, left and centerfield.

OK, so it took exactly 17 minutes of season before the first boos cascaded down.

On Myers, specifically.

The Phillies gave each of the 44,532 fans in attendance a World Series pennant last night. Myers tried to give them a ball, too.

At least some lucky ones in the bleachers.

Well, so what? We're not going to fall into that trap of negativity that we're so often accused of falling into, are we? Not this early, with so much baseball, so much fanfare left.

Right?

So four hits and a 4-1 loss to the Braves was not the electric night everyone anticipated. So the pregame ceremony - which, like the Phillies, looked so good on paper - ended in a sort of disorganized scrum. About 150 fans, chosen randomly from the stands, entered the outfield grass from Section 141 and formed a long receiving line. One by one, beginning with Jamie Moyer and ending with Jimmy Rollins, Phillies players high-fived their way through the stands, down a makeshift stairwell and through the on-field tunnel of humanity.

All that went great. But then Charlie had a little trouble with the flag, and by the time he started down the stands, the fans were leaving the field. "And they pulled the ladder on me," said the manager. Halfway down Section 141, Charlie and a dark-suited Phillies employee retreated back up, leaving the golf-cart driver who was supposed to return Manuel to the dugout to practice K-turns instead.

Well, that's what it looked like anyway.

But think of the positives: At least the parachutist didn't land on your car.

He didn't, right?

Anyway, remember the new vibe? Remember the leeway you promised, some of you for an entire season? You promised patience. You promised understanding. You promised nothing but love for a team that brought you to tears last October, a team that inspired an entire generation of boys named Chase, Cole, Ryan, Brad and Jimmy.

"We really got to see when it goes good," Cole Hamels was saying before the game. "And I think a lot of other ballplayers got to see that, too. You can tell when you talk to other guys on other teams and they're like, 'Wow, that must have been fun. And you're like, 'Yep. Wanna come over here some time?' "

There have been times in the past when that question would have been asked with eye-rolling sarcasm. Some of that was due to losing, but a lot had to do with a disconnect. Players came, saw, were booed, and left. Even in 1993, there was more of an us-against-them attitude than there seems to be now.

"I think we really do understand them," Hamels said. "I think because a lot of us were drafted by the Phillies. You know what you're coming into. You hear stories and you say to yourself, 'I'm not going to let that affect me. I'm going to be better than that. I'm going to give them something they've been wanting to see.'

"I think we have all those guys who are capable of doing that and understand that. You build teams through free agents, or you build teams through trades, that's a little harder. Because the players don't understand. We understand what we're getting ourselves into. And we want to take it."

Even Myers, as star-crossed as his career here has been, is that way. He now has been the starter for the Phillies' last three Opening Days, all losses. He has been booed in each of them. He has been in legal trouble, pitched at times with too much weight on him and too little fastball, but he has always been there to take the heat, and this night was no exception.

He also is a guy who has been willing to take the ball, no matter what. He started the opener because Hamels had arm trouble this spring. Do not forget what the man did in 2007, jumping into the bullpen when Tom Gordon went down for the season. Or what he did in 2008, grudgingly going back to the starting rotation.

Do not forget what the man meant to the stretch run last season, when the Phillies won 24 of their last 35 games and forged that bond of understanding. Myers was 7-4 with a 3.06 earned run average in the 13 starts that followed his recall from Lehigh Valley.

Anyway, I'm giving him a pass for the opener, which ended with Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez striking out in front of the stands that were half-empty . . . No, half-full. Maybe even a pass for the month of April.

Want more optimism? I'm saying right now that Brett Myers stays with the big club all season long. Then again, I'm the guy who picked them to win 101 games this season, to repeat as World Series champions, to finish ahead of the Mets. So no negativity from this guy tonight, no matter how October-less Opening Night felt.

The ring ceremony is Wednesday. I'm going to go out on a limb right now and say it all goes swimmingly. *

Send e-mail to donnels@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to http://go.philly.com/donnellon.

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