Sam Donnellon: Front-runners filling Phillies' ballpark, and what's wrong with that?

Posted: July 15, 2010


"I, (your name here), do confess to being a front-runner."

There. Now, don't you feel better?

Admit it, Philly. We are front-runners. So is every other sports-loving town. And there's nothing wrong with it. You pay good money, you want to be entertained, you will go elsewhere when you are not.

Just ask the Sixers.

Or the Knicks, Nets, Wizards, Pirates, Indians, Florida Panthers and, of course, the Marlins.

The Phillies have sold out 84 straight home games. Some say this proves we are not front-runners. I say it proves the opposite. This streak doesn't trace back to Terry Francona, or Larry Bowa or Danny Tartabull or Gregg Jefferies. It doesn't go back to Curt Schilling or Scott Rolen or Jim Thome or even Pat Burrell.

It traces back to last summer, the one that followed the Phillies' second-ever championship, first in 28 years, and a parade that made Broadway blush.

That was when tickets went from usually available to hardly ever available. That was when an Internet search for tickets immediately kicked you onto StubHub, when going to a Phillies game became a happening, a big party.

Tailgate in the parking lot.

Stroll in before the start of the third inning.

Boo, cheer, leave your seat often for the many amenities available in your beautiful ballpark.

When Shane Victorino became the latest player to state the obvious last week, more newspapers were sold, more hits were recorded on Internet sites, radio call-in shows ran with it (as they should), and local television crews were dispatched to bars to gauge fan outrage.

One fan, who looked as if he needed three forms of ID to get into the place, said the premise that he was a front-runner was absurd. He had been with them back in 2006, he said, "When they first got good." And he had supported them through thick and thin since. He even went to the parade.

That's when the inspiration for this column was born. Once I picked myself up off the couch.

Yes, some went to games before the Phillies became champions, or even before they first got good. Some of us can recall the days when the 700 level looked like Nationals Park does now, at least when Stephen Strasburg isn't pitching. Some of us remember and miss the "Everybody hits!" guy.

So stand up and take a bow. But when you sit down in your seat now, can you possibly argue it's the same as it was back then? The person to your right doesn't quite understand why J.C. Romero is coming out of the game with a righthanded bat headed to the plate. The person to your left might be hoping Roy Halladay pitches at some point in the game, just as he did for nine innings the day before.

Again, nothing really wrong about that, although it can be annoying at times. Like when that guy snagged the foul ball over the outstretched glove of Jayson Werth last Thursday. Yeah, Werth was wrong to use such language, but what was the guy thinking?

I don't believe that he was trying to save his kid, clasping two hands over the ball like that. I also don't believe he understands he could have cost his team a much-needed victory.

But I went to my resident expert on this. The 19-year-old, who has been taking the train to games ever since his mother let him when he was 15. He likes baseball, plays baseball, knows all its rules and nuances. And he likes that front-runners fill the place now, he said, "because they make it more fun."

So stand up and take a bow if you fit the description, too. We are all front-runners, really, by definition. No one goes to games to see their teams lose repeatedly, not score runs, and surrender game-winning hits - with the exception of Cubs fans. Indeed, Wrigley Field is packed for every game, as we will see again tonight when the Phillies resume their season there.

And yet the place teems with front-runners, just as Fenway Park does these days.

Once in Cleveland, you could take your ticket from an Indians game and trade it for a $5 ticket to a Cavs game. Last year, if you took your Cavs ticket to an Indians game, you could get in for $5.

Dunno what they're gonna do this year.

The Sixers did something like this last season.

They'll take all the front-runners they can get.

As they should.

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