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September 30, 2005 - Despite what some athletes say, Phila. fans not all that bad

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Despite what some athletes say, Phila. fans not all that bad

Friday, September 30, 2005

Mike Schmidt played here for 18 years, won a championship, and never really got us.

Pete Rose played here five years, won a championship, and understood us perfectly.

Philadelphia fans are a strange breed. We fall in and out of love with players on a play-by-play, shot-by-shot, pitch-by-pitch basis, then wonder why they're so temperamental with us.

I remember booing Schmidt with all the voice a 12-year-old could muster, then waiting for him to sign my glove, the same glove with which I expected to catch a home run in the yellow seats of the Vet.

Schmidt never reached those yellow seats and never signed that glove, and I still haven't forgiven him for it.

That's just who we are. Give us the world -- a world championship, for instance -- and we'll be happy. Anything less and, well, you're all a bunch of bums.

That's how Billy Wagner sees us.

Their biggest homestand of the season awaited them and before their flight even landed in Philadelphia Wagner was ripping us, saying the only reason we come to Citizens Bank Ballpark is to boo.

It got me thinking.

Does every Philadelphia athlete feel this way about us? Donovan McNabb seems to like playing here, and so does Allen Iverson. Keith Primeau has been around Philadelphia long enough to comment on the issue.

"I think it's overstated a lot of times how debilitating everybody else feels the fans in Philadelphia are," said the Flyers captain, now in his sixth year in Philly. ". . .If you put your heart on your sleeve, the people in this city accept you with open arms. On the nights that's not your best performance, they'll let you know. But 90 percent of the time it's a wonderful experience."

I needed to know for sure. Was Primeau right, or did Wagner have a point? Have we been reduced to a bunch of beer-swilling miscreants who spend our hard-earned money harassing our athletes just for kicks?

It was time to find out.

On Wednesday afternoon I asked our two boys if they'd like to go to the Phillies game that night. I had not been to Citizens Bank Park as a fan since it opened last season and had promised them at the start of the summer we'd have a guys' night out at the ballpark.

"We've got one last chance to see a Phillies game this year," I told them. "It's Fan Appreciation Night. You guys want to go?"

They both said yes and after picking up our son from football practice and coaxing him to do his homework in the back seat of the car, the three of us arrived at the ballpark in the third inning with the Phils trailing 2-1.

Before our seats were warm Chase Utley cracked a three-run homer just inside the right-field foul pole and we joined the crowd of 42,250 in a towel-waving, high-fiving lovefest.

Between innings, we checked our ticket stubs to see if we had won a trip to Clearwater, Fla., a year's supply of McDonald's Big Mac Extra Value Meals or a year's supply of Skippy peanut butter.

"I think we'd eat every one of those Extra Value Meals," our 12-year-old son said. "But I'd get sick if I had to eat a year's worth of peanut butter."

Here we were at a Phillies game, among people Wagner described as society's lowest common denominator, and through five innings not a single boo or swear word was heard.

Clearly, we must have been in a non-booing family section of the stadium. Just to make sure, we took our first real tour of the ballpark and discovered that -- surprise, surprise -- there were civilized people all over that stadium, people just like us.

As we filed past the Phillies' wall of history in Ashburn Alley, we learned that Babe Ruth played his final game in Philadelphia; that Richie Allen once hit a ball out of Shibe Park; and that Karl Wallenda once walked across Veterans Stadium on a tightrope.

And guess what? Nobody screamed at us to get out of the way.

We also decided that someone, maybe rookie Ryan Howard, will hit a ball out of Citizens Bank Park someday. And that fans might even be compelled to cheer the feat.

After returning to our seats with the Phillies holding a comfortable 9-6 lead, I asked the boys if they'd like to beat the traffic and head for the exits. After all, it was past 10 and it was a school night.

"I want to sit up there," our 12-year-old said, pointing to several empty seats in the left-field upper deck.

It was the first time I had ever moved up in a stadium, but the front row of the upper deck gave us a spectacular view of the ballpark and we saw the Phillies score seven more runs, including back-to-back homers by Shane Victorino and Pat Burrell.

More high-fives, more towel waving and more dancing in the aisles.

"That was the best inning I've ever seen," our 12-year-old son said as we headed for the exits.

"Thanks, Dad," they said in harmony as we made our way back to our car, which, by some act of God, was not vandalized.