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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

An Almost Forgotten Story

Last night, there were two Atlanta-Philadelphia matchups. One involved a hunt for a playoff spot.

That one was the one that received almost no attention.

Sure, everyone was talking about the Eagles-Falcons at the Georgia Dome, how it was a match-up of last year's NFC title game contestants (or would have been if Jeremiah Trotter didn't manage to get himself ejected before the game began, bringing back memories of the scraps the Broad Street Bullies got into against almost every opponent in the mid-1970's), and how it might be a preview of this season's NFC title game -- which will be played in 2006!

What they weren't talking about was the other matchup, the one at Citizens Bank Park between the Braves and the Phillies, where a little known and inexperienced Eude Brito hurled 6 spotless innings and outdueled Tim Hudson en route to a 4-1 Phillies' win when, coupled with Dontrelle Willis' 21st victory at the expense of the Astros, put the Phillies 1 game out of the wild card, now trailing the Marlins (the Astros are in-betwen, , 1/2 game behind the Marlins).

Should have been a big headline, should get a lot of play in the Soft Pretzel City given that it's only the beginning of the NFL season. After all, it's not like the possibility of the playoffs are an every-year occurrence in Damascus on the Delaware (as opposed to the reference the late, great Herb Caen of the San Francisco Chronicle once made about his city, "Baghdad by the Bay"). So, you would think that the Phillies would be selling out and that the airwaves would be rife with Phillies' chatter.

But you'd be wrong.

In a city that puts football first and basketball (college and HS especially) now second, the Phillies are announcing attendance that is about 8,000 short of capacity, and the reporters noticed over the weekend that the actual attendees were numbering fewer than the announced, paid gate. That's hard to believe, to a certain degree, because the ownership has spent a bunch of money on payroll (they have about the sixth highest) and on a new stadium (the two-year old venue is a beaut). What more can the fans ask for?

Yes, school is back in season, and that hurts the gate, especially because, as with many urban areas, the suburbs are more and more spread out, with the result that what used to be a short subway ride for city dwellers and perhaps a 1/2 hour drive from closer-in suburbs is in certain places a 1-hour jaunt (I grew up about a 30-minute ride from the Vet and live about a 45-minute ride -- without traffic -- to Citizens Bank Park). In addition, because the fan base lives further out, it lives closer to some very nice minor league venues -- Class A Wilmington (Delaware), about 30 minutes from the park, Class AA Reading (about 1 hour and fifteen minutes from the park), Class AA Trenton (about a 50-minute ride from the park) and independent league teams in Camden, NJ (about 10 minutes from the park) and Atlantic City, New Jersey (about 1 hour and 20 minutes from the park). All of those venues provide a much less expensive alternative to the Phillies, plus, if there's a shorter ride, that's easier for kids to take. You probably can go to 4 or 5 Trenton Thunder games for every Phillies' game.

Lastly, especially to the north of Philadelphia in Bucks County, Pennsylvania (which is between Northeast Philadelphia and the Delaware River, separating Bucks County from Trenton), there has been a significant influx of New York diaspora. The result -- Met and Yankee fans living in the Phillies' geographic base and not adopting the Phillies. Among the families that we're friendly with are two Met fans and a Yankee fan among the dads, and they're much more passionate about their teams than those who I presume are Phillies' fans.

And then there's the long-since-blogged-about distrust of the ownership team in Philadelphia. I have exhausted my writing on that topic, but it permeates the lack of fanaticism about this team. Until this ownership is replaced with a passionate group that will settle for nothing less than contending for a title each year, the fans will turn their energy toward the Philadelphia Eagles, who have delivered a great product during Jeffrey Lurie's tenure as owner.

The sad fact remains, though, that this is a baseball team that for all its warts -- at the ownership level, at the managerial level and on the team itself -- deserves better fanfare than it has received. It's September 13, and they're in hot contention for their first playoff berth in 12 years.

Yet all they were talking about at most water coolers in the greater Philadelphia area this morning were their beloved Birds.

And they're 0-1.


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