SportsProf

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Monday, April 06, 2009

Phillies-Braves -- Opening Night

The Phillies put on a good show on Sunday night -- before the game began. It's just too bad that the team on the field couldn't match the triumph that the people in the front office and behind the scenes put on before it.

I took my sixth-grader down there (yes, on a school night), because I wanted to share the celebration with her. So, for an 8:05 game, we got to the stadium at around 5 of 6, and found that our normal parking lot was packed. For any other game, we would have been one of the first ones there, arriving that early, but this was opening night for the defending world champions.

After grabbing dinner at Bull's Barbeque, we went to our seats, in the lower deck in right field, and watched batting practice. Many home runs came near us, if not right at us, and then we walked two laps around the stadium to people watch. Lots of red, lots of championship gear, a beautiful night in the low 60's. We picked up a copy of the media guide, a book so thick that it the wrong hands it probably would be considered a deadly weapon. It's all the more fun to read when your team won it all the year before.

But we weren't there to read, we were there to celebrate, and the home team pulled out the stops -- National Guard members unfurled a huge American flag on the field, members of the 82nd Airborne parachuted into the stadium, fireworks went off, and the team marched into the field from outside it, down Ashburn Alley, through the stands in left center and onto the field, through a gauntlet of fans. It wasn't the post-Series parade, but it was a nice honor, nonetheless, and it had to be a special kick for the likes of lefty reliever Jack Taschner (a journeyman whom the Phillies picked up a week ago) and Miguel Cairo (another well-traveled substitute), who found themselves on a winning team when a few weeks of bad innings or at-bats might have them looking for a job in Triple A. The Phillies also had some great video clips on their big scoreboard, accompanied by the Goo Goo Dolls "Better Days", with emphasis on the last verse, emblazoned on the scoreboard -- "Tonight, the world begins again."

We smiled, we laughed, we cheered, we shouted "Charlie" when skipper Charlie Manuel made his way onto the field, and then we cheered some more when each member of the team was introduced, with the loudest cheers predictably reserved for guys named Moyer, Hamels, Howard, Rollins, Utley, Victorino and Lidge. It was all good fun, and it was good to share that fun with a loved one.

The game, of course, was another matter. Derek Lowe pitched masterfully for the visiting Braves, proving that he was, at least for the night, well worth the big free-agent bucks the Braves tossed his way. When his sinker and slider are both working, Lowe can neutralize the hottest bats in the most hitter-friendly of parks. And that's what he did last night. The Phillies' starter, Brett Myers, on the other hand, had a rocky start and gave up three homers -- to Brian McCann, Jeff Francoer and rookie CF Jordan Schaefer (the last one was hit to center and marked the 99th time in Major League history that a player hit a home run in his first at-bat). After that, Myers settled down, and while Braves' reliever Mike Gonzalez had a rocky ninth, he whiffed Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez to end the game with men on first and second.

Phillies' fans, while disappointed, weren't surprised. The Phils have a history of losing home openers, and Myers honored that dubious tradition last night. Yes, the fans weren't thrilled, but they know that this time is resilient, that it has talent, and that it probably has fewer question marks than most of its opponents. Still, you want to win them all, and it would have been great to have honored the pre-game celebration with a post-celebration as well-executed as what preceded it.

Fun times at Citizens Bank Park last night, in good weather, too.

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