Since Citizens Bank Park opened in 2004, Ashburn Alley has always been a happening spot. It’s the place you go to mingle with the crowd, chomp on a cheesesteak from Tony Luke’s and grab some Crab Fries from Chickie’s & Pete’s.
It turns out that not even the deadly coronavirus can keep Ashburn Alley from coming alive with the sounds of authentic fans this summer. Thanks to a couple of diehards who hatched a plan during the team’s summer camp workouts, cheers and taunts and cowbells and air horns came through loud and clear late Wednesday afternoon and into the night as the Phillies returned home for a pair of seven-inning games against the New York Yankees.
“Yeah, you can definitely hear them,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said after his team’s split with the Bronx Bombers. “They’re nice and loud. Obviously I think everyone misses the fans. It’s nice to hear fans even though they’re not in the park. It just shows you how important baseball is to this town and their loyalty to us.”
There was even a drum line during Game 1, although that came at a price to Oscar Alvarado, one of the organizers of the Phandemic Krew, which has been named after the deadly pandemic that has ravaged our country and Krew, the infant son of Phillies right fielder Bryce Harper.
“I paid $100 for them to play for 15 minutes in the middle of Game 1,” said Alvarado, a Philly-born Phillies fan who now lives across the river in Audubon, N.J. “Their price was initially a little high, but I told them what I wanted them to do and they told me they’d do it for me.”
The Positive Movement Entertainment trio, which included Tony Royster and C.C. on drums and the dance moves of Philly Elmo, performed with the same intensity with which Harper plays the game of baseball. Their effort did not go unnoticed and it was rewarded with an 11-7 Phillies victory over the Yankees in the opener.
“I’m so glad we came,” said Royster, a Germantown native and the group’s lead drummer. “It was awesome. We play all around the city and we promote put down your guns and pick up some drums for a better community. We love spreading love and joy. Oscar requested us to come here and we were like, ‘Wow, we’re going to the Phillies’ game.’ We don’t have any sponsors or investors, so maybe this will be a great opportunity.”
The idea of anyone going to a Phillies’ game this season at Citizens Bank Park was supposed to be nixed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but Alvarado and his friend Brett MacMinn, a Haddon Township resident originally from Audubon, started talking about attending games after also making a couple of visits to Citizens Bank Park and FDR Park for the Phillies’ training sessions last month.
“Brett and I started talking and I was like, ‘Hey, they’re not letting us in the park, but what if we stood outside?” Alvarado said. “Are they going to say anything? Are they going to let us watch? Are they going to kick us out? We decided to do it until they pushed us out.”
The Phillies were not interested in pushing their fans away even though they are not allowed to let them in this season. Howard Smith, the team’s vice president of business affairs, paid the small group a visit during the Phillies’ season-opening series and told the fans they could be heard and that the team appreciated what they were doing. He also told them they needed a nickname and that’s how they became the Phandemic Krew. They even have a banner now that hangs on the closed metal gate that leads into Ashburn Alley.
“This has been kind of cool and the Phillies have been really supportive,” MacMinn said after Kurt Funk, the Phillies vice president of marketing programs and events, handed the Phandemic Krew opening night T-shirts.
Attendance was officially zero for the doubleheader, but in reality it was eight and this is a rare opportunity to name everyone in attendance. In addition to Alvarado and MacMinn, there was Bev Miller from Warrington, Ryan Sage from Florence, Julio Garcia from Gloucester, Beverly Scalamere and Jim Falzini from Hamilton Township and Joe Damario and a man who simply wanted to be called Pod from the Northeast.
“We’d rather be in there,” MacMinn said. “It’s better going to games with my son and my dad. I miss doing that. If I was with my son I’d go to batting practice and if I was with my dad or my uncle we’d tailgate.”
Until those days return, the Phandemic Krew is making the most of a dreary situation. They took turns standing on the two step ladders that allow for a better view of the ballgame. For those who aren’t on the ladder, the Phillies have two flat screen TVs attached to giant brick walls that show the game.
“You need a ladder to really see, but I’ll be honest, I don’t have cable at home, so there are also two televisions right there,” Alvarado said. “We were even thinking of coming when they were on the road because I know the broadcasters are still up there because they can’t travel with the team. If they were to keep the TVs on, we’ll be here even when they are on the road.”
At the very least, the Phandemic Krew promises to be at every home game this season and you cannot help but notice their presence. Alvarado has a booming voice that he used to taunt J.A. Happ, the Yankees’ Game 1 starter, and to plead for a new contract for catcher J.T. Realmuto.
“They have to sign him,” Alvarado said. “Honestly, he just hit a home run. You have got to keep him in this city. The city loves him and we want him here.”
And the Phillies want the Phandemic Krew, too, even if they are outsiders looking in.