THERE IS ONLY one thing left to do now that the Phillies are officially the worst home team since France.
Reverse the karma. No more home games until further notice.
When the Phillies return from what will undoubtedly be another search-and-destroy mission to the hostile sandspit that is Pinellas County, Toronto's symbolically depressing Rogers Center and Atlanta's annoying Chop City, they will be back in the deep doo-doo of home cooking, batting last, playing before nightly sellouts in their upholstered cash register, enduring 24/7 canonization and wearing giant bull's-eyes on their backs.
Fans everywhere are offering suggestions, but here's the way it has to be . . .
When the Phillies come back to town for 10 games leading into the All-Star break, they will be the Visitors.
When the team charter lands, the buses will not return to the Money Pit.
Even as the Phillies are transported in air-conditioned comfort to the Four Seasons Hotel, where joggers are offered a bottle of water by the doorman, their wives, kids and significant others will have already been flown to Orlando, for a 10-day vacation at Disney World.
The team that was swept back-to-back by the Blue Jays and Orioles en route to a 1-8 homestand will be checked in. Their travel luggage delivered to their rooms - all the neat entitlements that makes the life of a major league ballplayer so special. The new itineraries will have been handed out on the charter and, of course, the meal-money envelopes.
The team bus will take the rookies and broadcasters down Broad Street the next afternoon. The manager, coaches and veterans will already be at the Yard, trying to figure out of the geography of the Visitors Clubhouse. In each locker, the Phillies' road grays will be neatly hung by the staff of visiting clubhouse manager Kevin Steinhour. Behind first base, in the former home clubhouse, Phil Sheridan will be introducing himself to the new home team, first the Mets for three, followed by the Reds for four, then the Pirates for three.
Look, this can't get much worse, so let's change the dynamic a little.
Take away the Phillies' 8-2 record against the Washington Nationals, a team in urgent need of a stimulus package, and they are - ready for this? - 28-29 against the rest of their opponents.
OK, let's go over the simple rules for this upcoming "roadstand:" Try to turn the page on the no-walk, 10-strikeout performance in eight innings pitched that became a 2-1 loss for Cole Hamels. Or that Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie earned his first victory in nearly a month.
Phils wear gray roadies and bat first. They have the third-base dugout, visitors' clubhouse and top-shelf bullpen, the one where fans can give lefthanded reliever Jack Taschner advice on how to throw strike one. And if deep reserve catcher Paul Bako happens to be catching down there, well, the journeyman called up from Lehigh Valley so Charlie can use Chris Coste to pinch-hit might be hearing helpful hints such as, "Hey, meat, get the donut off your bat."
Not to belabor the obvious . . . But going into battle without injured Raul Ibanez, very ill Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins - .216, .261 OBP - impersonating a leadoff hitter, is like giving your opponent a three-run spot. Charlie Manuel was wearing a brace on his left wrist yesterday after a player ran into him in the dugout Thursday. Or, did Chuck injure it trying to play baseball with one hand tied behind his back?
We're going to need full fan cooperation to create the proper atmosphere of hostility that teams can expect on the road. That means no Phanatic. In fact, our Phuzzy Phriend will be at Disney World, entertaining the kids. You're going to have to put up with three inferior mascots: Mr. Met, Mr. Red and the Pirate Parrot. Hopefully, the Parrot is over that white-powder thing that got him in so much trouble back in the '80s.
Look, I realize a fan base travels on its stomach and credit cards. So you'll have to forgo a lot of The Bank's delectable culinary offerings. Not to worry, though. Some of baseball's most famous foods will be available, including Dodger Dogs, the famed clam chowder from Fenway Park and grills filled with Milwaukee's best brats, knockwursts and other artery-clogging tubes of sizzling grease.
All work and no play . . . The hotel bar is on-limits for the Phillies' traveling party. It's a hollow perk, however. Players stopped hanging in hotel bars about the time GM Paul Owens made them the home office of his road operation. Back in the day, Owens had a curfew. Manuel does not. So the lads are welcome to visit the Society Hill and Penn's Landing watering holes. OK, they're not Chicago's "Lodge," but what is?
Now, this is vital. You have to boo these guys just as if they're the enemy - particularly in the Mets series, where you'll have plenty of help.
Just remember when you meet the enemy on the Phillies' next roadstand, they are yours. *
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