YOU GO TO the ballpark to watch the Phillies now, this year, and it feels different. There is no science to this, no statistical evidence, nothing measurable, not really. It is just an impression. It is all about the visceral.
It feels like 1993.
And, yes, it is hard to explain.
This statement should not be misunderstood. These are not the 1993 Phillies - winners of 97 games, takers of hearts, makers of myth. That needs to be boldfaced right here, highlighted, underlined and underlined again.
That was a special summer, especially considering the island upon which it existed, a single success amid such turbulent historical seas. I was here. I understand the place that 1993 holds. It would be sacrilege to misuse it in an attempt to prove some half-baked theory, not even halfway through another baseball season.
That is not what this is. Instead, it is a simple attempt to explain what it feels like in Citizens Bank Park these days and nights. If you sit there and just listen, if you open yourself to the experience and just take it all in, the memories begin to collide amid the cacophony.
It just hits you. Sixth inning last night. Pat Burrell clubs a two-run homer to leftfield that put the Phils ahead by 3-1. The place explodes, as has become the custom. The music plays and the big bell does its thing high above right-centerfield, and Burrell rounds the bases and disappears into the dugout - but that isn't it.
Geoff Jenkins steps into the batter's box. The music has stopped, but the roar for Burrell is still somewhere between cresting and falling off - and then Jenkins smokes the first pitch into the rightfield corner for a double, rebuilding the roar before the first one has even had time to die.
That is the moment. That is the sound of '93, of roar linked to roar. And for some reason, even though the people involved look nothing like one another, Darren Daulton has just disappeared into the dugout and Pete Incaviglia is suddenly standing on second base and the crowd at the Vet is enveloped in this great, rollicking rapture. It lasted for months.
Out of my mind?
As I said, this is hard to explain.
The Phillies are now 7-1 on this homestand following last night's 3-2 win over the Cincinnati Reds. Citizens Bank Park has become a place where people arrive with the idea that something good might happen. It started last year, with the improbability of September 2007, but it has completely taken hold in 2008. Booing remains an often-popular intramural sport, but that is in the municipal genetics. It has become almost entirely overshadowed by the ongoing vibe.
The attendance last night was 45,096, the 14th sellout of the season. Through 32 home dates, attendance is 1,279,128. They are within about 10,000 of the total through 32 dates at Citizens Bank Park in its opening season. There is reason to believe they might set a record if this keeps up.
That was a season of tourists and tire kickers. This crowd is different - younger, louder, seemingly more hopeful. It is a crowd that stood and gave Adam Eaton - the season after the awful season before - an ovation after he was removed from the game with two out in the seventh inning following his third consecutive good start: one run, three hits, five strikeouts.
"It always feels good to be recognized for doing a job well-done," Eaton said. "Definitely, that was a good feeling, regardless of how I pitched in the past. Try to live in today and prepare for tomorrow, and it definitely felt good to walk off with that ovation."
It is the excitement of expectations, most of all. That's really it. The '93 team got off to an outrageous start and fans lined up to be a part of the front-running. It is different now, but similar - the wanting to be a part of something.
And if the emotion is crystallized these days in the person of Chase Utley - people expect him to rip the ball every time he comes to the plate, or to make a diving, getting-dirty stop on a ball rocketed to his left - it really is busting out all over.
People show up now and expect something good to happen. It is not supposed to be that way around here - that is history's lesson. But here we are. *
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