It really is a remarkable transformation story, what has happened with the Phillies over the last five years. Cinderella and the Ugly Duckling combined didn't come this far, this fast.

Another, less often told, transformation story came out of Wednesday's reintroduction of Cliff Lee. It was clear from listening to Lee and his wife, Kristen, that it wasn't just the Phillies - the organization, the teammates, the chance to win - that lured them back.

It was Philadelphia, the city itself.

The Lees spent half a baseball season here in 2009 and fell for the place: the restaurants, the lifestyle, the relative ease in getting around, the people, the culture.

"It's just a good fit for our family," Kristen Lee said.

If you grew up here, if you remember detractors calling it "Philthy-delphia" for good reason, that was the most astonishing part of this whole astonishing story. Even now, natives tend to look at the place and see what's wrong.

"We who live here sell the assets of this city short," as Phillies president Dave Montgomery, a lifer and civic booster, put it.

Cliff and Kristen Lee, Arkansas natives whose professional journey took them through Cleveland and Seattle and the Dallas metroplex and assorted spring-training sites, were thrilled by the prospect of getting back here.

Cliff Lee was traded three times - from Cleveland to Philadelphia, from Philly to Seattle, and finally on to the Texas Rangers - in 16 months.

"We were like, 'OK, it's a new adventure, let's go,' " Kristen Lee said. "Well, not so much when we got traded from Philly. There were some tears over that for me."

A week ago, finally free to pick their own home, the Lees thought they were choosing between the New York Yankees and the Rangers. On Friday night, Lee's agent informed the couple of a new offer from the Phillies. On Saturday morning, while Cliff was watching TV with the kids, Kristen sat in the kitchen and made a list of pluses and minuses for each city.

"I wrote it all down," Kristen Lee said.

There were obviously baseball considerations. Lee prefers the National League, where he gets to hit as well as pitch to other pitchers. No designated hitter to deal with. There was the Phillies' status as a contending team, one that he watched improve after he was traded away last year. There was the chance to be part of this remarkable rotation.

And there were things about the fans, about the atmosphere in Citizens Bank Park.

"You can feel the volume," Cliff Lee said. "Every game has got an elevated feel to it compared to everywhere else. I don't know what the fans do to create that much more volume and excitement in the stadium, but it's definitely something extra here."

Those things were all on Kristen Lee's list, along with some intangibles. For example, the Lees' kids hit it off with the children of some of the other Phillies.

But, as clear as it was that she had a significant say in this decision, it was equally clear that Philadelphia itself was a major attraction. Imagine.

"There's so many things that are so great," Kristen Lee said. "How easy it is to get from Point A to Point B. Even in Dallas, where we were staying, it was hard to get to the ballpark because of traffic. It was so hot in the summer. The food. The food is great. It's a fun city. If you want to go out and have fun for a few hours, you can do that. The cultural experiences for our kids. I just think it's easy to live here."

Apologies if this is starting to read like a press release from the Convention and Visitors Bureau. But this is a very real part of what is happening with Philadelphia sports now. And not just the Phillies: Players from the Eagles and Flyers and Sixers choose to live in the city now. A generation ago, everyone was in South Jersey or out in the western suburbs.

In his role as chairman of the Philadelphia Sports Congress, Montgomery had a chance to see the city as some special visitors saw it.

"I was at a gala for the Army-Navy Game," he said, "standing with these cadets and midshipmen. You're at the Constitution Center, looking south at Independence Hall. There is some real meaning to this community. There's a livability here. That's the real story."

The Phillies built a spectacular ballpark and a winning team. The city responded by flooding their coffers with revenue from sellouts and parking and concessions and merchandise. Now the team is completing the cycle, turning that financial support into a bigger payroll than anyone imagined possible here.

The result is a remarkable baseball buzz in mid-December. If the special things about Philadelphia helped the Phillies land Lee, it must be said the Phillies have become one of the truly special things about Philadelphia.