Monday, June 21, 2010

Philly: On the Road for the Tenth Inning Stretch

First off, be sure to check out Seth's Weekly Twins podcast from last night as I feebly attempted to run the switchboard for him while discussing baseball with Seth and Travis Aune...

At the beginning of the year I decided that as long as I currently live out on the East Coast, I should take advantage of my proximity to other Major League cities and notch a few ballpark visits under my belt. Thankfully the Twins were happy to oblige with their schedule by coming out my way a few more times than normal this year.

So as soon as I saw the 2010 schedule, I circled this Philadelphia visit in red, and these boys didn't let me down.

I couldn't make the Friday game, and I don't feel too bad about that. But early Saturday morning I made my way over to Penn Station to catch the first Amtrak over to Philly.

Note: the crazy guy in the yellow shirt ready to greet me.

The thing I still love most about New York is its proximity and easy access to almost anywhere. My train zipped along and in just a little over an hour we were pulling into 30th St. Station.

The plan for the day was to hang out in downtown Philly and explore until Shawn and his family got into town to start our day at the ballpark. I killed some time hanging out in Rittenhouse Square where I first noticed that the city is decorated in little Philly Phanatic statues just as we have Joe Mauers dotting Minneapolis.

I have to admit that downtown Philadelphia is gorgeous. The shops, bars and restaurants along Walnut and Chestnut street gave it a very Greenwich Village feel and I wish I had been able to spend a bit more time there.

or perhaps just get my hair done at my spa apparently?

I wandered over to the Mutter Museum and after about an hour or so of looking at dry-preserved and wet-preserved anatomy and medical anomalies, I had found more than my fill.

After looking at John Wilkes Booth's spinal cord I decided it was time for a drink. Thankfully there was a nearby bar called Drinker's Pub and I hung my hat there chatting with some friendly locals about Citizen's Bank Park until Shawn and his wife and stepson arrived. (It was then that I felt it finally safe to put on my lucky Aguilera jersey... I was actually a little more scared of being an enemy in Citizen's Bank Park than I am of Yankee Stadium.)

Shawn is an awesome guy (and his wife and stepson were just as cool) and I was looking forward to finally meeting him for the first time after reading his blog for so long! We had a beer and chatted for a bit before carpooling over to the park and finding a space in a Holiday Inn parking lot amidst a horde of tailgaters. The tailgaters were something my new friends from Drinker's Pub told me was a tradition and I can see why: with all the sports facilities and their parking lots adjoining each other it's the perfect expansive layout of concrete for people to set up grills and lawn chairs.

The stadium itself is amazing. Having just been to Target Field, which for me was like a dream come true, Citizen's Bank Park still managed to leave quite the impression on me. From the various bronze statues adorning the outside of their gates:

To the beautiful vista of their downtown skyline which I'm sure would look amazing lit up at night:

and my horrible Blackberry can't really pick up the skyline, oops... but trust me it's breathtaking.

I had found tickets at the last minute in the row next to Shawn and his family

and so I was lucky to be able to sit with them and have a little companionship in the sea of Phillies apparel out there. Thrylos made the comment that that day was the most representation of any opposing team he had seen at the stadium and if that's the case it must get very lonely and intimidating out there!

We found our seats, thankfully sheltered from the sun (which was making me regret wearing my jersey), and were able to strike up a nice conversation with some Phillies fans nearby.

This was our view
I think everyone knows how this game went. It started out wonderfully and we were in pretty good spirits, but by the time that Slowey had coughed up his early lead and I was getting angry (if still jesting) text messages from Betsy, I thought it would be nice to go explore the food.

Sorry Target Field, but Citizen's Bank Ballpark has food-fare that would blow you away. Their famous Chick & Pete crab fries and the amazing sandwich known as "The Schmitter" were enough to make me forget about the travesty I was witnessing on the field.

Though I don't know if I was sweating from the heat or from the ridiculous amount of food I was trying to eat.

I'm also not a big fan of hopsy beers, but one sip of the Flying Fish Summer Pale Ale and I was hooked. (Get it? Fish? Hooked?) They do a great job of showcasing their local microbrews and craft beers at the stadium side by side with a wide spectrum of delicious food.

During the later middle innings Shawn and I worked our way back to where Thrylos98 of The Tenth Inning Stretch mentioned his seats were and we tried to scope him out by the jersey he said he was wearing. The moment we popped up the stairs in his section we started getting heckled by a bunch of Phillies fans, and while Shawn kindly waved back at them I just ducked back into the concourse.

But it was enough time for Thrylos to spot us and come running down to the concourse to say hi! And yes, indeed, he does exist! We chatted baseball and anything to get our mind off the game for a few minutes before finally making our way back down to our seats for the last couple innings.

That's when it all got interesting of course. When Thome stepped up to the plate and got his ovation was fun to see. We joked with our Phillies fans in the row about whether or not Punto was going to get the same treatment but they didn't seem to think so. Thome was actually very well represented in the Twins jerseys that we saw. It's clear that Philadelphians still hold a special place in their heart for him, and to watch him launch that home run and receive the rabid applause was amazing.

Hey, Parker! Your shirt in Philly!

As the Twins started to mount a threat the rest of the inning, you could sense the Phillies fans around you start to tense up. They saw this all last year in Lidge but had spent the better half of the 8th inning talking about how dependable he's been this year.

It just wasn't his day.

The Mauer shot sent chills down my spine. I was in disbelief, standing in my seat, high-fiving Shawn and trying not to lose my calm and get murdered at the stadium (apparently lots of people die at stadiums every year, now I'm paranoid, kind of).

Butera's homerun was almost just as surreal. I was trying to figure out how we'd stand a chance in extras with our bullpen so taxed and with only Butera available to come off the bench. I was even curious what it would be like for Rauch to just try putting his weight into a swing. But when our .175 hitting backup catcher launched one into the left field seats that completely floored me.

The Gload homerun was kind of a letdown. I know Rauch isn't perfect but that was just sad, and it didn't even look like a homerun. I didn't think that there was anyway our bullpen could stand much longer and didn't see how the ragtag bottom of our lineup was going to do anything against a mostly solid Phillies bullpen but this team never ceased to amaze me that day. I'm still not sure why they pitched to Delmon with an open base and Tolbert coming up but I'm glad they did!

After the game we met up again with Thrylos and hung around until they kicked us out of the stadium. We got high-fives and congratulations from scores of smiling Twins fans milling about while we watched all the Phillies fans stream out of the ballpark without any of them harming us! A miracle!

Goodbye Phillies fans!

Shawn and his family dropped me off downtown and I hung out around the 30th St. Station and had a few drinks near there, proudly displaying my lucky Aguilera jersey, while waiting for a red-eye Amtrak back to New York.

All in all a great trip, a lovely ballpark, and one of the more memorable games I've ever seen in person!

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