Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

UPDATED: When you go to a keg party and a baseball game breaks out

UPDATED: When you go to a keg party and a baseball game breaks out

OK, this is funny:

In an effort to foster better understanding between police and the people they have recently handcuffed in their own homes, President Barack Obama today named this Thursday "Drink a Beer With Someone Who Arrested You Day."

Explaining his decision, the President told reporters, "When tempers run a little high, there's one thing that always helps people think a little more rationally: beer."

A beer-related death outside a Phillies' game at Citizens Bank Park, on the other hand, not funny at all:

Capt. James Clark, commander of the Homicide Unit, said yesterday that the fights began about 7 p.m. inside McFadden's when members of two groups - eight men, including Sale, celebrating a bachelor party, and a busload of fans on an outing organized by Moe's Tavern in Fishtown - began fighting after some beer was spilled.

"Someone bumped into someone and spilled a drink," Clark said during a news conference, and that led to the fights.

Two of the three men charged with murder in Sale's death, Francis Kirchner, 28, of the 1200 block of East Palmer Street, and Charles Bowers, 35, of the 6100 block of Bustleton Avenue, have prior convictions for serious assaults linked to partying and drinking.

My condolences to the family of David Sale, a 22-year-kid who simply spilled a beer one minute and was dead the next. In a world with too many senseless tragedies, this one seems senseless beyond belief. On one level, I think you make the case that punching and stomping a man to death is an extreme and isolated incident, a huge outlier -- but at the same time I think it's also fair to make the argument that it's a grim punctuation mark on increased rowdyism by fans at Phillies games over the last few years.

There's almost been a weird role reversal that arguably began around the time the new stadiums opened in South Philly. For the Eagles, the Linc -- while still a rowdy place, to be sure -- still seems more sedate than the gladiator pit that was the Vet; some would say that higher ticket prices and more luxury suites have something to do that. Baseball was always the family sport, the place where fathers (who'd be clamping the ears of their young son at a Birds game) could enjoy more gentle fraternal bonding on a summer afternoon. 

But the Phillies, still relatively more afforable than the other Big 4 sports, also became the best team of the lot, and so Citizens Bank Park became the place to be, including for people thinking "party" first and baseball "second." Case in point: The lethal brawl on Saturday involved a bachelor party and a busload of folks from a Fishtown bar known for hosting "all you can drink" events. That is a mixology for disaster.

But Citizens Bank Park is all about revenue streams -- that's what's needed to field a World Series caliber team and even dream of acquiring a Roy Halladay in today's baseball -- and nothing says lucrative revenue stream like beer. It's why the Phillies started the early and late season midweek tradition of filling the bleachers with "College Nights" that tended to be keg parties where a baseball game broke out halfway through. And thus the prime corner of the ballpark is leased out to a popular and lucrative bar, McFadden's. which is where the hard-drinking parties met and clashed; had the game been played at the old Vet, where there was no on-site public bar, it is quite possible that David Sale would still be alive today.

Indeed, a bar was the cornerstone of the Phillies' plan for gaining a younger crowd:

Meghan Leary, manager of fan development for the Phillies, said the team noticed its demographics started to get younger when the new ballpark opened. Team officials attribute that to creating a venue that, with attractions like the McFadden's bar and restaurant and Ashburn Alley, is more than just a place to watch a baseball game.

Apparently so. There's already one likely change in the works because of Sale's death, which would be a law requiring bar owners to call police when patrons are ejected for fighting, a good idea that might save a few lives around the city and not just around Citizens Bank Park. Beyond that, I hope the Phillies, along with city officials, the cops, etc., take a real hard look at both adjusting the rules for selling and drinking booze in and around the ballpark -- and also the whole alcohol culture at the sports complex.

And now the's perfect time to do that. Because every night now, this city has more than 45,000 people who are willing and able to get high on nothing more than a Rollins-Utley double play and the sound of a Ryan Howard bomb leaving the bat. But when dads and moms start to cringe at the idea of bringing their sons and daughters to Citizens Bank Park, you can bet the joint will be empty in 20 years.

UPDATE: The family of Dave Sale has established a memorial fund. You can find out about it here.

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Will Bunch
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