Phillies, city can't permit rebirth of the 700 level

During the Vet's decline, families stayed away in droves - meaning young fans like this one cheering the team Sunday would be watching on TV instead. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)

The beating death of a 22-year-old man during a brawl Saturday night in a parking lot at Citizens Bank Park proves that it takes more than a wrecking ball to rid Philadelphia of 700-level hooliganism.

The Vet, with its upper-level cheap seats favored by drunken rowdies, was torn down a couple of years ago. But the spirit of the 700 level – and the dangers – show signs of a resurgence at the new ballpark.

The beating death of David Sale of Lansdale was a horrific aberration, but fans report seeing a frat-party atmosphere at other games.

Here's how one fan, who commented on this blog item, described his evening at the ballpark:

I will never go on a Friday night again ... Just walking to the ballpark from the parking lot was horrendous. There were hundreds of drunk people throwing things, blocking the parking lots, the atmosphere was charged and unpleasant. When we left my 10 year old was visibily upset to see screaming young men throwing empty glass beer bottles in the parking lot.

If that proves to be a trend, then the Phillies management and city officials alike have a serious problem on their hands. With a winning team at bat, the last thing officials want is for ticket buyers – particularly families - to stay away out of fear for their safety.

The new ballpark’s appeal and earning power for the team and city isn’t merely due to the fact that the World Champions Phils are playing there. It’s also the fact that 700-level antics have been quashed for the most part.

The stadium was rebuilt on a more human scale and the Phillies have instituted and enforced a strict code of conduct for fans. Every game begins with big-screen video warnings about rowdy behavior. The rules are even included with mail-order tickets to a game.

Of course, the counter-message is that fans don’t have to leave their seats to drink themselves into a stupor. The suds – expensive as they are – continue to flow into the late innings when it would be far more reasonable to curtail sales earlier. A good number of fans show up at the gates with a few brews already under their belt, courtesy of lax enforcement against parking-lot celebrations. At least if fans were sobering up as they left the stadium, the scene outside the ballpark and on the Broad Street Subway ride home would be less eventful.

Security guards did toss the fans that were later caught up in the parking-lot fight, as did the management at McFadden's, the bar the rowdy fans stumbled into after leaving the ballpark. Reports of additional security at the stadium are encouraging. The arrest of suspects in the beating also sends the message that rowdies won’t be tolerated. And Mayor Nutter sought to reassure fans today that a trip to the stadium was safe.

But the Phillies need to monitor this situation carefully, with an eye toward greater intervention to make sure that 700-level behavior doesn’t make a comeback.