AS THE Phillies play the three-game heart of the 2009 World Series here, beginning tonight, they carry the hopes and dreams of so many lifelong fans:
RYAN'S PAL: Angelo Kelly, 15, of Schwenksville, Montgomery County, has been pals with Phillies slugging first baseman Ryan Howard since meeting him at spring training in 2004, when Howard was about to move up to Double-A Reading.
The two talked baseball for days before the other Phillies arrived in Clearwater, then continued their chats in Reading (where Angelo's dad, Mike Kelly, had front-row season tickets behind first base).
"Ryan calls Angelo 'Big A' and also 'my toughest critic' because Angelo has teased Ryan about his baserunning and his strikeouts," Kelly said. "Ryan just laughs that wonderful laugh of his."
For one magical week each spring since 2005, Angelo has been a pre-season Phillies batboy and has renewed his friendship with Howard.
"Most kids don't believe me," said Angelo, a 10th-grader who plays centerfield for the Spring-Ford High School Rams. "But the kids I play baseball with know my friendship with Ryan is real. And I've got the photos to prove it."
SAY A PRAYER: Jason Hutt, a native son working at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, writes: "My father, Thomas Hutt, who grew up in Port Richmond and now lives in Marcus Hook, is the reason I have such a passion for Philadelphia sports.
"He's been a faithful fan for almost 60 years. He took me to see the Phillies when I was a little kid. We learned this summer that he has lung cancer that has metastasized across his body.
"I'd like to pass along my thoughts and hopes for him as he continues the fight for his life."
PHILLIES FERVOR: Before a home game last year, Frank Hagstoz, 60, of Sandown, N.H. - who comes from five generations of Sansom Street precious-metal dealers at T.B. Hagstoz & Sons - visited the home of his late father, grandfather and great-grandfather in Delanco, N.J., on the banks of the Delaware River to invoke the power of their Phillies spirit.
"My father took all of my brothers and sisters to Connie Mack Stadium all of the years he lived," Hagstoz said. "He got to see the Phillies win the 1980 World Series before he died.
"Ever since I asked him and the generations before him to root for the team last year, we've been on an unbelievable roll, winning the World Series and getting back to it this year. I'm coming to Game 3 [today] to see my Fightin' Phils!"
PATCH FEVER: Doug Fritts of Center City wrote, "I finally get my hands on an 'HK' [Harry Kalas] patch - bought it off eBay - and I walk into Academy Cleaners on Locust near 15th to get it sewn onto my Brad Lidge jersey in time for [tonight's] Game 3.
"The seamstress puts my jersey on a pile of other Phillies jerseys. I ask her about them and she shows me the 2009 World Series patches she will sew on them in time for everyone to wear proudly tonight. GO PHILS!"
GOT PHILLIES? Send your phanaticism tales and photos to me at Phillies@phillynews.com.