Inside the Phillies: Fans give Phillies a lukewarm welcome

Ryan Howard warms up before his first at-bat. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)

Six months without baseball didn't exactly leave the Phillies fan in a hurry to welcome the team as it took the field at Citizens Bank Park for the first time this year.

Maybe it was the memories of a 73-89 season, or possibly a 9-17-3 Grapefruit League record, or the fact that this was an exhibition game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, but this was clearly a late-arriving crowd.

The attendance was 24,274, and it appeared many didn't mind being late for the game or missing it altogether.

As the Phillies took the field, the sparse crowd gave an enthusiastic response.

Finally, Kyle Kendrick uncorked the first pitch at 7:06 p.m., in the first of two scheduled exhibition games against the Pirates. Game-time temperature was a comfortable 64 degrees.

The Phillies did their best to bond with the fans.

They signed autographs before the game. And, after the second inning, Phillies broadcaster Gregg Murphy, later joined by radio analyst Larry Andersen, sang "Happy Birthday" to a fan in the stands.

Neither should quit his day job, but it was a nice gesture.

As for the game, the Phillies were greeted with polite applause when they came to the plate.

Polite applause in Philadelphia?

Then again, nobody could expect outward passion for an exhibition game. Maybe the fans were saving their emotions for when the season begins Monday in Texas against the Rangers.

What is crystal clear is that this team expects to confound the experts and nonexperts who don't have high expectations for the Phillies.

"We think we are contenders," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said.

As Ryne Sandberg enters his first full season managing the Phillies, it's clear he has set a serious tone, one that stressed fundamentals all spring.

The players feel they are prepared for the 162-game meat grinder of a schedule, and, possibly taking a cue from the manager, there is a quiet confidence.

Of course, in the case of closer Jonathan Papelbon, very little is quiet, but he admitted there is an almost us-against-them mentality that has drawn this team together. That's because it's difficult to find many people outside the Phillies clubhouse who are picking them as a playoff team.

When asked whether he has any concerns this season, Papelbon answered a question with a question.

"Does this face look like I have any concerns?"

The media smartly avoided any wisecracks.

Then, Papelbon added, "No concerns."


"I look at a ball club that has a lot of pride and isn't going to accept what went on the last two years," Papelbon said.

That, of course, would be two years watching the postseason from home.

"The only people who have to believe we are going to be good and will be raising a trophy at the end of the season are the 25 guys in this clubhouse," he said. "Who else matters?"

Good point.

Another thing the Phillies could agree on was that it was good to be in Philadelphia.

"It feels great to be here," all-star leftfielder Domonic Brown said before the game. "I have a lot of energy and am ready to go."

He can only hope the fans have the same energy and come to the park early and often once the Fightin's start playing for keeps.