Perfect script goes sour

In typical Philadelphia fashion, the Phillies christened beautiful Citizens Bank Park with yet another loss.

Originally Published: April 12, 2004
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

PHILADELPHIA -- Some things in life, you just can't script.

You can spend $458 million to build the perfect ballpark. You can lay 975,000 perfectly scenic bricks. You can fill it up with Jim Thome, Billy Wagner and what looks like the perfect contender on paper.

But some things in life, you just can't script.

So it was probably only fitting that on Monday, the day the Phillies finally opened the gates of the fabulous new Citizens Bank Park, 12 years of dreams dissolved into just another wet, messy afternoon in the life of the losingest franchise in professional sports history.

Mike Schmidt statue
A statue of Phillies great Mike Schmidt stands outside of the brand new Citizens Bank Park.

If this had been anywhere else in America, maybe this would have been a 72-degree day, not a cloud visible for a thousand miles, the euphoria completed by the sight of the local juggernaut devouring everything in its path, exactly the way it was designed.

But this being Philadelphia, of course, that isn't quite how it worked out.

This being Philadelphia, they had 41,626 people trying not to drown while they waited in line for their first official commemorative cheesesteak. They had a 4-1 loss to the Reds for their booing pleasure. And they had themselves the best 1-6 baseball team in America to savor.

"I guess I couldn't have written a worse script," said Phillies chairman Bill Giles beforehand. "Rain ... and a 1-5 record."

Well, check that. Rain ... and watching that 1-5 record turn into a 1-6 record -- that was worse.

In case you were wondering, it isn't every team that can roll into town with a record this grim to open a new ballpark. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, of the teams that have launched new parks since Camden Yards in 1992, only the Tigers (at 1-5) had as many losses on home Opening Day as the Phillies. And only the Brewers (at 0-4) had a worse winning percentage.

But both those teams at least won their home openers. Which was more than the Phillies could do Monday.

So a team that was picked to win the National League East by everyone except Bobby Cox now has two fewer wins than Victor Zambrano.

An offense that finally appeared to have every piece in place now has scored fewer runs in seven games (16) than the Braves recently scored in one game (18).

And a lineup that was theoretically packed with power now has combined for as many home runs this season (two) as Jose Offerman.

Ah, but there is good news: At least the scenery is better.

Of course, there's no way to gauge yet how the presence of Citizens Bank Park will change the face of baseball in Philadelphia. But it sure can't hurt it.

Until Monday, remember, there were actually real, live, adult human beings -- with jobs and families and season-ticket packages -- who had never seen a baseball game played on that weird, futuristic surface known as, well, grass.

And we bet some of them looked out on that brand new field Monday and thought that NeXturf had never looked more beautiful, too.

Until Monday, there were actually real, live adult human beings who had never sat in the seats of a baseball stadium and gazed out to discover there was actually a world out there beyond the outfield seats -- with lights and buildings and everything.

I guess I couldn't have written a worse script. Rain ... and a 1-5 record.
Bill Giles, Phillies chairman, prior to the club's home opener

"I think," said Phillies outfield-quotesmith Doug Glanville, "they call that a skyline."

Until Monday, there were real, live adult human beings who had never witnessed dirt between their bases. Or funky angles in their outfield. Or a ballpark that wasn't shaped like the bagel they ate for breakfast.

"Look, the Vet gave us all some tremendous memories for 30 years," said Mike Schmidt, one of four living Phillies legends who threw out the first ball Monday. "But face it. It's hard to get attached to a big concrete circle. ... I mean, it's not like they just tore down Fenway Park or Wrigley Field."

Heck, no. Fenway and Wrigley are like national historic monuments. The Vet was more like the sports world's national historic eyesore. So it's hard to believe that as recently as a dozen years ago, the Phillies' master plan for the future didn't involve a single keg of dynamite. It involved -- and we are not making this up -- remodeling that big concrete circle.

"We were talking about renegotiating our lease at the Vet and trying to make it more comfortable for baseball," Giles reminisced. "And then I went down to see Camden Yards for the first time -- and I said, 'Uh, nope.' "

Yes, it was right about then that the Phillies began planning for this moment. Little did they know that by the time they got their little baseball palace built, 15 teams would beat them to it.

But Philadelphia is that kind of place. They picked out sites. The neighbors shot them down. They picked out more sites. The politicians shot them down. They picked out still more sites. The taxpayers had other ideas.

The mayor came and went. The governor came and went. A couple of managers came and went. Even Giles lost his team-president gig and became a full-time ballpark dreamer.

But eventually, they got their ballpark built. And in truth, there aren't many better ones anywhere.

"I don't know if it's the best," Giles conceded, "because Pac Bell has that setting. But with what we could do with what was available, this is the best I've ever seen."

It has the world's largest video board (2,844 square feet). It has an out-of-town scoreboard that will tell you how many runners are on base at any given moment. It has Greg Luzinski grilling ribs in right field.

It pays homage to a century of baseball history in Philadelphia, with a relentless barrage of statues, plaques, paintings, Walls of Fame and even a set of "rooftop bleachers" which commemorate the old rooftop seats across the street from old Shibe Park.

It even has a giant Liberty Bell in right-center which lights up and rings after all Phillies home runs. And how Philadelphian is that?

"Actually," Glanville reported, "my suggestion was that they put up a giant cheese steak instead of a Liberty Bell. And every time we hit a home run, it would squirt cheese whiz and go back and forth. But they preferred the historic thing."

Yeah, figures. Glanville, who once did a college thesis on the feasibility of a downtown ballpark near the University of Pennsylvania, says he had other innovative ideas, too -- had anyone been willing to listen (besides us, that is).

Why, for instance, didn't the builders pay more homage to that longtime staple of Philadelphia baseball -- AstroTurf?

Nice to be home
Record of teams since 1992 when they played their first game in their new ballpark:

Orioles: Camden Yards, 4/6/92, 0-0
Marlins: Pro Player Stadium, 4/5/93, 0-0
Indians: Jacobs Field, 4/4/94, 0-0
Rangers: Ballpark in Arlington, 4/11/94, 2-3
Rockies: Coors Field, 4/26/95, 0-0
Braves: Turner Field, 4/4/97, 1-2
D-Backs: Bank One Ballpark, 3/31/98, 0-0
Devil Rays: Tropicana Field, 3/31/98, 0-0
Mariners: Safeco Field, 7/15/99, 42-45
Astros: Minute Maid Park, 4/7/00, 2-1
Giants: SBC Park, 4/11/00, 3-4
Tigers: Comerica Park, 4/11/00, 1-5
Brewers: Miller Park, 4/6/01, 0-4
Pirates: PNC Park, 4/9/01, 3-3
Reds: Great American Ball Park, 3/31/03, 0-0
Padres: Petco Park, 4/8/04, 1-2
Phillies: Citizens Bank Park, 4/12/04, 1-5

(Courtesy: Elias Sports Bureau.)

"I'd like to see them lay a little patch of it out in the right-field corner," Glanville suggested, helpfully. "Or maybe out around shortstop, where Jimmy Rollins is. Just to make sure we have a tribute to that part of our history. We can leave it out there till somebody twists an ankle. Then we can sit around and say, 'Ah, remember the good old days?' "

Yeah, that would have been special, all right. But what the heck. You can't put everything in these ballparks. And what the Phillies did put in there has the potential to reawaken the soul of a once-great baseball town.

Oh, sure, you will no doubt hear again that famous yada-yada from all those professors who swear these publicly built ballparks are lousy investments. But maybe those professors ought to sit in those ballparks once in a while, gaze into people's faces and listen to their voices -- and then think all that through one more time.

"Those professors are missing a lot of things," said commissioner Bud Selig, who was on hand for Monday's opener in all his commissioner-esque splendor. "For one thing, they're wrong on the economics. I've had a lot of economists tell me that, at worst, these are break-even propositions. And I'd like to know any other public expenditure that's a break-even proposition.

"But for two, they're wrong about the sociological value. These ballparks make the community a better place to live. ... You know, in Milwaukee, where I live, they built a stadium 40 years ago with no team. And out of it came the Braves and the Packers. And that saved the Braves and the Packers. So now I'd like to ask anyone if they think Milwaukee would be a better place without them -- with no Hank Aaron, with no Eddie Mathews, with no Bart Starr, with no Vince Lombardi?

"And four decades from now, I want those same professors -- if they're still around -- to tell me if the public did the wrong thing when it built this place?"

Yeah, us, too. You know, we have to admit it: We love it when the commish gets worked up like that -- about stuff we agree with him on. And we agree on this.

Four decades from now, nobody will remember it took the Phillies 11 pitches to get booed for the first time in Citizens Bank Park.

Four decades from now, nobody will remember that the fondest wish of 43,000 waterlogged Philadelphians on Opening Day was that, along with Bull's Barbecue, the Phillies had thought to honor fellow Phillies legend Pancho Herrera by building a Pancho's Poncho Stand.

Four decades from now, nobody will remember that the Navy Seals had better command on Opening Day (when they delivered the first ball by parachute) than Phillies starter Randy Wolf.

No, four decades from now, there will be other memories. Better memories. Memories that thousands of people -- even millions -- will share for the rest of their lives.

That's what these new ballparks are really all about, of course -- the memories they manufacture, which no other places in our lives are capable of manufacturing.

"We have a chance to create our own history now," Glanville said. "And that's a very special feeling. We opened up a new place. So anything from here on out -- for us as a team or us as individuals -- could be marked in the annals for the first time.

"Just today," Glanville said, "I opened the first bag of sunflower seeds in this park. I'd like that recorded. And I also got the first hot tea -- microwaveable. And I think I saved the cup. Hopefully, that will be bronzed and saved in the Franklin Institute."

And come to think of it, that's just one more thing you just couldn't script.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Click here to send Jayson a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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