Players spend time in clubhouse

Updated: April 2, 2004, 8:27 PM ET
Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA -- Pat Burrell pulled some bats out of his wood-paneled locker, ready to take a few hacks for the first time in Citizens Bank Park.

Two problems: It was raining Friday and Burrell didn't want to soil the Phillies' pristine new home.

"I'm afraid to put my cleats on," Burrell said.

There was no odor of stinky worn shoes or dirty uniforms polluting the locker room, yet. The players mostly lounged around their new digs as the rain kept them off the field and postponed their chance to work out at home before two exhibition games open the ballpark.

Most of the players saw the park for the first time and seemed to enjoy their new home. The Phillies clubhouse is a large, oval-shape room with plenty of space to roam.

Two lockers were left empty, with only the nameplate and uniforms for Tug McGraw and Paul Owens, two popular Phillies who died in the offseason.

The team had no trouble passing time, with access to state-of-the-art weight rooms and training facilities. But they were eager to test the Kentucky bluegrass field, a welcome change from the concrete-hard artificial turf at the Vet.

"It makes you feel like you're really playing baseball, not caveman baseball like it was at the Vet," shortstop Jimmy Rollins said. "I would have loved to have been there to push the button on the Vet."

Manager Larry Bowa, who got the first hit in the Vet in 1971, was sorry to see the site of the Phillies only World Series championship reduced to rubble last month.

"I thought that was going to be there for a long time," Bowa said. "It was, but not long enough. Jimmy's line was, 'This is our house now.' Well, do something then. This is their chance to build their legacy. This is their chance to put banners up. We did our job. Now it's their turn."

Some players were sorry to see the imploded remains of Veterans Stadium as they drove down Broad Street.

"It's kind of sad," said catcher Mike Lieberthal, the Phillies' longest-tenured player. "It was weird looking to the left and seeing an open lot of rubble. I stared at it for about 30 seconds. It was kind of weird with all the memories I had there."

It seemed almost hard to believe the concourses at Citizens Bank Park would be cleared and the stadium would be ready for games Saturday and Sunday against Cleveland. The Phillies then go on the road for a week before opening the park for real April 12 against Cincinnati.

Closer Billy Wagner was with the Houston Astros when Minute Maid Park, formerly Enron Field, opened in 2000. He said a new stadium puts fans and players in a good mood.

"When we get excited and feel good about our game, that's when the fans are enjoying it. If the fans are excited and they're enjoying it, we're going to be excited," he said.

Phillies 3B David Bell said he felt fine and had only a little bruise a day after he was hit in the helmet by a pitch from Toronto's Miguel Batista. "It was a good thing for the helmet," Bell said.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press