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Phillies host Reds in park opener

PHILADELPHIA -- Citizens Bank Park opens for real Monday.

While the new stadium might be set for action, it doesn't appear
the Philadelphia Phillies were prepared to start the season.

The NL East favorite opened with five losses in six games,
including three defeats in Florida to the World Series champion
Marlins.

Perhaps a return home can help the Phillies end their losing
skid. The Phillies host the Cincinnati Reds in the first game at
Citizens Bank Park on Monday. They played two exhibitions games
there against the Indians last weekend, before workers put the
finishing touches on the $458 million ballpark.

"To me, it's really another start," said All-Star left-hander
Randy Wolf, who takes the mound for the Phillies against the Reds'
Paul Wilson. "All the enjoyment is mainly for the fans. It's going
to be their day with the anticipation they've been waiting for so
long for this new ballpark. It's going to be exciting for them.

The Phillies couldn't wait to move into their new ballpark after
33 mostly losing seasons at Veterans Stadium, which opened with a
victory over the Montreal Expos on April 10, 1971.

A championship-caliber team just added to the excitement
surrounding the new stadium. Expectations were raised after the
offseason additions of All-Star closer Billy Wagner, former
All-Star left-hander Eric Milton and reliever Tim Worrell.

But so far, the Phillies have played more like the team that
finished with a losing record in 14 of the last 17 seasons. Still,
it's early, with 156 games remaining.

"We're not playing the kind of baseball we want to play right
now," Wolf said. "My focus, and I think our focus, is more what
we need to do against the Reds. You enjoy it but there are so many
things you've got to do right."

A lineup that includes Jim Thome, Pat Burrell and Bobby Abreu
should be more formidable than it's been. And, a rotation that
consists of Wolf, Milton, Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla and Brett
Myers has the potential to be among the best in the majors.

"I know the fans are excited and we're excited, too, about
getting in that new stadium," center fielder Marlon Byrd said.
"Hopefully, we'll give them some excitement when we get there."

The biggest difference for the players at the new stadium is the
surface, with real grass instead of the concrete-like artificial
turf at the Vet. The most unique feature on the field is an angle
located between the left-center field power alley and dead center
field that could cause havoc for outfielders and produce some wild
extra-base hits.

The fans will enjoy a splendid view of Center City in the
intimate, open-air stadium. They'll have wider seats that are
angled toward the field and more concession choices with a local
flavor, including cheesesteaks from Tony Luke's and Geno's.

Ten-foot bronze statues of Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt, Steve
Carlton, Jim Bunning and Richie Ashburn surround the red steel,
brick and stone facade.

A gigantic scoreboard rises from the left-field seats and will
include a video screen that is supposed to be the largest in the
National League.

One of the major attractions will be Ashburn Alley, an outdoor
entertainment area dedicated to the former outfielder and
broadcaster. Fans can walk past the All-Star Walk, devoted to
Phillies All-Stars since 1933, or watch pitchers from both teams
warm up in bi-level bullpens.

Fans can also take a stroll down Memory Lane, an illustrated
history of Philadelphia baseball, including the Phillies, the
Athletics and Negro League teams.

Fans with tickets in the Diamond Club area can watch players
take their swings in an indoor batting cage before heading out to
their padded seats.

Continuing the Philly theme, 100 feet above street level is a
Liberty Bell that rings after every Phillies home run.

"I'm really looking forward to it," said Philadelphia manager
Larry Bowa, who got the first hit at the Vet 33 years ago.

While the new stadium is much nicer than the Vet, now reduced to
rubble, the Phillies have a long way to go before matching their
accomplishments at their old stadium. They won the only
championship in franchise history at the Vet, clinching the title
with a victory over Kansas City in Game 6 of the 1980 World Series.

For now, they'll settle for simply opening Citizens Bank Park
with a win.