Phillies host Reds in park opener

Updated: April 12, 2004, 2:45 PM ET
Associated Press

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.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press