In baseball, there are many breeds of fans. There are the father & son duos that hit the ballpark an hour or two early to catch batting practice, foul balls and autographs. There is the season ticket holder that is on a first-name basis with the ushers and vendors. You’ve seen the gobs of diehard tailgaters drag their sunburned, beer-soaked selves to Ashburn Alley in the fourth inning only to disappear to a bar stool in McFadden’s by the sixth.
There are saber geeks, stat nerds and number crunchers. Terrace deck umpires. Grandfathers keeping score the old-fashioned way with an AM radio in their ear. Toddlers that don’t know the difference between the Phanatic and the Phan Photogs wandering the concourse.
There is one thing, however, that remains consistent among all of these groups: They show up.
On Wednesday night, the Phillies played host to 44,282 fans and notched the 80th consecutive sellout at Citizens Bank Park. To show their appreciation, the Phils pounded out 5 runs on 10 hits including home runs by both Ryan Howard and Shane Victorino, but it wasn’t enough. In addition to the small spark of offense, Philadelphia went 2-9 with runners in scoring position and stranded a total of seven men on base – most notably leaving the bases loaded in the first inning wasting a lead-off double by Jimmy Rollins, scoring no one.
In the end, it was Jamie Moyer that unraveled. In a particularly ugly sixth inning, The Ageless Wonder gave up 6 runs on 6 hits, transforming the Phillies 3-1 lead into a 7-3 hole before being replaced by Danys Baez to secure the final two outs of the inning.
After unsuccessfully rallying back to within two runs, Billy Wagner pitched a 1-2-3 inning to end the game with a 7-5 score in favor of the Braves and leaving the Phillies six games back in the N.L. East – their largest deficit since September 2007.
After the game, both Charlie and the players had a lot of to say about the state of the Phillies after a pivotal mid-season series. However, it wasn’t just what happened on the field, but in the stands that had Shane Victorino fired up in the clubhouse:
“[Booing is] never unfair, but don’t forget like what we’ve done the last two years… three, four years, you know? Things aren’t going to the way they want. Don’t throw in the towel – find a way to get behind us.”
Ryan Lawrence tweeted “[He] said ‘I’m not going to use that word Jimmy said” while basically calling fans who’ve began to boo front-runners.”
This brings me back to the fans that keep showing up game after game. Sure, there are plenty of people in the stands every night that probably have absolutely no clue what’s going on. Girls that are on first dates with boys that would rather be doing just about anything else besides sitting in 96 degree heat surround by sweaty and crass Philadelphians for three hours but want to make a good impression. Kids that are still learning the difference between a fly ball and a line drive. Those tailgaters that could swear three ways to Sunday that there are eighteen men on the field because they’ve had a few beers too many.
But for every warm body in attendance that may not be able to provide a live play-by-play under their breath, there are at least 10 fans that can and as easy as it’s been to be optimistic in recent years even some of the most diehard phanatics are beginning to get frustrated.
In a season that is barely half over, Phillies fans have seen their boys of summer come and go through a revolving door between the 25-man roster and the disabled list. Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Placido Polanco, Ryan Madson, Brad Lidge, J.A. Happ, Joe Blanton and Carlos Ruiz have been the more notable players to be forced into the dugout to watch helplessly as their replacements struggle to keep the team afloat until their return. Six months ago, no one thought they would be watching Wilson Valdez, Juan Castro, Greg Dobbs and Dane Sardinha go to bat for the Phillies night after night as the team’s grip on their usual perch atop the east slips little by little.
Surprisingly, though, the b-squad hasn’t been the big disappointment everyone expected they would be as heralded All-Stars, MVPs, Gold Glovers and Silver Sluggers started dropping like flies. Valdez and Sardinha have combined for a .250 batting average, four home runs and twelve RBIs since June 29th. Comparatively, Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez have also combined for a batting average of .250, one home run (Werth), and five RBIs in the same time period. What must be noted here is that although everyone seems to be playing on the same level, they shouldn’t be.
Fans cheer when Valdez hits a home run because he had previously gone more than half a decade between big-league bombs. Fans are on their feet when Sardinha gets a double because he’s played a total of 44 games at the major-league level since 2003 and is the team’s fourth-string – read: FOURTH STRING – catcher that was just going about his business as Paul Hoover’s backup in Lehigh Valley less than a month ago.
Fans boo when Jayson Werth is batting a whopping .179 in his last ten games with one lone RBI. Fans boo when Shane Victorino comes in to pinch hit in a key at-bat, swings at the first pitch, and grounds out to first to end the inning. Fans boo when fielders commit thirteen errors behind Roy Halladay. Fans boo when the bullpen gives up a 5-run lead in the ninth inning wasting a quality start by Cole Hamels.
Fans boo when their team isn’t playing the baseball they know they’re capable of.
I’ll be the first to admit that the crowds in excess of 43,000 that show up to the ballpark night after night are going to get things wrong every once in a while. After all, there is a whole other level of perception from the stands than down on the field. But they also can’t be expected to keep their frustrations to themselves when the team’s struggles seem so ridiculous, so laughable.
So no, Shane, we’re not throwing in the towel just yet, but we’re going to need a reason not to very, very soon.
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