Philly Focus Shifts From Main Line to Line Drives


IT started several weeks ago when the city put a giant bright Phillies baseball cap on the statue of William Penn that sits atop City Hall. It continues with local radio stations constantly playing ``Phillies thrill me'' - an out-of-key make-over of the rock-and-roll classic.

Phillies fever has descended upon Philadelphia.

While the arrival of the World Series in Philadelphia has set off a scramble by local politicians and companies to associate themselves with the Phillies, fans here say that the match between the team and the city is a rare and genuine one.

``If you walk through South Philadelphia you'll see that's what the Phillies are - the tough guy, the common guy, real blue collar,'' said John Schel, a Phillies fan who was waiting to enter Game 3 of the Series on Tuesday night at Veterans Stadium.

The city's affinity for the laboring class made Philadelphia the natural setting for ``Rocky,'' the Sylvester Stallone movie about a meat packer's unlikely ascent to the world boxing championship. The Rocky Balboa story is something of a metaphor for the Phillies, who were a last-place team only a year ago and have shocked the baseball world with their sudden metamorphosis.

City officials are apparently trying to use the World Series, which concludes its three-game Philadelphia segment tonight, to show off the city's new convention center and other tourist attractions.

Mayor Ed Rendell (D) is lobbying visiting journalists to declare Philadelphia a ``hot city.'' As one municipal official said, ``Everyone likes a winner.''

Phillies fans, on the other hand, are taking pride in the national media's focus on the team's unkempt appearance - much as Toronto fans bask in the civility visiting American journalists often associate with this year's other Series city and team (the Blue Jays).

The focus of much of the attention in Philadelphia is on first baseman John Kruk, a small-town West Virginia native. Kruk's refusal to cut his hair, lose weight, or shave has won him high praise here.

``They're just Philly all the way. Especially Kruk, he's down to earth,'' one young female fan said. ``They look fine. It's all how they play,'' she said.

A young male fan agreed. Flashing a smile and two thumbs up, he said, ``They look like truckers and it's great.''

The Phillies' scruffiness may be just a clever reverse marketing ploy, but their refusal to fit into the big-money, mega-player world of professional sports has resonated here.

The Philadelphia fans, often a crusty lot notorious for their boo-bird tendencies, seem to relish the team's role of spoiler and underdog to powerhouse Toronto, and before that Atlanta, teams packed with more familiar multimillion-dollar players.

``They're more like a [rowdy] softball team than a professional baseball team and that's why we love them,'' Fran, a fan from suburban Philadelphia, said.

``They play hard-nosed, blue-collar baseball. They're misfits who were let go by other teams and they found a home here,'' another fan said. ``They all play together and that's why they win.''

Philadelphia's passion for this team is a lesson for America's struggling pastime, according to some fans.

``I think it shows that baseball is definitely alive and well. I was here during Game 6 [of the National League playoffs, when the Phillies won the pennant], and it was just electric,'' Mr. Schel said.

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