In Philly, championship-starved fans hope anew

The Phillies' appearance in the World Series has given them something big to cheer about. Team spirit is popping up everywhere as the World Series shifts to Philadelphia for Game 3 Saturday. The city's fountains are gushing Phillies red banners of support hang from uncompleted skyscrapers bakers are producing cupcakes iced with baseball laces.

David J. Phillip/AP
Spirit: These Phillies fans cheered on their team in St. Petersburg, Fla., for Game 1 of the World Series. The action shifts to Philadelphia on Saturday for Game 3.

When the economy is in the dumps, there is nothing like the crack of the bat in a World Series game to help many Americans feel better. Just ask sports fans in the City of Brotherly Love.

"Philadelphia's got spirit," says Brian Burkhardt, a musician. "After the Phillies got in the Series, I jumped in the back of some guy's pickup truck and rode around the city for hours. And I didn't even know him."

Behind all the hoopla is a city desperate for a championship. For more than 25 years, such an honor has eluded the four major sports teams in this sport-obsessed city.

"There is a level of frustration out there," says Gov. Edward Rendell, a former Philly mayor and a big sports fan himself.

How desperate is Philadelphia? In 2004, Governor Rendell says, the whole city was rooting for Smarty Jones to win the Triple Crown of horse racing since the horse was from Chester County, close to the city. After the horse failed to complete the sweep, he says, "People came up to me and said, 'I can't believe Smarty choked like all the rest of them.' "

Fans here – although passionate about their sports teams – are also some of the toughest. In the late 1980s, when Phillies Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt was finishing up his career, he would get booed. After a holiday extravaganza was canceled at an Eagles game in 1968 because of bad weather, the fans pelted Santa Claus with snowballs.

For most Phillies fans, the ultimate collapse was in 1993, when Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams served up a home run to Joe Carter of the Toronto Blue Jays, which ended the Phillies' last try for a World Series title. "They were calling in death threats after the game. He had to hire people to guard his house," Rendell recalls.

Some Phillies fans say they're unfairly maligned. "A couple of hundred boo, and the weak-minded join in," says Ed Landau, a Jenkintown, Pa., resident and longtime Phillies season ticket holder. "As for Mitch Williams, he is now beloved on radio and TV, and most people think he is a stand-up guy."

Phillies fans are no ruder than those in other cities, maintains Rick Eckstein, a professor of sociology at Villanova University in Pennsylvania and a sports expert. "Really, you see it everywhere: In Milwaukee, a guy dressed as a sausage gets clubbed; you probably even hear people booing in Kansas City," says Mr. Eckstein, author of "Public Dollars, Private Stadiums," a book on the public financing of stadiums.

At any rate, that's all in the past. Danielle Cohn, a spokesperson for the city's Convention & Visitors Bureau, says the party will continue for four or five days if the team wins. "Every place with food and beverage is definitely gearing up," she says.

One of those places is Chickie's & Pete's, a sports bar with one location near the Phillies' stadium, Citizens Bank Park. On game nights, the restaurant plans to "sell" the tables as well as its famous crab fries and cheese steaks. "This place will be packed," says Bob Morrison, a manager and "major league" Phillies fan. "We are frustrated optimists. But this time, it's our year, our time."

That may turn out to be true, but Philadelphians are not taking anything for granted. For years, there has been concern that the city's developers had insulted William Penn, whose statue sits atop City Hall, by constructing office towers that looked down on his hat. Locals refer to it as the "Curse of William Penn."

"So, during the topping off of the new Comcast tower, the construction workers implanted a kind of miniature William Penn statue," Ms. Cohn says. "Now, Penn can look over the city again."

But what if even that doesn't work and the unthinkable happens – the Tampa Bay Rays win?

"If they lose, there's not going to be much activity on the job for the next few weeks," says Rendell. "Everyone will be second-guessing the manager."

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