Celebration, and lots of it, for Philly fans
Backers basking in NL pennant glow, buying in week before WS
PHILADELPHIA -- The line formed early, taking shape before the Thursday morning sun had fully arrived.By the time Norm Walbridge was ready to open Modell's Sporting Goods store in Willow Grove at 6 a.m. ET, 30 Phillies fans were waiting for him.
Still giddy over their favorite baseball team reaching its first World Series in 15 years, these fans scooped up T-shirts, hats, flags -- anything to commemorate an occasion that doesn't come around every day in this city."The Philly fan is out in force today," said Walbridge, the store's general manager. "Everybody's wearing red." And why wouldn't they be? None of Philadelphia's four major sports teams has won a championship since the Sixers captured the NBA title in 1983. The city hasn't experienced the euphoria of a team even competing for a title since the Eagles faced the Patriots in the Super Bowl of February 2005. But with the Phillies handing the Dodgers a 5-1 defeat Wednesday night to clinch the National League championship, the team was handing its fans a new chance to celebrate. The euphoria that descended on the city when catcher Carlos Ruiz squeezed the final out -- a foul popup off the bat of Dodgers shortstop Nomar Garciaparra -- is guaranteed to stick around for at least another week, before the Phillies open the World Series in either Tampa Bay or Boston on Wednesday. "This will be bigger," Walbridge said, when asked to compare the magnitude of the Phils in the World Series to that of the Eagles in the 2005 Super Bowl. "Because it's more days. People will be buying stuff to go to the game, there'll be more parties. The Super Bowl was a one-day event." With that, a fan approached Walbridge with two red T-shirts slung over his forearms. The fan wanted to know when the store would be carrying the hats worn by the team during its clubhouse celebration. Around 7 p.m., Walbridge promised, as the fan rubbed his eyes wearily. "It takes a while for them to be printed up," Walbridge explained. About 20 feet away, Kevin and Lisa Barron of Horsham, Pa., were waiting in the checkout line, having already settled on their memorabilia of choice. Kevin held a Phillies flag while Lisa carried red Phillies T-shirts. For the couple, watching the Phils clinch the National League pennant on Wednesday brought back memories of the 1993 squad -- the last Phillies team to reach the World Series. The Barrons were in Veterans Stadium for Game 6 of the National League Championship Series on the night of Oct. 13, 1993, to see Phils closer Mitch Williams strike out the Braves' Bill Pecota to send Philly into the World Series. "It's been a good year," Kevin Barron said of the current team, "and hopefully they keep going." "They're gonna do it this time," Lisa Barron added. Of course, that 1993 season ended in disappointment for the Philadelphia area, when Toronto's Joe Carter blasted a World Series-ending home run off Williams in Game 6. Nick Stever, a fan from Northeast Philadelphia, remembers it all too well. As a third grader, his family's house caught fire. When his parents gave him the choice of remodeling his room any way he wanted, Stever opted to go with a Phillies motif -- everything from the walls to the carpet would be a bright Philadelphia red. Not long after, Carter's home run brought more sadness to Stever's life. "Joe Carter ruined my childhood," Stever said. But all of that was forgotten in the aftermath of Wednesday's victory. Stever quickly made his way to the corner of Philadelphia's Cottman and Frankford Avenues to rejoice with hundreds of other championship-hungry fans. After all, they have waited a while for this. "It took 15 years to get back," Stever said. "I'll take it all in again."
Kevin Horan is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.