Peak baseball fandom is basking in the warm summer sun and sipping a couple beverages at the ballpark. The aesthetic of peanuts and crackerjacks is almost as fun as the game itself. The flip side is that sinking feeling as the home team’s pitcher strains his neck watching a home run soar into the stadium’s second deck.
Neither feeling is something that I experienced this year. The pandemic has kept Phillies fans out of the ballpark in 2020, which means the local faithful missed walk-offs and web gems from both teams. There have been more than a few moments that forced me to revisit times I was at Veterans Stadium or Citizens Bank Park and an opponent stunned the Phillies.
Craig Biggio – There is an allegedly memorable Harry Kalas home run call of this blast from Craig Biggio on September 7, 2005. I never heard the energy drain from the announcer’s voice as the Astros Hall of Famer rounded the bases because I was at a game where 29,025 other people wondered if the Phillies were ever going to beat Houston again.
This home run came as the Phillies were making a late run at the playoffs. A strong second half allowed them to stay in the thick of the race until the end of the season. After enduring 11 straight loses to the Astros, the Phillies were poised to snap the streak when Biggio deposited a three-run home run into left field with two outs in the ninth.
The errant pitch from Billy Wagner turned out to be the symbolic nail in the Phillies coffin as Houston swept Philadelphia again. The Phillies finished two games behind Atlanta in the NL East and one behind Houston in the NL Wild Card. Houston would later make its first World Series that year, making the Biggio home run sting just a little more.
Mark McGwire – I can’t remember if Mark McGwire hit a home run against the Phillies when I saw him at Veterans Stadium in 1998 (or if it was even that same summer). I have vivid memories of watching him take batting practice when he was at his peak (whatever summer it was). He launched moonshot after moonshot into the upper deck of the Vet.
Phillies fans anticipated the power display by packing the uppermost areas of the stadium near the left field foul territory to catch his BP souvenirs. McGwire rewarded the fans in the 600 level with a smattering of baseballs. I never saw fans stake out the third tier of the Vet for any other player, with or without andro.
Alfonso Soriano – This home run goes down as a memorable fan moment because I felt it coming before the pitch. Mike Lieberthal set the Phillies franchise record for games as a catcher on August 18, 2006. As Soriano walked out to home plate, Citizens Bank Park stood and applauded the veteran backstop’s achievement. While the ovation went on, I thought the moment would break the focus of then-erratic starter Brett Meyers as he warmed up. Nationals leadoff hitter Alfonso Soriano proceeded to deposit a ball into Ashburn Alley.
The ball’s destination was a CBP rarity at the time. Ryan Howard was just ascending as a hitter and launching a ball into Ashburn Alley seemed like a feat reserved for deities of the game. Soriano’s home run was just one of 46 he would hit for Washington that season, a year where he also swiped 41 bases.
Yoenis Cespedes – You go to the ballpark to root for the home team. Sometimes, however, the other guys are so unbelievable you cannot help from being awestruck. Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes hit three bombs against the Phillies on April 11, 2017. He hit an early home run off Clay Bucholz (his last of two starts as a Phillie). Cespedes followed with two homers in the fourth and fifth innings off reliever Adam Morgan.
His third shot was the most memorable. The outfielder crushed a pitch down the left field line so well that I can still remember the ball soaring into the night. I will not deny that I quietly golf clapped as Cespedes rounded third or that I stayed late into the 14-4 massacre just to see if he would hit a historic fourth. The specter of a 96-loss season was already looming eight games into 2017, but this Cespedes festivus served as a reminder that you can still be a fan of the game when the chips are down.
Chase Utley – I never expected a stadium full of Philadelphia fans to give a standing ovation to a visiting player. Even though I am well aware how much Phillies fans adore Chase Utley, his return to Philadelphia as Dodger was an unprecedented love fest. I will never forget the thunderous applause he received during his trips to the plate… or as he rounded the bases twice in a 15-5 thumping of the Phillies in August of 2016.
I admit to cheering every three time. I also know that a stadium welcoming a visiting player that much is an extreme reaction anywhere, let alone Philadelphia. This was partially due to the Phillies flailing during the early stages of a rebuild. The team would finish with a putrid 71 wins that year. For one night only it was a greater priority to watch number 26 than worry about the fate of the starting nine.