Philadelphia Phillies right fielder Bryce Harper playing his first innings donning red pinstripes on Opening Day 2019, Thursday, March 28, at Citizens Bank Park. Harper went 0-3 with a run scored, walk and two strikeouts before a sold-out crowd of 44,469 (Matt Rappa/SportsTalkPhilly.com).
By Matt Rappa, Sports Talk Philly editor
There's something pretty special about Citizens Bank Park being full again, with fans tuned in to every pitch and every at-bat, as was the case during the Philadelphia Phillies' 10-4 Opening Day victory over the Atlanta Braves on Thursday.
The Phillies, like their Sports Complex basketball neighbors, endured a "process" of their own — from shuffling through managers (e.g., Ryne Sandberg and Pete Mackanin), to fielding once-All-Star-caliber veterans on the tail-ends of their careers, with the hope of somehow — but ultimately not coming anywhere close — of sneaking into Red October (e.g., Juan Pierre, Michael Young, Jim Thome, and Jonathan Papelbon).
The Phillies' "process" under former leadership just was not working. And entered Andy MacPhail and Matt Klentak near the end of the 2015 season; less than four years later, the Phillies no longer need to worry about looking up in the standings, only who's under them.
There was a buzz felt at Opening Day on Thursday that had not been felt since the 2011 National League Division Series, Game 5 — the infamous 1-0 defeat against the St. Louis Cardinals when franchise great Ryan Howard tore his left Achilles tendon on the last play of the game and season, and what would turn out to be a huge blow for the rest of his career.
From the very moment you approached the stadium on Thursday, the sea of red brought back memories from that 102-win season in 2011, but also encouraged new memories to be made, now with Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura, Rhys Hoskins, and more. Everything was amplified to uncharted levels; the "Leadoff Walk" began near the The Yard at the former right field gate, allowing more fans to catch a close glimpse at the new-look team than ever before as they proceeded through Ashburn Alley and onto the field. Kane Kalas' singing of the National Anthem endured more tears than in recent seasons past, too. Man, Harry would have loved this team.
Even the Frog-X Parachute Team landing on the field with the first balls were more thrilling. Frog-X did not do anything different from previous Opening Days, but it just felt better. McCutchen's leadoff home run allowed this build-up of excitement to carry through the game, leading up to Hoskins' first career grand slam to top it all off.
The excitement of Phillies baseball, the way we loved it during its pinnacle point during the 2007-11 run, is back. Every player in the lineup is capable of during great things, just like Howard, Chase Utley, Jayson Werth, Pat Burrell and others did.
Remember when Howard first came up in the majors, and the stadium silenced, knowing the slugger was capable of sending the baseball into the stands — any time, any situation? That was just the case on Thursday for Harper, but, again, at a level never felt before inside Citizens Bank Park.
Whether you want to "Trust the Process," "Bleed Green," cheer on the Orange and Black, or "Ring the Bell," it's great to be a Philadelphia sports fan — and even more so a Phillies fan — in 2019, and for many years to come.