More than 8,000 fans gathered to christen the team's new spring training stadium, crowned with a victory.
By EILEEN SCHULTE and BOB PUTNAM
Published March 5, 2004
[Times photo: Kathleen Flynn]
Samuel Adamo, 6, left, and his brother Michael Adamo, 4, of Montreal, watch the Phillies' opening spring training game Thursday at the Phillies' new stadium in Clearwater. "I wish I had a Yankees cap," Samuel said. His father, Joe Adamo, said his size wasn't available.
CLEARWATER - Eight thousand two hundred and five fans turned out Thursday to watch the first spring training baseball game ever played at the $32-million Bright House Networks Field.
The Philadelphia Phillies' spring training squad seemed to enjoy its new, taxpayer-subsidized home, beating the New York Yankees 5-1.
Fans, many arriving hours before the 1:05 p.m. start, cheered, booed and guzzled beer in sunny, 85-degree weather. Autograph hounds mobbed Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and manager Joe Torre, begging them to sign their souvenir baseballs.
And everyone, it seemed, enjoyed the new ballpark, Steinbrenner included. "It's the nicest I've seen," he said. "I love Legends Field, but this is beautiful."
Here's a chronicle of the ballpark's first working day.
Intent on seeing his beloved Yankees, Dan Battista arrives at the crack of dawn, fully expecting to wait at the end of a lengthy line for tickets to the anticipated debut of Bright House Networks Field.
He discovers he is third.
"Man, I could have stayed in bed a little bit later," he says. "I thought more people would be out here."
Battista's mission is personal. In 1978, he was on his honeymoon in Fort Lauderdale and hoped to take his wife, Sue Ann, to a spring training game. It was sold out.
March 4 is the couple's 26th anniversary, and Dan, 48, and Sue Ann, 47, are spending it in the outfield berm section.
"I wasn't about to miss out on seeing them again," says Dan, from North Plainfield, N.J.
Johnny Greenwell, 52, gets to the ballpark early, scoring both a prime parking space and a spot near the front of the locked gate. For an hour and a half, the owner of Johnny's House of Guitars in Largo shoots the breeze with other Phillies fans, enjoying what he calls "the magic season of baseball."
"We talked," he said. "We shared stories of baseball and music."
He also made history. Greenwell, who purchased his ticket a few weeks ago, was the first person to enter Bright House Networks Field for a game.
He wanders around, sitting at the tiki bar and on the berm, wherever the view is the best.
"It's a first-class facility," he said.
Fifteen-year-old Mike McKenna is the picture of dejection.
In one hand, he holds a clean, white baseball he bought at Legends Field the day before. In the other, a Sharpie pen.
McKenna, who flew from Little Silver, N.J., with his dad, Bill, keeps glancing to his right, where George Steinbrenner sits just six seats away, surrounded by a police officer and a bodyguard blocking fans with all the emphasis of an NFL linebacker.
Unfortunately for the teen, the Yankees owner had stopped signing bats, tickets and jerseys just minutes before McKenna arrived.
It doesn't appear to be McKenna's day. Not only does he fail to get Steinbrenner's signature, his favorite Yankee, Derek Jeter, isn't playing.
But the first day of spring training doesn't come without some measure of magic. Joe Torre steps out from the dugout and signs McKenna's baseball.
Autograph hounds would call it a home run.
"I'm going to put it in a case," McKenna says, smiling.
The reason the sun comes up is to light the field so the Yankees can play ball.
So believes Bob Paquette of Danville, Va., who has traveled to Tampa Bay for spring training every year since 1989.
"I have a great seat," he says, lounging in a chair behind home plate. "I don't know where it is, but it's great."
Paquette, who actually has a berm seating ticket, sneaked in close. Now he has settled in the more expensive seat. "If nobody wants it, it's mine."
In his lap rests a 70-page blue binder filled with hundreds of baseball cards. "It's part of me, it's attached to me," he says. "Even if I go to lunch, it's with me."
He has followed Derek Jeter's career from the player's days in the minor league in North Carolina, and claims to have 50,000 autographs in his baseball memorabilia collection back home.
"I have the whole 40-man roster," he says. "And the nonroster invitees and all the coaches and managers."
By 3 p.m., security workers had kicked Paquette and his binder out of his purloined seat.
The Phillie Phanatic mascot gyrates on the concrete roof of the dugout, sticking its tongue out at George Steinbrenner, making a pest of himself.
"Ever work the other side of the room?" Steinbrenner asks, trying to watch his players who are at bat.
The mascot responds by leaping off the roof and kissing another man full on the lips.
"Feel violated?" asks an onlooker, laughing.
Then the Phanatic dumps an entire bag of popcorn on someone near the concession stand.
All in a day's work.
Myron Talbert leans on the fence along the grass berm with his 4-year-old son, Shakwon Malik Talbert. The two are trying to get the attention of Phillies outfielder Jimmy Rollins, who is warming up before the sixth inning.
Their efforts work. Rollins comes over before the start of the inning and hands Shakwon Malik a baseball.
"I think he likes baseball a whole lot more now," says the elder Talbert, who had free tickets to the game.
After briefly greeting Rollins and getting a souvenir, Myron and Shakwon Malik both plop back down on the raised grass berm. The setting gives fans a different perspective in the outfield.
"A friend told me the tickets were located in the berm," Myron says. "I was like, "What's a berm?' But it's nice, a great way to see a game. There's lots of room for children to roam around. I think I'll definitely be back."
Philadelphia first baseman Ryan Howard is mobbed by dozens of fans seeking autographs.
"You're gonna have to get another pen. This one doesn't work," he tells one.
He's the last player on the field.
Before finally entering the clubhouse, he gives remaining fans a few more high fives.
"This is a great atmosphere," Howard says. "To have more than 8,000 people out here for a spring training game is amazing."
Custodian Grady Davis drags a large garbage bag as he zigzags through the aisles picking up cups.
Davis, 47, says he helped build the stadium by pouring concrete for the base.
"This is a beautiful day and a beautiful place," Davis says. "Now I just have to get down to Tropicana Field later on this year and watch the Devil Rays whup the Yankees. Now that would be sweet."
INAUGURAL DAY FIRSTS
FIRST BOO: 12:21 p.m. when the Yankees - who else? - stepped on the field.
FIRST PITCH: 1:11 p.m., a ball above the strike zone thrown by Phillies starter Vicente Padilla.
FIRST STRIKEOUT: 1:19 p.m. by Padilla, in the first inning.
FIRST HIT: 1:28 p.m., by Phillies outfielder Marlon Byrd, a single.
FIRST RUN: 1:32 p.m. by Byrd, on a sacrifice fly by Jim Thome.
FIRST HOME RUN: 1:58 p.m. by Phillies' infielder Jimmy Rollins, a two-run shot in the third inning.
BY THE NUMBERS
2: Big-time Yankees stars who did not play, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter.
10: Number of hits by the Phillies.
31: Wait in minutes to get from Sunset Point to Drew Street on U.S. 19 before the game.
65: Media credentials requested by media from New York and Japan.