New season, new Phillies

The Phanatic excitedly welcomed the new season at XFINITY! Live with a watch party for the team’s first away game in Cincinnati.

Photo by Miles Kennedy provided by the Philadelphia Phillies

It was nearly 15 minutes before the first pitch of the 2016 Phillies season at XFINITY! Live, 1100 Pattison Ave., when the Phanatic stomped in and squared up to the giant, 32-foot television screen as if to say ‘Did I miss it?!’ He hadn’t, and he was welcomed with a wave of applause by the fans who decided to take in the Cincinnati Reds’ hosting of the Phils’ first loss of the season.

Marking an official partnership between the Philadelphia Phillies and the XFINITY!, a free watch party took place on Monday to welcome in the season and celebrate baseball days’ return.

Notable Phillies alums were on hand to spread cheer and check in with the team’s Director of Public Affairs, Scott Palmer: Tommy Greene, Milt Thompson, and Gary Matthews.

Matthews, who played for the Phils from 1981 to ’83, color-commentated from 2007 to ’13, and is more commonly referred to as Sarge, offered commentary on the upcoming season between eagerly watching offerings thrown by starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson.

“It feels good but it’s imperative for me that they get off to a good start. It’s such a young ball club,” he said, hinting at a clear theme that will characterize the season: youth and growth. “You don’t have to sweep, but taking two out of three would really go a long way into having a good season and the teams that you should beat, those are the teams you’ve got to beat.”

His son, Gary Matthews Jr., was a professional ballplayer, too, and earned All-Star status as a Texas Ranger in ’06.

“He called me the other day to say ‘I’m just calling you for our regular tradition,’” the proud father said with a smile. “You have butterflies at this time every year. But when you lose 99 games [as the Phils did last year], you have nowhere to go but up.”

He echoed the excitement of early April and the beginning of baseball’s simple appeals: good weather, good times, and good games.

Matthews kept it honest with his expectations for the year.

“I definitely want to see [Maikel] Franco have a good year. I would love to see Carlos Ruiz come back and have a really good year. And Ryan Howard, I’d like for Ryan to have a good year; he’s done a lot for the organization when they were winners,” he explained. “No one likes to be on the bottom of the pack, so to speak, and not being able to play the way they you should, it becomes embarrassing. The other thing is Phillies fans are great, but they have no sympathy for professional athletes that don’t perform well.”

At the Great American Ball Park, with 43,683 fans in attendance, the Phils collected their first “L” with a brutal eighth inning, losing a 2-1 lead they’d held since the second inning.

Does Matthews think that Phillies fans can take aim at new management leading this young club?

“It’s not on the coaches. It’s the guys that are playing, those are the guys [to be held accountable],” he said, when asked about new General Manager Matt Klentak and new Manager Pete Mackanin. “Coach ain’t takin the bat up there, he’s not on the mound pitching. Like I told the minor leaguers when I addressed them, the only thing better than hits is more hits.”

“The Phillies go all out to try to reel the fans in for the excitement,” Joann Milorey, a Packer Park resident who’s been working for the Phillies for 17 years in accounts payable and cost management, said. “It’s an exciting year because it’s all new players, and we’re hopeful for a good future and good years to come with our new team,” she said, affirming that the Phillies organization is like “a big family.”

This opening day party marks a new partnership, and Anthony Dagrosa, the director of marketing for XFINITY! Live, said “it just made sense” and that they have aligned goals – creating great experiences and satisfying fans. “Today’s really the kickoff to the season and our partnership – this is a big event, we’re starting the Phillies season, starting spring – let’s get going.” He said it “says a lot about the town” that nearly 1,000 fans filed through on a Monday afternoon.

They’re championing the cooking of Top Chef contestant Jason Chichonski, at 1100 Social, which opened last fall, with Mexican and Asian fusion small plates. But there’s also several other pubs and bars for hanging after games. They’re incentivizing with happy hours immediately following the last out for an hour of half-price appetizers and $3 select drafts. They’re also introducing post-game parties at 1100 Social with a model similar to the watch party: ticket giveaways, famous Phillies, and signed memorabilia. The next one falls on April 17, a Sunday afternoon game against the Washington Naitonals.

Mike Harris, the Phillies’ director of marketing, spoke of the home games like “putting on 81 Broadway shows a year but it’s different every time.” This week, though, he’s well aware that Phillies fans are hungry for good news with some wins. But “there’s something very invigorating and energizing about the start of the baseball season.”

Young guys, he said, “will be key building blocks”: 24-year-old centerfielder Obudel Herrera; 23-year-old third baseman Franco; 22-year-old pitcher Aaron Nola; and 25-year-old pitcher, Jerad Eickhoff.

Franco answered a few questions for SPR, like how pumped is he to be on board?

“I am very excited for the season and to be playing games in front of the fans in Philly again. As a team, we had a strong spring and we know we can play with the same energy during the season. There is a lot of excitement in the clubhouse,” he said. How about new management? “It has been great, everyone is on the same page with what has to be done. The players, Pete, and the front office are all working together to make the team better any way we can.”

Passyunk Square resident Suzanne Janczewski had her son with her on Monday, a boy named after legendary Phillies third baseman Michael Jack Schmidt. The three-year-old nodded and smiled when asked if he was excited for opening day. Sean, a kindergartener friend of Michael’s, said his favorite Philly is Herrera “because he gave me a ball.”

Harris believes “it’s an exiting time to be a Phillies fan again, it’s going to require some patience,” but the front office is very hopeful it and the team will be “bringing another parade back to the city.” He got emotional recounting the last pitch in October 2008, sitting between his wife and his father.

“It’s something I’ll never forget, that’s something that motivates us all. We want to give the next generation a glimpse of what we had [during the championship parade] on October 31, 2008.” SPR

Contact Staff Writer Bill Chenevert at or ext. 117.

Hopeful fans, eager to see the youthful new Phillies in action, watched from the Phils’ partner bar across Pattison Avenue from Citizens Bank Park.

Photo by Miles Kennedy