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They Once Pelted Santa Claus with Snowballs. But Philly Fans Have Changed.

SportThey Once Pelted Santa Claus with Snowballs. But Philly Fans Have Changed.

By Andy McCullough, Chad Jennings and Stephen J. Nesbitt

PHILADELPHIA — In the parking lots outside Citizens Bank Park, in the hours before the Phillies hosted the first game of the National League Championship Series, the people of the Delaware Valley communed. They tossed footballs as helicopters buzzed overhead. They chomped hoagies from Primo’s and Wawa. They sipped Bud Light and Miller Light, Coors Light and Coors Banquet, Yuengling and also Yuengling. The vibe felt more subdued than unhinged, a dynamic that would change as the first pitch drew closer.

“As soon as you enter the building, it’s like a switch goes off,” said Chris Edge, a 42-year-old from Marlton, N.J. “You hear it. You feel it. Everybody knows the assignment, at that point. Bring your energy. Bring your positivity.”

The switch flipped around 7:39 p.m. on Monday, as public-address announcer Dan Baker welcomed the Arizona Diamondbacks to a hail of boos. The noise only heightened as the speaker system blared Zombie Nation’s “Kernkraft 400.” It stayed lit as Kyle Schwarber and then Bryce Harper homered in the first inning of a 5-3 victory. And it never really stopped. Energy has long been a hallmark of the fan experience in Philadelphia.

Positivity is more of a newfangled concept.

This next paragraph will infuriate almost every Philadelphian who reads it. For decades, the city’s fans were defined by bad behavior, isolated incidents that became a collective blight on the populace. Philly fans, the shorthand went, were not just vicious and vulgar — they were dangerous. They pelted Santa Claus with snowballs. They chucked batteries at St. Louis Cardinals outfielder J.D. Drew. They cheered the injury of Dallas Cowboys wideout Michael Irvin. They booed Mike Schmidt and Allen Iverson and Donovan McNabb. They comported themselves with such rowdiness that Veterans Stadium, the former home of the Phillies and Eagles, featured a holding cell with a judge available to sentence unruly patrons.

But this paragraph will relieve almost every Philadelphian who has not yet chucked their phone into a wall. That reputation is changing, according to interviews with radio hosts, rock stars and regular folks, who described the emergence of a fanbase enlivened by the possibility of success rather than embittered by the inevitability of failure. These are kinder, gentler Philly fans – as far as that goes. “Don’t get it twisted out here,” said Eric Fink, a 34-year-old from Northeast Philadelphia. “We’re still the same crazy people. We’re just doing this a little bit differently.”

“My first comment on this piece is: it’s about damn time,” said Jack Fritz, a producer for local sports radio juggernaut 94.1 WIP. “It’s about damn time this whole thing got turned around.”

The result has been ravenous crowds at Citizens Bank Park and a rapturous embrace of a Phillies team that reached the World Series last season and is knocking on the door of another appearance this month. The Phillies have created a home-field advantage significant enough that opponents must plan for it. Before the NLCS, the Diamondbacks pumped artificial jeering during a workout at Chase Field. “The crowd noise at Chase was a little more treble than bass,” shrugged Zac Gallen, a south Jersey native and Arizona’s Game 1 starter. There was no way to replicate the symbiosis between this club and these people. “They love the crowd,” explained Diamondbacks first baseman Christian Walker, who grew up in the Montgomery County suburb of Norristown. “And the crowd loves them.”

Or, as outfielder Nick Castellanos put it in an on-field interview after the Phillies defeated the Braves: “I f— with Philly.”

The mutual admiration figures to be on display for as long as the Phillies keep winning this October. Larry Bowa signed with the Phillies in 1965. He won a World Series here in 1980. He managed the team for several years in the 2000s. His baseball life took him across the country and back. He insisted he had never seen a scene like this one.

“I’ve been with the Yankees when they played Boston,” Bowa said. “I’ve been with the Cubs when they played St. Louis. I’ve been with San Francisco when they played the Dodgers. Nothing compares to this. It’s off the charts.”



A Phillies fan receiving his red rally towel before Game 2. (Sarah Stier / Getty Images)

Thousands of red rally towels whipped in the air after Trea Turner’s third-inning double splashed into the outfield grass. Turner zipped into second with the speed and style that enticed owner John Middleton to extend the shortstop an 11-year, $300 million contract this past winter. Before the season, the Phillies positioned Turner as the crucial addition for another postseason push. As the year unfolded, Turner came to symbolize something larger about the club’s connection to its fans.

The first four months of Turner’s tenure did not go well. After a hitless night in Miami on Aug. 3, Turner was carting around a .673 OPS, a millstone almost as heavy as his contract. He interrupted a postgame session in the batting cage to speak with reporters. “Obviously,” Turner told them, “I’m the reason why we lost that game.” Turner stayed in the cage past midnight. By then, the video of his comments had circulated through social media.

The ensuing reaction offered a rejoinder to those still fixated on the incidents of the past, the ones that cemented the national reputation of the Philadelphia fan. A recitation of those moments elicits groans from the locals.

Throwing snowballs at Santa in 1968?

“That was the albatross around our neck that we could never get rid of,” said Glen Macnow, a longtime host on WIP. “We became the drunk, surly uncle that nobody wanted to be around. We could not escape it.”

Throwing batteries at Drew, who had spurned the Phillies in the 1997 draft, at a game in 1999?

“There were 40,000 people at the J.D. Drew game,” Macnow said. “Two batteries came down. That’s one battery per 20,000 fans.”

Cheering only a few months later when Irvin, a star for the hated Cowboys, suffered a career-ending spinal injury?

“Nobody knew initially how badly he was hurt,” Macnow said.

The endless repetition of these moments inspires defensiveness. When Braves fans hurled bottles onto the field during the National League Division Series, Phillies fans were quick to notice. “The first text I got,” said Devon Davis, a 36-year-old from Medford, N.J., “was like, ‘This is hilarious. I can’t wait for them to blame this on the Phillies crowd.’” (The Athletic invited similar haranguing after a recent story referenced the old tropes: snowballs and Santa, Drew and the batteries. “You might not be too far off with the battery one, because when I read your article, I really wish I had a battery to throw at all three of you guys,” said Kyle Pagan, a writer for the website Crossing Broad.)

“We would hear the stories about how everybody used to be,” Davis said. “To us, it was like a joke. Because we weren’t there for that.”

But they were there in April of last year, when third baseman Alec Bohm committed a pair of throwing errors in a game against the Mets. When Bohm completed a routine play later in the evening, the crowd responded with sarcastic cheering. The television cameras captured the displeasure of Bohm, a former first-round pick who had struggled in the majors. “I f—ing hate this place,” Bohm grumbled.

What happened next helps explain the synergy between the players and their partisans. Bohm acknowledged his frustration. “I said it,” he explained after the game. “Do I mean it? No.” The candor went a long way. A day later, Bohm received a different sort of ovation. The fans rose up to applaud his first at-bat.

“He just owned it,” Fink said. “The next day, the Phillies fans just came out and gave him a standing ovation, like, ‘Hell yeah.’ Just own it. Hey, there are some days that being here pisses us off, too.”


Fans taking photos with Citizens Bank Park’s version of the Liberty Bell before NLCS Game 1. (AP Photo / Matt Rourke)

So as Turner stumbled through his mid-season malaise, a reprise came to mind. After that game in Miami, a former sports writer named Mitch Rupert suggested the fans should support Turner as they did Bohm. “Pick the guy up,” Rupert wrote on X, “who knows how it might help.” Fritz, a 29-year-old from West Chester who produces WIP’s afternoon show, joined the chorus the next morning. Cheeks still ruddy after a four-mile run, he pulled out his phone and recorded a video exhorting fans to stand up for Turner.

“It can’t hurt,” Fritz says. “And what if it does work? And what if he goes out — it’s a good moment for the ballpark, a good moment for the city, you see the crowd rise up — and it turns into a little bit of a moment?”

The idea caught on. And so, when Turner came to the plate in the second inning that evening, the crowd rose to greet him. Castellanos waved a towel from the bench. The support touched Turner. It also may have ignited him. He hit .337 with 16 homers and 14 doubles in the 48 games after the ovation. He batted .500 in his first six postseason games as a Phillie, a stark contrast to his inglorious October history. “I don’t think I’d have it any other way than how it’s turned out,” Turner said after Game 4 against Atlanta.

Fritz was working the pregame show that afternoon when a man approached and introduced himself. Elliott Avent had coached Turner at North Carolina State. He wanted to thank Fritz, who, as Avent later put it, “rallied an incomparable sports city” around his former player.

“I was like, ‘Dude, you’re the head coach at NC State!’” Fritz said. “This whole thing has been frickin’ wild.”

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

The Phillies have owned October. They have that look again, but this feels different


Adam Granduciel harbored little affection for football when he moved from Massachusetts to Philadelphia in 2003. He found an apartment on Third Street and South Street in Society Hill, next door to a bar called O’Neals Pub. It did not take long for Granduciel to notice how the mood for each week depended on how the Eagles fared. He sensed the city was “moving in time with how their sports teams were doing,” he said.

“It’s football season: It’s getting cold, it’s getting rainy, it’s getting slushy,” Granduciel said. “And if the Eagles won on Sunday, then everyone was in the best mood, despite what we’re dealing with Monday morning.”

In time, while Granduciel was founding the Grammy-winning band The War on Drugs, he joined the city-wide frenzy. He carried his cordless phone to O’Neals so folks could reach him as he watched on Sundays. He traded high-fives on the El train on victorious Mondays. “It’s classic, but it just kind of brings you together with your neighbors and everything,” Granduciel said.


Dave Hartley, left, Adam Granduciel, center, and Charlie Hall, right, of The War on Drugs perform during 2015’s Radio 104.5 Summer Block Party in Philadelphia. (Owen Sweeney / Invision / AP)

Citizens Bank Park resides in the shadow of Lincoln Financial Field, the home of the Eagles. The football team still holds supremacy over the city’s sporting psyche. When the Eagles won their first Super Bowl in 2018 something shifted within the fanbase, several locals insisted. “Ever since then, I think that edge has kind of been taken off of it,” Fritz said. If the Birds could win it all, the thinking went, anything was possible. “I think people in this town,” Macnow said, “began to think: ‘It’s not inevitable that our teams are going to crush our hearts. It doesn’t have to be that way, so we don’t have to go to the stadium every night expecting the worst.’ That’s a huge change.”

The city’s devotion to the gridiron became apparent in Monday’s second inning. A pair of burly brothers appeared on the massive video screen above left field. It was Eagles center Jason Kelce and his brother, Travis, the Kansas City Chiefs tight end and likely future subject of a devastating torch song. The crowd went wild as Jason nursed his beer and Travis beamed. “I don’t think you can (overstate) how special this Eagles team is for the city,” said Charlie Hall, the drummer for The War on Drugs who released a Christmas album last year with Kelce and several Eagles linemen.


The Kelce brothers during Game 1. (Elsa / Getty Images)

Granduciel left Philadelphia for Los Angeles in 2016. One of his first purchases upon landing in California was an Eagles license plate frame for his car. When the Eagles played the Rams at SoFi Stadium earlier this month, Graduciel joined the legions of travelers in cargo shorts and Brian Dawkins jerseys. “It felt like a home game,” he said. On his way out of the stadium after the victory, Granduciel kept recording videos of Eagles fans hugging and chanting.

“It’s like a special little club,” Granduciel said. “You know?”


As the Phillies filtered onto the field on Monday afternoon, Eddie Romani stood before a pair of Serato turntables and a laptop tucked behind the home plate netting. Romani, also known as DJ N9ne, was in charge of the pregame ambience. The Phillies only introduced DJs to their ballpark experience a year ago. The average attendance jumped from 28,459 in 2022 to 38,157 this season.

“It’s been easy, because the stadium’s been full almost every game,” Romani said. “It’s not much work for me to get everyone entertained, when everybody here’s already ready for it, anyways.”

Romani started spinning before batting practice. He segued from Gorillaz into Bad Bunny as Turner, Bohm and the rest of the infielders scooped grounders. Romani keeps track of how the players react as he works. “You get tuned in on what they all like – without having a conversation with them,” he said. Romani packed up his gear as the game drew closer. But his evening was not over. He rode the elevator to his booth in section 210, down the right-field line, where he was tasked with keeping the crowd enlivened. The fans did not really require much encouragement.

“They’re here to party, man,” said Mark DiNardo, the team’s director of broadcasting and video services. “They’re here to have a good time.”

Added Fink, “We want a chance to party. And there’s one way we can do that — and that’s by winning.”


Phillies fans congregated before Game 1 of the NLCS. (Sarah Stier / Getty Images)

Early in Monday’s game, the sparks came from the bats of the Phillies. Schwarber demolished Gallen’s first pitch. Harper went yard two batters later. After Castellanos homered in the second, the ballpark elongated the syllables of Gallen’s name in a schoolyard taunt.

“Gal-len . . .”

“Gal-len . . .”

“Gal-len . . .”

The braying continued, intermittently, until Gallen departed after the fifth. The crowd only paused to holler the chorus of second baseman Bryson Stott’s walkup song, “A-O-K” by Tai Verdes, a nightly ritual. “You’ve got this stadium full of jabronis all singing, ‘It’s gonna be a-okay,’” Hall said. “It’s a beautiful thing.”

The atmosphere tensed, ever so slightly, after closer Craig Kimbrel walked a batter in the ninth. The tension released as Bohm and Stott turned a game-ending double play. The two-fer left the fans near Romani’s booth leaping and screaming, pumping fists and pounding backs. Many grabbed their phones to record themselves singing along to the team’s anthem, Calum Scott’s cover of “Dancing On My Own.” They belted the lyrics as they weaved out of the ballpark.

They had brought the energy. Only seven victories separated the Phillies from a championship. Of that, they could be positive.

(Top photo of Phillies fans and the Phanatic during Game 1: Photo by Elsa / Getty Images)


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