Saturday, June 30, 2007

Mets Fans Find Their Usual Seats in Philadelphia

By GEORGE VECSEY
Sports of The Times
June 30, 2007

Philadelphia

Just as killer bees sting their way upward from Brazil and alien seaweed clogs the waterways of North America, so Mets fans swarm their way to Philadelphia.

The infestation began yesterday near Exit 7 on the New Jersey Turnpike, when a red Volvo station wagon with a tattered Mets bumper sticker and New York plates blasted along the outside lane. Four young men in dark-blue T-shirts spied my New York plates and raised their fists in a salute of presumed unity, before the wagon surged out of sight, headed toward the Walt Whitman Bridge.

This excursion by the Noo Yawkers has been going on since the Mets joined the league in 1962. A few thousand interlopers can make themselves heard even amid Phillies fans, who are not exactly pushovers.

Yesterday, the red-shirted Phillies fans outnumbered the blue-clad Mets marauders as family types took advantage of a rare day game, a rescheduled rainout played before the night game.

The Mets fans never did take over the ballpark because the Phillies kept it close before losing, 6-5. Most fans stuck around for the fireworks after the night game, when the Phillies made a couple of superb catches but lost, 5-2.

Billy Wagner struck out the side in the ninth inning of the first game, serenaded by boos from fans who remember he left after pitching two years here. Wagner said the Phillies were well aware of the invasion by Mets fans.



“It gets under your skin, but what are you going to do, quit?” Wagner said with a shrug, speaking as a former Phillie.

Mets fans become more noticeable here when the park is relatively empty and the Mets are winning. Yesterday’s mood was benign because of the number of families, including four members of the Bickford family from Fort Edward, N.Y., all of them wearing bright blue shirts with Wright, Reyes and Beltrán on the backs.

Phillies fans have their defenses up. “We try to keep them in their place,” said Eric Bucci of Telford, Pa., who was wearing a Lenny Dykstra T-shirt, perhaps to rub in one of the worst trades in Mets history. Bucci and his adult daughter, Erica, said they try to improve Mets fans’ diction and baseball logic but with limited success. “Sad,” Erica said tersely about the proliferation.

It could be worse. The American soccer team almost always faces a majority of Mexican fans when the two national teams meet in the United States and the baseball Yankees have traditionally brought out their fans all over the map.

“I was so used to it when the Yankees would go to Camden Yards and other places,” said Willie Randolph, in his third year as the Mets’ manager. “You hear a nice little buzz here, too. I worry sometimes about Mets fans getting beat up.”

For that matter, visiting fans do not display their team’s colors too freely in the crabby confines of Shea Stadium. But Mets fans are everywhere.

“It’s the same thing in Atlanta,” Bud Harrelson, the shortstop on the Mets’ 1969 championship team, now running the Long Island Ducks, an independent team in Suffolk County, said in a recent phone interview.

“There are a lot of New York transplants everywhere,” Harrelson added, recalling how he went over to the Phillies in 1978 but apparently did not endear himself. On opening day of 1979, the Phillies fans booed him when he was introduced. Then again, fans around here have a reputation for booing the Easter Bunny.

It has not been easy being a Phillies fan. Last night’s loss was the 9,994th in the club’s tragicomic existence — the highest number of losses for any team in American history. One of the few teams the Phillies have beaten consistently is the Mets — 407 times in 767 games.

Three of those losses came in mid-September of 1986, with many thousands of Met fans on hand.

“For all you fans who came down from New York to see the Mets clinch the National League Eastern Division, you’ll have to wait a few days,” the public address announcer at Veterans Stadium said with a bit of a verbal sneer, drawing boos from the Mets fans.

Now ensconced in a modern, compact home-run factory, Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies’ management took another gibe at the Mets. In a pregame video homage to the Rocky movies, the team’s obstreperous mascot, the Phanatic, staged a prize fight with a loutish boxer wearing a Mets cap. As they squared off, the Phanatic pointed to a phantom airplane in the sky and then sucker punched the hapless Met.



Despite the irritations, the two teams never quite developed a real rivalry. The Yanks and Red Sox this ain’t. In the early years, the Mets had special relationships with the two former New York teams, the Giants and Dodgers. The Mets beat the Cubs in 1969 and managed to compete with the Cardinals in the mid-’80s, and more recently the Mets have been trying to emulate the Braves.

Philadelphia is more or less there, just down the Turnpike, a convenient place to watch the Mets and maybe even annoy the local fans, just by showing up.

E-mail: geovec@nytimes.com

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