PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The wolfman mask is retired. Even without a costume, one of the founding fathers of the Wolf Pack — a band of Philadelphia Phillies fans that once commandeered a section of cheap seats at the Vet — still roots for his favorite team from a considerable distance.
Patrick Wood slipped a bartender “a Euro or two” inside a raucous rugby Irish pub in Vienna around 11 p.m. local time, and soon one TV was flipped to a Phillies playoff game. The longer Wood and a buddy stuck around to watch, the more the beer drinkers and rugby fanatics that stayed deep into the night became absorbed by Phillies baseball.
Kind of like back home.
Wood, his brothers and cousins once formed one of Philly’s favorite fan clubs, howling, dancing, pumping their arms from section 739 — in 2023 jargon, about a Schwarbomb and a half from the plate — at the cold, concrete cookie cutter known as Veterans Stadium. The seasons were lean in Philly around the turn of the century — consider, a nondescript lefty named Randy Wolf was their conquering hero — and attendance was sparse.
“Like an Eastern European town stadium prior the end of the Cold War,” Wood said.
The October nights in South Philadelphia these days are more like an endless Mardi Gras. Only it’s the kind of rave thrown inside a construction zone. It’s loud. Like standing next to a jackhammer loud. Angus Young guitar solo loud.
“AC/DC concert level,” Phillies shortstop Trea Turner said.
Phillies manager Rob Thomson said a rival coach told him last season that a playoff game in Philly was “four hours of hell.” Backed by packed houses at Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies have sent teams on a figurative highway to one with six wins at home this postseason. That stands as an unfortunate harbinger for Arizona to overcome with its season on the line Monday in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series.
“Look, we could be playing on the moon. Everybody is talking about coming into this environment,” Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said, “and I don’t care.”
Maybe so, but bedlam created by 45,000 fans can shift momentum — that mythical, intangible force that can turn an inning, a game, a series, permanently toward one side — has worked pretty well for the Phillies the last two Octobers.
The Phillies win on a heavy dose of both power at the plate and of positivity.
Fans will say they saved a slumping Turner’s season in August with a manufactured standing ovation for each at bat for the $300 million slugger. Don’t forget last season, when third baseman Alec Bohm was caught muttering a profanity about how much he hated “this place” after making three errors in a game. Bohm owned up to his remarks with a sincere apology and was rewarded with a standing ovation the next night in his first at bat.
Oh, Phillies games weren’t always this euphoric. Certainly not Philly sports fans. But the days of the same stale jokes about Santa Claus and snowballs have become as extinct as the Vet.
Wood was 27 and single when he started the Wolf Pack. He’s now 52, married, has seven kids and had a blast with his family this season at Phillies games. He still lives nearby, and he’s seen the evolution in Philly fandom sparked by a homey ballpark that once sold out 257 straight games, and a string of stars from Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins through Kyle Schwarber and Bryce Harper that kept towel-waving fans on their feet over 39 postseason games.
“Total strangers are going to slap you high-fives when the Phillies do something,” Wood said from Austria, where he tagged along with a friend on a business trip. “When there’s a dinger, the entire stadium erupts.”
Only strangers erupted at the Vet, Wood joked: “He’d knock your knees out from behind you and grab your beer on the way down.”
So what’s the difference between Philly fans and all the rest around baseball? There’s the simple answer, the Phillies are winning.
But there’s a palpable buzz at the ballpark from the time the gates open. Maybe because, unlike some stadiums, the Phillies are playing in front of only Philly fans. One Arizona TV affiliate after Game 2 threw live to a reporter where he “caught up with some D-Backs fans,” only for him to laughingly admit, “No, we found no D-Backs fans! Not one! We were here for almost two hours!” Prices were then so low in Arizona that Phillies fans were able to buy tickets on the cheap, less than $20 bucks a seat on the secondary market, and help fill Chase Field, compared to $400 on the low end for a standing room ticket for Game 6.
“Whenever you’re able to have fans travel with you on the road and be here for you in these spots, it’s huge,” Harper said. “Just kind of gives you motivation and the people behind you and knowing that you have Philadelphia fans here with you.”
The Diamondbacks were so concerned about the atmosphere they blasted artificial noise — much like what an NFL team would do ahead of a hostile road game — inside an otherwise empty Chase Field during a scrimmage to prepare them for Philly fans.
Arizona lost Games 1 and 2. Merrill Kelly, the Game 6 starter, was roasted after saying Phillies fans could not possibly be any louder than the ones he heard cheering for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. He then gave up three solo homers in Game 2 and heard “Merr-ill! Merr-ill!” chants before later insisting his comments were taken out of context.
“That poor kid last night, he never heard anything like that,” 1993 NL champion outfielder Milt Thompson said. “He never heard anything like those fans chanting ‘Merr-ill! Merr-ill!‘”
Now a club ambassador, Thomson said Phillies fans were “never this rowdy, this crazy” even during the halcyon days of the 1993 team.
How rowdy? How crazy?
The Philadelphia Inquirer set up a microphone and a decibel meter at a playoff game against the Atlanta Braves and recorded one measurement at 112 decibels, the equivalent of standing next to a jackhammer. They hit that mark again when Nick Castellanos hit his second homer of the game.
When’s earplug night on the promotional schedule?
Phillies fans — more noxious toward the visitors and obnoxiously loud for Harper and the home team — are hooked on one of the more beloved teams in Philly sports history. Tai Verdes and Calum Scott never got as much ink in music publications as they have from baseball writers. Verdes’ “A-O-K” has become a singalong staple when Bryson Stott comes to the plate. “ Dancing On My Own” is the postseason victory anthem that fans sing — the Inquirer reported it could be heard at least a mile away from the ballpark — and pushed Scott’s version past 1 billion streams on Spotify.
The Phillies celebrate postseason series wins at a bar inside the sports complex. Schwarber rides a mechanical bull. Castellanos and his young son, Liam, bob their heads and sing from the upper level to wild applause from the thrilled, tipsy fans below. Thomson raises a beer bottle in appreciation of the late-night turnout.
Maybe that’s the secret ingredient. The Phillies make their fans feel like they are one of them. Harper has never shied from gushing over his love of the city and the fans. It’s easy to cheer — and forgive the mistakes — when the team wants to bring the fans into the success with them.
“There’s nothing like coming into the Bank and playing in front of these fans,” Harper said. “Blue collar mentality, tough, fighting every single day. I get chills, man. I get so fired up. Man, I love this place.”
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