For Phillies fans, new memories and a ‘devastating’ ending

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If you want certainty in life, buy an insurance policy, not tickets to a ballgame. 

The Phillies home opener on Friday proved to be a study in unexpected extremes. The team’s hitters looked lifeless for most of their match-up against the Washington Nationals, and then nearly pulled off a thrilling ninth inning comeback; unrelenting wind gusts made the April afternoon feel more like winter than spring; and religious demonstrators argued with fans while they waited in long lines to get into  Citizens Bank Park. 

In other words, it was one of those days. But none of that could keep people from walking around the ballpark with ear-to-ear grins on their faces. Diehards who’d had this day circled on their calendars for months were practically giddy with excitement, while casual fans who were taking in their first home opener were just happy to take a break from a world filled with war and uncertainty and focus on the simple things — hot dogs and popcorn and the sound of a bat hitting a ball — for a few hours.  

“This is very important to me,” said Donald Auerbach, 76, as he studied team artifacts on display in the warm confines of the Hall of Fame Club.  

“How can I put it? I need a 162-game season, with each game going on for several hours,” said the longtime Cherry Hill, N.J., resident. “It’s called the ultimate time killer. But it’s also a family tradition.” 

Out on the windswept concourses of the 300-level, Felicia Brabec, 43, and her children Alex, 10, and Vivian, 7, huddled together as they waited in line to buy snacks. They bought tickets to the game on a whim as part of their spring break trip to Philadelphia. 

“We’re from Michigan, so we’re used to the cold,” Felicia said. “We visited Independence Hall and got to see the 76ers last night, so this is perfect. We’re having a great time.”

The Brabecs looked plenty happy, but they probably weren’t having as much fun as Jill Anderson, who couldn’t stop laughing as she stood near a Ferris wheel that was perched outside the ballpark as part of a handful of pregame festivities. 

Anderson, 39, was filming her husband, Brud Anderson, and their friend Kimmy Love as the two hooted and hollered from inside one of the Ferris wheel’s passenger cars. 

They’ve been attending home openers together since 2010, and always draw attention; Brud, a manager in an independent wrestling league who is also running for mayor of Morrisville Borough, was decked in a feathery white coat that some passersby asked to try on.

“We always look forward to coming here,” Jill Anderson said. “The countdown is always on, especially during the rough winter months.”

There some occasional grimaces to be found in lines that stretched down Pattison Avenue well after the game’s 3:05 p.m. start. A handful of fans hurled expletives at a nearby group of religious demonstrators who held up signs that read “Jesus or Hellfire!” and “Heaven or Hell?”

The demonstrators yelled right back, while several Philadelphia police officers kept an eye on the encounter.

Most, though, shrugged off the delay while they waited to go through metal detectors. “I’ve been waiting for about 15 minutes, but it’s OK,” said Douglas Mapp, 24, of Philadelphia. “This is like a national holiday.”

The crowds thinned out as the Nationals took a commanding 7-1 lead. But Ed O’Reilly and his son Nolan, 9, were having the time of their life in Ashburn Alley, as they talked baseball and peered down into the Nationals’ bullpen. 

“It’s our first opening day,” said O’Reilly, 46. “My wife bought me some tickets for Christmas, so I took my best buddy here. I was just telling him that we have to do this every year.”

The Phillies still had some life in them, too. The team got within shouting distance of the Nationals as the game wore on, and then shortstop Freddy Galvis launched a two-run homerun in the bottom of the 9th inning that brought the Phillies to within a run of evening the score. 

But the comeback fell short.

“It was devastating,” Jody Roberts, 24, a Philly native, said of the loss. “But it was a fun game.”

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