By Claire Smith, in the Inquirer
If Jimmy Rollins was joking, he's got a better deadpan delivery than Bob Newhart.
The veteran shortstop, who has logged enough time in these parts to vote in the election, paused the other day to assess whether the Phillies are making any inroads into the heart of Eagles country.
"I don't think they really care about baseball," Rollins said. "It's football season."
In Philadelphia, that's all that usually needs be said for someone to break out in an E-A-G-L-E-S chant - which is exactly what happened Monday, before the Phillies defeated the Houston Astros and Rollins offered his frank opinion.
Rollins, both resigned and ready for the inevitable, brushed off the "but you're in a wild-card race" rebuttal by reminding folks what happened a year ago.
"Shoot, I remember when we were sitting a game out, a half-game out, and we had 10,000 people here for the last day of the season," Rollins said.
Actually, the crowd for the finale was not nearly that bad. Still ...
Just for argument's sake, haven't the Phillies captured some attention around here because of a spirited MVP chase by home-run king Ryan Howard and a feverish wild-card race by the team? Or have generation after generation of Philly fans - indoctrinated into thinking this town isn't big enough for two passions - forgotten how or why their forefathers once stoked their pennant fever?
Well, Rollins, noted for his dry wit, was asked yesterday if he'd been joshing the day before. "Nope, dead serious," he said before a rainout spoiled the Phillies' chance to see whether a 16th victory in 24 games could move the needle on the interest meter all the more.
Jeff Conine, the recently acquired outfielder, doesn't sense a preoccupation among his teammates on whether it's the Eagles or Phillies winning the hearts and minds of fans. But the veteran Conine also knows that sometimes it takes more than just winning to seize the day.
Conine was on the Florida Marlins teams that won wild-card berths in 1997 and 2003. And even though those two teams went on to win world championships, "in Florida they never cared about the whole wild-card thing and didn't show up there," Conine conceded.
Here, the walk-up crowd of 10,000 that had Citizens Bank Park jumping on Labor Day suggested there might be room for a groundswell even as the Eagles limber up for their season opener.
Unfortunately, rainy Scottish moor dreariness has not allowed much chance to gauge whether the Phils can even move the ball against the Eagles, let alone sustain a drive into October.
Still, there is optimism. "With what Ryan is doing and what Chase Utley has done with his 35-game hit streak, I don't think there's any question they've helped rejuvenate interest," Hall of Fame broadcaster Harry Kalas said.
Those two, along with Cole Hamels, represent the new face and phase here, enough so, Kalas believes, to make a difference between this year's stretch drive and last year's.
Phillies coach Milt Thompson agreed. "They're making inroads, they really are," he said.
Having the big boomer chasing 60 home runs in the middle of the lineup can't hurt. "I'd pay to come see him," Thompson said.
And if thousands of others agree, and stumble into a wild-card race while searching for a home run chase? The P-H-I-L-L-I-E-S will take whatever you've got.