"You'd sit there feeling like you needed to call the suicide hotline," says Jacklin Rhoads.
Jacklin? Is that ... a woman? Take a long look around as Citizens Bank Park's homey red bricks and towering light stanchions arise from the asphalt. Even now, four hours before game time, everywhere you look, something never seen before at ball games in Philly: females in droves. Queuing up for standing-room-only tickets, playing Beanbag Toss and Beer Pong amid a daily tailgating festival that used to materialize only on NFL Sundays. Teenage girls who don't hang at the mall anymore: They hang at CBP. Women in their 20s, 30s and 40s who don't have Girls Night Out or Happy Hour at bars or restaurants: They throw down light beer in the CBP parking lot, hard lemonades in the concourses, low-fat wraps and water ices on Ashburn Alley. They eyeball Cliff and Chase and Cole. The Phillies blew up San Quentin. They built Friday night on the boardwalk at the Jersey Shore.
And the boardwalk has wheels. The Red Army, beyond its 200-plus straight home sellouts, has helped set attendance records in Pittsburgh and Washington, and poor Cliff, when he leaves the dugout in stadiums as far away as Cincinnati and Miami to take a leak and hears a sudden roar, can't be sure if something good or evil just happened to his team.
He parks his car. He enters the place where men and women will adore his eight-foot bunts and thrust up signs proclaiming PHAMLEE REUNION! and CLIFFMAS IN PHILLY because he's the one who opened up the pearly gates and let a whole city in ... except for those certain guys. Does Cliff get it, though? Does he know this is heaven?
Wrong guy to ask about metaphysics. "It's been great," he says. But not heaven? "It's been nothing but positive. They're superfans, really. I've seen what they can do to players who left here—they can be pretty cutthroat fans. But they pack the place every night and they bring it every night, so you have to respect that." Off he goes. In a hurry.
The stadium begins to fill. Bartenders all over the city begin clicking on the pregame show. October's in the air, but how can that be different in a place where every night for six months has felt like October?
"October?" says Mark Precheur, gazing at the TV above the bar at P.O.P.E. "That's when the whole city will start inhaling and exhaling together."
Perfect. Breathe in right now. Breathe out right now. Like Cliff on the hill, shed yesterday and tomorrow, and even the biggest test of heaven, the last two weeks of sloppy anticlimax. Three hundred years after William Penn, the Holy Experiment finally begins.