As an appetizer for the Phillies home opener Thursday, Susan Bendzyn and her friends put together a massive tailgate spread.
With grilled shrimp, clams, pulled pork, mac ‘n’ cheese, coleslaw, and baked beans — not to mention two grills, Bendzyn got to Citizens Bank Park in South Philly by 9:30 a.m. for the afternoon game.
She drove nearly an hour and a half from her Millville, New Jersey, home to get to the sold out opening game against the Atlanta Braves, but she said it’s well worth it for her team.
“It’s just so much opportunity, we have so much enthusiasm for this team,” she said, adding that she’s made the trip with her brother and dozens of her friends for 12 years, even on days of dismal weather that dissuaded less-devout fans.
“It’s special, you know, I was a little kid coming with my parents at that age,” said Dan Rudolph of South Philadelphia. He and his wife had their two daughters in tow.
“I never forgot and I hope she remembers,” Rudolph said, holding his 3-year-old daughter, Hannah.
Thursday makes the third opening-day game the Rudolphs have attended. They started the tradition when Hannah was born.
While Hannah may not quite understand the ins and outs of baseball, she’s already accustomed to the energy opening day brings.
“Harper! Harper! Harper!” piped Hannah, following the adults in the stadium as newly signed right fielder Bryce Harper took the field amid roars from the crowd.
In the sea of red jerseys, right fielder Bryce Harper’s name was ubiquitous, and many fans see him as the team’s ticket to the playoffs.
Stephen Murray said he’s waiting for his Harper jersey to arrive. In the meantime, he’s got the shirt.
Murray’s been a Phillies fan since 1972, and he remembers listening to games before they were broadcast on cable TV.
“Now I’m here on opening day, and I’m hoping that they’re going to go all the way this year,” he said.
This is actually Murray’s first opening-day game — and it was Harper’s signing that pushed him to get the ticket.
Harper recently signed a $330 million, 13-year contract. Murray is convinced that this means 2019 is the Phillies year. And if opening day is any indicator, it could be. The Phils trounced the Braves, 10-4.
John Fulton Myers couldn’t attend the game because of work, but he walked in Center City wearing his Phillies hat to demonstrate support.
“I think we’re definitely playoff bound. I know it’s very early in the season, but I have faith in my Philadelphia teams,” said Myers.