Phillies fans pumped up

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - October 9, 2008 "You gotta say, 'Go Phillies!"' Kate Widman said before distributing them to eager passers-by near City Hall. "C'mon, louder!"

It's been 15 long years since the Philadelphia Phillies have gone this far in the postseason, and fans are pumped. As the team opens the National League Championship Series with the L.A. Dodgers on Thursday, the brotherly love is palpable - even some city buses are cheering, their digital route signs blinking "Go Phillies!"

"They deserve it," said John Strollo, 36, of South Philadelphia. "They play as a team."

Strollo, already in a Phillies T-shirt and cap, got his free rally towel and "Phillies Phan" sign in a downtown promotion by stadium sponsor Citizens Bank.

But the real excitement came with the appearance of the team's beloved mascot, the Phillie Phanatic. The giant green fuzzball posed for pictures, danced with strangers and played in traffic, drawing honks and cheers from passing drivers.

Strollo, a lifelong fan, said he's glad the city has a team to be proud of.

"It's a relief," Strollo said. His prediction for the best-of-seven series? The Phillies in six.

Tourism officials are excited for the matchup, too. The playoffs could generate up to $20 million in visitor spending and direct municipal tax revenues, according to the city Commerce Department and Philadelphia Sports Congress.

It's also good for the city's spirit. Since the Phillies lost the World Series to Toronto in 1993, fans have endured some ugly milestones.

The franchise marked its 10,000th loss last summer, becoming the first team in American professional sports to lose that many games. And 2008 marks the 25th year that Philadelphia has gone without a major sport championship; the 76ers brought home the last title in 1983.

The Phillies have won just one World Series championship in 126 years, in 1980.

Yet hope springs eternal. Back across from City Hall, friends Dave Tierney and Anthony DiCesare, both 22 and from the Roxborough neighborhood, got their towels and signs. They said they would be watching the game on TV because tickets were too expensive and sold out too fast.

"If they make it to the World Series," Tierney said, "I'll be there."

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