Connect The Dots... The Sound Of Silence

"If you build it they will come," may have worked in the cornfields of Iowa, but it is not playing so well in the cities of Pittsburgh, Detroit, Milwaukee and even Houston. The reason? Nice parks, bad teams and if the Phillies learn anything from the recent experiences of the Pirates, Tigers and Brewers, its that the fans will come once or twice to see a new stadium but will only return if the team is good.

Need proof.....look no further than the announced attendance at Pittsburgh's still new park on Monday night - less than 10,000 people - and most people who were there claim less actual count in the stands. The Tigers are a wasteland, and people are staying away in droves, preferring to do almost anything than watch one of baseball's truly bad teams play on a nightly basis. Same with the Brewers and to a lesser extent Houston, though the Astros strong play of late promises to get the turnstiles moving again. And that, my friends, is the lesson to be learned. Hopefully the Phillies are good students because beginning sometime in the 2004 season, the Phillies will need those 40,000 seats sold in order to pay for the likes of Jim Thome, David Bell, Bobby Abreu and Pat Burrell, not to mention a future ace in waiting, be it Kevin Millwood, Curt Schilling or whoever else GM Ed Wade pulls out of his hat.

Of course, it wasn't always like this. When the Taj Mahal of baseball stadiums, Camden Yards in Baltimore, opened, it was standing room only for years. It was easier to get Broadway tickets to see "Cats" than to get a box seat at Camden Yards. But even Baltimore's hallowed stadium is beginning to show cracks in their attendance. Sellouts are no longer the norm and discriminating fans are picking and choosing what games to see, preferring to wait for the Yankees than rush out to catch a mid week Orioles-Devil Rays game. So now that we have determined that the Phillies cannot just put an "Open for Business" sign in front of their stadium and expect the fans to flock in, who can they emulate to guarantee the stream of cash flow to keep this team intact and viable on a consistent basis.

The phrase "Look West, Young Man" is certainly applicable here.....the San Francisco Giants have truly done it right...a beautiful park and a very good team. It's the second part that I think is the key. From everything being advertised, the Phillies new park will have all the wonderful, modern amenities - great seats, open sight lines, lots of fun stuff to do, statues of famous Phillies of the past including Richie Ashburn, Robin Roberts, Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton, heck they will even have a food stand operated by the Bull himself, Greg Luzinski! Truly top notch stuff that every Phillie fan will want to see once or twice.

But, if the Phillies really want to keep them coming, I suggest they check today's baseball standings.... at last look the Giants of Pac Bell were leading the NL West in the standings and are less than one year removed from a near World Series Championship. This team has been carefully nurtured, and the combination of a new park and a great team is the straw that stirs the drink, so to speak. Of course, Phillie fans are now asking the question.... how do we get to there from here? Great question, complex answer! They certainly took the correct freeway when they signed Jim Thome, traded for Kevin Millwood, extended Pat Burrell and Randy Wolf and basically opened up the pocketbooks for the first time in years.

But here is where it gets tricky. Going from mediocre to good was the easy part - how can they take the next step into (pardon the pun) The Brave New World, with Brave (as in Braves) definitely in capital letters. To get to the next step they will need several things to happen. First, a combination of the continued maturation of youngsters like Burrell, Rollins, Wolf and Padilla, with improved performances by even younger youngsters likes Byrd, Myers and Duckworth. They will need to continue to develop quality minor leaguers like Chase Utley, Ryan Madson, Taylor Buchholtz and Gavin Floyd so the steady stream of talent continues to provide reinforcements for the varsity. They will need to have a better than average amount of luck in the injury department, many a wonderful Phillie team was ruined by costly injuries at the most inopportune time. They will need to make wise use of the upcoming money that will be made available by the expected departures of Dan Plesac, Turk Wendell and Rheal Cormier and decide who becomes the ace in waiting on the hill. They will need to make a wise trade or two, they have players of value who may bring a solid closer, a speedy outfielder, a young catcher. Finally, they will need to convince a fickle Philadelphia fan base that they are indeed in this for the long haul, something that Phillie fans have not always been convinced of.

The Phils shown for the first time this past off-season that they did have a plan and the plan is now in full operation. The plan is a good one, though I suspect people will need to show patience with a team that is still truly in transition. If the plan continues to lead to winning baseball.... playoff baseball, championship baseball, then Philadelphia truly will play host to a field of dreams for all Phillie fans. But if the Phillies make the mistake of thinking that the building of a new stadium is an end all, be all...then, the steady stream of silence heard across the state in Pittsburgh will be loud enough to be heard all the way across the state of Pennsylvania, and into the half empty stadium in the city we love to call the home of our Philadelphia Phillies.

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