PHILADELPHIA — It is a proud city. A city rich in history and steeped in tradition. In some ways, a city like no other in America. And today, perhaps the city of Philadelphia should be embarrassed.
During Game 3 of the World Series on Saturday night, Rays family members and employees say they were harassed and abused by Phillies fans at Citizens Bank Park to an unacceptable degree.
Children were cursed at, and one 9-year-old boy had beer poured on him. A Rays family member stayed locked in a bathroom stall because, he said, Phillies fans were banging on the walls and threatening him.
Team officials were reluctant to talk about the situation for fear of stirring up more hostility, but they acknowledged they had extensive discussions with Major League Baseball and Phillies officials before Game 4 on Sunday.
"It's like anything else. We learn from our mistakes and other people's mistakes, and we fix them," Rays owner Stuart Sternberg said. "If it happens again, then it's a bigger problem."
Look, this is not a question of Rays fans being sissies. This is not about being offended by "Rays s- - -" chants. We're talking about behavior more suitable for a prison yard than a family ballpark.
You can make fun of Tropicana Field, and you can make fun of Tampa Bay's limited fan base. You can dog B.J. Upton about hustling, and you can call Matt Garza a whack job.
But some words should not be used, and some lines should not be crossed. And from talking to the Rays on Sunday, the Phillies fans trampled all over every acceptable line of decency.
"I'm not going to be critical of the efforts we took (Saturday) night. If somebody else chooses to be, then so be it," said Phillies senior vice president Michael Stiles. "In my experience, it is very difficult to prevent words coming out of people's mouths. And sometimes the words that come out are offensive. If they are profane, if they are threatening, if physical assaults occur, we will identify those people and eject them or arrest them.
"There are some things you can't control. If an entire section of fans start chanting the a-hole word, there's not much you can do. We think we have responded to the complaints in the appropriate way."
Oh, so violators are ejected or arrested. And how many ejections were there in Game 3?
Stiles said he did not have exact figures but had been told by MLB officials that there were 12 ejections/arrests Saturday night.
In a crowd of 45,900? In a town known for having the country's most brutal fans? In a game that did not begin until after 10 p.m., giving fans more booze time? Chuck E. Cheese's has more ejections on a Saturday.
This is where I have a problem with the Phillies and the city. I understand that 200 or so knuckleheads no more represent this great city than the worst 200 knuckleheads represent Tampa Bay.
Yet the team, the police, the mayor's office and the citizens allow their reputation to be lowered down to the level of knuckle-dragging Neanderthals because they condone this behavior year after year after year. Condone may not even be the right word. They revel in it.
This isn't just rude or profane; it is intimidating and threatening. It is women being called whores and worse. It is children having food thrown at them. It is being pushed, shoved and jostled in the concourses.
Does this sort of thing happen at other stadiums? Without a doubt. And I'm sure it has happened on occasion at Tropicana Field, too. But no city has the reputation of Philadelphia. And the Rays have never complained about another stadium in this way.
An MLB official acknowledged the league shared responsibility for the lack of security at the stadium for Game 3 and said measures had been taken to assure fan safety Sunday night.
Unfortunately, the damage had been done. Sternberg declined to have Rays players introduced in the stadium before Game 4, at least partially because of the previous night's crowd. Some of the traveling party also declined to attend the game.
"Down by the dugout I had a good time with a bunch of guys sitting in the stands," said Rays manager Joe Maddon. "I was actually giving a guy a hard time for drinking Coors Light in Philadelphia. I said, 'Where's the Schmidt's? At least some Rolling Rock. Don't be going with Coors Light.' It's so unfashionable for a Philly dude. I was all over him about that, so we had a good time.
"Really, the biggest part is the families, if we could do something about that. Throwing mustard packs at my granddaughter is not very cool. The other part, I'm good with."
There's nothing wrong with passion. Nothing wrong with poking fun and having a good time. Nothing wrong with showing Eva Longoria's picture when Evan Longoria is batting.
But something is very wrong about threatening families and children.
And something is wrong with a city that allows it.