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April 07, 2023

The best of the Phillies' home openers in the 21st century

From the start of the Vet's sendoff in 2003 to last year's launch of an NL pennant run, a look back at the Phillies' most memorable moments from home openers' past before first pitch on Friday.

There's a unique kind of joy that comes with the start of every baseball season. 

Regardless of your team's standing – World Series or bust expectations, playoff hopefuls, or a long summer in the basement – there's just nothing quite like being back in the ballpark again after a long winter, experiencing all the festivities that come with it, and getting that first look in person at the new big-name signing or the top prospect ready to take the leap into stardom. 

On Friday, after a one-day delay, Philadelphia will get to do it all again, this time with new start shortstop Trea Turner in tow and a National League pennant to defend. 

It's been a rough start to the 2023 season, but the Phillies are finally back at Citizens Bank Park to face the Reds in front of the home crowd for the first time since last season's miracle run to the World Series. 

And fans are ready for a run all the way back, with a sold-out home opener serving up the chance for the Phils to get back on track and create some new Opening Day memories while they're at it. 

This century alone, there's been a lot of them. 

So before the first pitch, here's a look back at some of the top home opener moments from the turn of the century and on:

Sending off the Vet (2003)

April 4, 2003: A day of many emotions for the crowd of more than 59,000 at Veteran's Stadium. 

It was the long-awaited home debut for free-agent slugger Jim Thome, but one that weighed heavy with the club and the city having recently learned that Tug McGraw, their World Series winning closer from 1980, had been diagnosed with brain cancer. The start of the Iraq War was also in the backdrop, and for the Vet itself, it was the beginning of the end as the Phillies' new home was being constructed across the street. 

The Phillies and Pirates wore 70s throwbacks to pay tribute to the Vet's opening and kick off a year-long sendoff, Thome blasted a triple off the top of the center-field wall that fell an inch shy of clearing the fence, but things didn't go the Phils' way otherwise, losing the '03 home opener, 9-1. 

Opening up the Bank (2004)

April 12, 2004: The first official game at Citizens Bank Park and the team's first of many, many walks from 10th St. into Ashburn Alley and onto the field. 

Steve Carlton, Mike Schmidt, Robin Roberts, and Richard Ashburn, on behalf of his late father Richie, threw out the first pitches, and Randy Wolf took the mound on an early campaign that the Phillies were aiming to see through to the postseason (they would fall short again though). 

Bobby Abreu went opposite field for the first home run at the Bank, but the Cincinnati Reds walked away with its first result, 4-1.

Yo, Charlie! (2005)

April 4, 2005: Jon Lieber went 5.2 innings against the newly-dubbed Washington Nationals (formerly the Montreal Expos), Kenny Lofton hit a three-run bomb, and Charlie Manuel notched his first of many, many wins as the Phillies' manager, 8-4. 

A 26-year old Chase Utley, waiting in the wings behind Placido Polanco at second base, also knocked in a run on a sacrifice fly. 

The beginnings of an MVP (2006)

April 3, 2006: Albert Pujols and the Cardinals thrashed the Phils 13-5 on Opening Day, but Ryan Howard, the power-hitting NL Rookie of the Year, blasted the first of what would become an MVP-winning and franchise record 58 homers, while Jimmy Rollins extended his hit streak from the season before to 37 games. 

A new season, and a new standard (2008)

March 31, 2008: This Opening Day was far different from any of the ones that preceded it. 

The year before, the Phillies caught up with the collapsing New York Mets to win the NL East and finally reach the postseason after a 14-year drought. They got swept right out of it by the Rockies, but that proved only a minor setback in the grand scheme of things. The club, and the city, finally got to experience playoff baseball. They finally realized how good they can be, and with that, came expectations that they could go much further. 

The Phillies wanted more, Philadelphia wanted more, and for the first time in years, there was genuine confidence that they were capable of it. 

They didn't have the greatest start off the bat though. 

Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins both homered, but in the ninth and with Brad Lidge on the injured list to begin the year, the Nationals tagged closer Tom Gordon for five runs to beat the Phillies, 11-6. 

Granted, no one's dwelling on that now, not after the last out was recorded on October 29, 2008. 

All that glitters is gold (2009)

April 5, 2009: And just like 2008, 2009's Opening Day – well, night in this case – was far beyond the rest. 

The Phillies made their walk down 10th and into the ballpark just like every year, but this time, they were all in gold-trimmed uniforms, and in Ashburn Alley, sat the Commissioner's Trophy and a red World Series flag waiting to be raised.

This was the start of a new season but also one more celebration for a team that delivered Philadelphia its first championship in 25 years, and for many fans, the only one they had they had ever seen. It was a huge moment. 

The title defense itself started with a 4-1 loss to the Braves but would lead the Phillies on a path all the way back to the World Series, falling just short of a repeat against a powerhouse Yankees team. 

Mayberry Magic (2011)

April 1, 2011: After losing the World Series to the Yankees in 2009, then trying to make their way back but falling short in the NLCS to the Giants in 2010, the Phillies were still very much contenders with "World Series or bust" expectations. Those went into overdrive that winter when somehow, some way, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. managed to bring back Cliff Lee, who alongside Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt, automatically gave the Phillies the fiercest rotation in baseball and maybe the best the franchise had ever seen. 

Halladay had the honor of kicking off the 2011 season at Citizens Bank Park and kept the Houston Astros under control through six innings of one-run ball, but they were able to make a dent once the Phillies reached into the bullpen, notching three runs off J.C. Romero and then David Herndon. 

Trailing 4-2 in the bottom of the ninth, the Phillies needed magic to come from somewhere, and Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard delivered with back-to-back singles that kickstarted a rally. Rollins stole third after a Raúl Ibañez pop fly then Ben Francisco, Carlos Ruiz, and Wilson Valdez each notched a base hit to tie the game, load the bases, and set the stage for pinch hitter John Mayberry to play the hero. 

He looped one over the head of Michael Bourn in centerfield, Francisco scored from third, and the Phillies' eventual franchise-best 102-win season was off to a 1-0 start. 

A window slammed shut (2012-2017)

The golden era of Phillies baseball came crashing down with Ryan Howard as his Achilles blew out trying to run to first on the final out of the 2011 NLDS. 

We all know that now, and at the time, knew it right then and there deep down. But going into 2012, there was still some hope that maybe the Phillies could eke out a postseason run and give it one more shot. That hope faded quickly. 

The Phillies were too old, too banged up, and by that point, a contentious Jonathan Papelbon and a Jim Thome at the end of the line in his playing career weren't going to keep them in it. 

And so came a long several years where everyone knew the Phillies were heading nowhere going into each season. 

There was still joy to be found with every passing home opener, there always is, but nothing to get too overexcited about as the organization had to steadily strip everything down and start over. 

The mid-2010s were some incredibly lean years.

The new generation (2018)

April 5, 2018: But all those downtrodden years eventually led to what was thought to be the new core. 

Aaron Nola was already up, Rhys Hoskins was ready, Scott Kingery looked it too – getting signed to a six-year deal before he had even played a Major League game – and J.P. Crawford looked set to go from the shortstop of the future to the shortstop of today, while a veteran like Carlos Santana was brought in to help guide them all along.

Behind the new, and unconventional, manager Gabe Kapler, the Phillies finally looked ready to compete again, and in front of the home crowd for the first time, looked like they were going to.

With nine strikeouts over 5.2 innings pitched by Nick Pivetta, the Phillies shut out the Marlins, 5-0, which contributed to a run that saw them in the playoff picture through the middle of the summer. 

This was it. Things were going to be different now...until they weren't. 

The $330 million man and his Phanatic cleats (2019)

March 28, 2019: But now things were going to be different.

After acquiring/signing Jean Segura, J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen, and the biggest free-agent prize of them all, Bryce Harper, this was it. This was going to be the year the Phillies made it back to the postseason, and that Opening Day against the Braves in South Philadelphia could not have started things off any better. 

Harper, sporting custom green Phanatic cleats, took right field to the roar of 45,000, with the first of many bows and fist pumps in acknowledgment.

McCutchen hit a leadoff homer, Maikel Franco hit a three-run bomb in the sixth (yeah, he was still the third baseman back then), and then in the seventh, after Harper was intentionally walked to load the bases with no outs, Rhys Hoskins blew the roof off the place. He turned on a 1-0 pitch from Atlanta's Luke Jackson and launched it straight into the left-field seats, a grand slam, a CBP crowd sent into a frenzy, and a 10-4 win that sent the Phillies well on their way.

This was it. Things were going to be different now...until they weren't.

The beginning of bedlam (2022)

April 8, 2022: After two seasons impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, two stalled-out runs hampered by an inconsistent lineup and an all-time worst bullpen, the departure of Matt Klentak and the arrival of Dave Dombrowski, then the aggressive signings of Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber after a winter wiped away by a lockout, the 2022 season felt like sink-or-swim for the Phillies. 

And Philadelphia was more than ready for them to swim.

On a picture-perfect day last April, the sellout crowd gathered at Citizens Bank Park for the first time in two years without any restrictions, "MVP" chants surged through the stadium for Harper, and once Schwarber stepped up to the plate to leadoff against Oakland A's starter Frankie Montas, it was off to the races as the Phillies went on to win 9-5. 

This was it. Things were going to be different now, and though there were plenty of ups, downs, and doubts on the way there, they finally were. 

The journey that began that day finally led the Phillies back to the postseason, and then the run of a lifetime to the NL pennant. 

Where will Friday's home opener lead?

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