When you talked to Phillies fans as they entered this gorgeous, sapphire-and-green Citizens Bank Park, you just shook your head. Their stories are mind-blowing. They will tell them forever, and what remains is whether it's a happy ending.
"I've been a Phillies fan since '50 and I'm just glad to watch," says a bundled-up Charlie Eyer, standing outside the left-field gate at 5:30 p.m. ET, just as the gate opens. "It was hard to wait. We were here Monday, and then we went back to the Poconos. We drove two hours again today to get back here. We had 16 inches of snow yesterday, and drove through the snow, sleet and rain to see the finish."
His wife Linda listens to her husband talk, having just lived this round trip, and with a deadpan look she says: "I'm trying to figure out which part of the marriage contract this is. Is this the 'for better' or 'for worse' part?"
This story is making the rounds: A Phillies fan on Monday walked around the ballpark after the first World Series suspension, offering $20 to Rays fans for their used ticket stubs. With the stubs he acquired, he was thus not only able to come back himself but this time bring his whole family.
This is the Whatever It Takes Series. There is no human story that is too large to be told here, no experience that will be forgotten. If the Phillies win it all, then their fans will have been treated to a singular experience that no other Major League Baseball champion could attest to living through. If the Rays win Game 5, then the World Series goes back to St. Petersburg for Game 6 on Thursday night and maybe Game 7 on Friday.
"Just awesome -- one of the best experiences we've had," says Bill Orth of Dover, Del. He is standing beside the Phillies' dugout during batting practice (part II) and has tickets in the front of Section 113. "Sitting in the rain was a great experience. Hey, you get wet. I've been to sporting events wetter than that. I've got my two boys and my 11-year-old grandson here. Three generations are here with front row seats. I had to spend a lot of money for them, nearly four thousand bucks ($950 apiece), but it's worth it when you've been a fan this long.
"When we left Monday, you didn't know if it's raining on your parade or not. You don't know how that game would have turned out. But you get to go to an extra game. It was a little frustrating [Tuesday] because you didn't know if you were supposed to go to work or pack up and drive 70 miles. We were watching online, just waiting. I've never seen anything like this. The last time they won [in 1980], I took the next day off and sat in front of the TV all day watching all the shows and the parade. I'm taking tomorrow off, too."
Fan after fan, they are asked what the past two days were like. They just shake their head and smile. They can't believe it themselves.
"They were sleepless. Anxious," says Joe Orlando III, of Marlton, N.J., here with Joe IV, who is 7. "You look back and we were here Monday and it kinda broke our hearts when they scored in the top of the [sixth]. But we waited 28 years, and we can wait another 48 hours.
"I remember 1980. I'm 37, and we watched on TV then, my father and I. I was telling my son, 'You know what, 25 years from now, you'll look back on this.' It almost makes me cry saying this. It makes me sad I didn't get to do it with my dad."
At 8:15 p.m., finally the crowd started to electrify again. One fan noted that it seemed a little more low-keyed at 7 p.m., the same time that it was already very boisterous before Monday's game. It was just a different buildup, as if they were waiting to flip the switch on and pick up with the towel-waving. And they did, at 8:15.
They are hoping this night ends with a raucous and memorable celebration. They have gone 25 years since the city's last major sports title, by the 76ers in 1983. There are 70 percent more security personnel at Citizens Bank Park, and one police officer said cops are starting their shifts later and will be ready for everything through the night. That same officer said she expects the cold weather to mean nothing, noting that there is a New Year's parade here that is always in far colder conditions.
They are ready to party. Hopefully, it will be safe partying if it comes to that.
But they don't want to talk about it too loudly yet.
"As a Philadelphia fan for 30-plus years, you keep waiting for something horrible to happen in Philly," Orlando said. "Almost sort of like Chicago is so talked-about with their curse. Here in Philly, we don't come in second to anyone in jinxes. We've been a town of shoulda-coulda and never-haves. Like Joe Carter's homer in '93. When that happens over and over again, you start thinking, 'Oh, no, here we go again.'"
Then he touches the subject that the average Philadelphia fan has talked about for years.
It is a word that is almost like the holy grail here.
Some of them dare not utter it yet.
"Let's get to the 'P' word," Orlando says. "I swore I would not say it. I will spell it, that's all. We're all starving for the 'P.' "
At 8:26 p.m., there was a dazzling rendition of "God Bless America" instead of the usual national anthem. It just made sense to play that at this point, instead of during the usual seventh-inning stretch. Many in the crowd sang along. The feeling was coming back.
"It's all a test, just another test," says John Povey, 21, a business management student at Westchester University. "It'll be just insane, and I can't wait. They're gonna do it. I should have been going to class during the wait, but I couldn't get it off my mind."
"Going to bed at 4 a.m. is how it's been," interjects his buddy Mark Golato, 23, of Philadelphia. "I've got a huge knot in my stomach. It was like a big letdown, like you dreamt it, then you woke up."
"Everybody's holding it back," Povey answers back. "I can't even describe it. I might cry."
That's how they are feeling here. They have Game 5 back. They are here again. The flashes on the cameras are twinkling like stars again. It is cold, it is windy, and it is the World Series. They might celebrate tonight. They might wait again.
This is the 104th World Series.
There has never been anything like it.