Elliott on baseball

BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:46 AM ET

PHILADELPHIA -- We always have believed in love at first sight.

And at first sight, we love Citizens Bank Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies.

Our favourites remain Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles and Royals Stadium in Kansas City.

But on our all-time park list, CBP breaks in higher than any we can remember.

It may play a tad small and has a jet stream to right, like the Ballpark at Arlington in Texas. Of the new parks, we'd place it ahead of Cleveland's Jacobs Field, Denver's Coors Field, Atlanta's Turner Field, Detroit's Comerica Park, Phoenix's Chase Field, Seattle's Safeco Field, San Diego's Petco Park and Milwaukee's Miller Park.

Of the new yards, we'd put it behind only Baltimore's Camden Yards, Houston's Minute Maid Park and San Francisco's SBC Park.

We've yet to see PNC Park in Pittsburgh or Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati or new Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

We like the view of downtown Philly, the cracked Liberty Bell and all the nooks and crannies of the outfield. It has the world's largest video board (2,844 square feet) and the Bull, Greg Luzinski, grilling ribs in right.

What we like most is the tribute to former the Phillies on every level of the park. Behind home is a floor-to-ceiling picture of Hall of Famers Robin Roberts, Steve Carlton, Mike Schmidt and Richie Ashburn taken lakeside in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Not far away are paintings of other Philadelphia Hall of Famers: Connie Mack, Eddie Collins, Eddie Plank, Rube Waddell, Mickey Cochrane, Lefty Grove, Jimmie Foxx, Chief Bender, Al Simmons and Frank Baker.

Last month, Ryan Howard's homer cleared the stone batter's eye in centre and hit Dick Allen's plaque on that Wall of Honor.

Down the hall are 16,000 baseballs mounted on walls and imbedded into them are framed pictures with baseball cards tracing the time line of uniform numbers through the years.

Like, did you know that Murray Dickson first wore No. 20, then Ruben Amaro. Next were Jackie Brandt, Ricardo Joseph, Roger Freed and Schmidt?

Or that Granny Hamner first wore No. 2 and then Bobby Malkmus, Rico Brogna and Cambridge's Rob Ducey?

Tons on names multiplied by millions of memories.

Teams spend millions on trying to build the perfect roster and seldom succeed.

Here they spent millions and built the perfect ball park.

UNANSWERED QUESTIONS

Every time you see Mike Matheny make a diving play, as he did tumbling into the Milwaukee Brewers dugout recently, you wonder why the Blue Jays misused the excellent defensive catcher so badly in 1999. He made 57 starts behind Darrin Fletcher. Matheny has won four Gold Gloves since 2000 ... How strange does it seem to see Alex Gonzalez, who played 890 games in Blue Jays blue, wearing Phillies red? ... Who admires whom most? Jays infielder John McDonald, who idolizes San Francisco Giants shortstop Omar Vizquel? Or Vizquel, who respects McDonald greatly from their days with the Cleveland Indians? ... How good are the Brewers? "We're like the 1984 Blue Jays?" assistant general manager Gord Ash says.

LONGEST HOMER I'VE SEEN

"Jose Canseco off Mike Flanagan in Game 4 of the 1989 ALCS. He hit the ball into the 500 level in left. I think it was estimated at 480 feet. It may not have been the farthest, but it certainly looked like it. No one had hit the ball up there before." -- Pat Gillick, one-time Jays GM, now GM of the Phillies.

WEEKLY WISE WORDS

"There are two types of players in this game: One who is humble and one who is fixing to be humble."

That's what former Jays coach Dennis Holmberg, manager at single-A Auburn, tells his son, Kenny Holmberg, who plays second for the single-A West Virginia Power.

Kenny, then two years old, was in the back seat of his mother Diane's car when she was involved in a bad car accident in 1985 in Liverpool, N.Y. Diane wound up in a coma, while Dennis was coaching at triple-A Syracuse at the time.

After being a 22nd-round pick of the Milwaukee Brewers, he led Helena to the rookie class title last season and is hitting .308 this season.

NO DEAL

Striking minor-league umpires turned down the tentative deal reached last week. Umpires would have had a one-time $100 US a month raise and $2 dollars a day per diem every year for the life of the contract.

A six-year contract was discussed. Management insisted new international umpires hired would have to pay their own travel to the U.S. from Japan, Venezuela and Canada to work.

Salaries for minor-league umps ranged from $5,500 a year in rookie class to $15,000 in triple-A in 2005.

Umps face an increase in health insurance deductible from $100 to $500 a year. Umpires, who live on the road, were being paid $22 daily for meal money.

THE VICTIMS

Barry Bonds hit 57 homers against pitchers before or after they became Jays, led by four against Miguel Batista. The others:

Three homers: Frank Castillo, Joey Hamilton, Xavier Hernandez, Steve Trachsel and David Weathers.

Two: Juan Acevedo, Terry Adams, Willie Blair, Tom Candiotti, Danny Darwin, Al Leiter, Mike Morgan, Randy Myers and Dan Plesac.

One: Luis Aquino, Buddy Black, A.J. Burnett, Chris Carpenter, David Cone, Danny Cox, Doug Davis, John Frascatore, Willie Fraser, Erik Hanson, Felix Heredia, Craig McMurtry, Lance Painter, Steve Paris, Robert Person, Eric Plunk, Paul Quantrill, Todd Stottlemyre, Mike Timlin, Woody Williams.

ON THE RISE

Some say the reason is the increased buzz caused by the Jays' off-season spending or the success of Team Canada against Team USA at the World Baseball Classic.

Whatever the reason, many local baseball groups are reporting increased registration.

Stan Pagonis, president of Richmond Hill Phoenix, estimates an 8% increase in his association.

"Other associations in the York-Simcoe association -- Markham, Richmond Hill, Newmarket, Barrie, Orangeville and Ivy -- are up anywhere from 12% to 18%," Pagonis said.

The biggest increases are at the rookie and mosquito divisions, while peewee and minor bantam remain the same as 2005.

Howie Birnie of the Toronto Baseball Association says he is "hearing 10-20% increases are pretty common in Toronto." Birnie also says that what the Jays will offer this year is the best level of support from grassroots to OBA that he can recall.

After sponsoring the mosquito division of Baseball Ontario in 2005, this year the Jays will sponsor rookie, peewee, bantam and midget division teams.

Each team in the divisions -- both minor and major -- can register for these programs at no cost and each player will receive two free tickets to a Jays game.

The provincial champs will be honoured at the Rogers Centre on Sept. 17.

BOXSCORE LINE OF THE WEEK

The Seattle Mariners' Joel Pineiro pitched a complete game without a walk or a strikeout, the first major-league pitcher to do so since Pedro Astacio of the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 24, 1994. An AL pitcher had not done so since Milwaukee's Bill Wegman on July 11, 1992.


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