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Forget Week One, The Season Starts At Shea

I’ll say it — the first week of the 2008 season was the tune-up, the spring after the spring, the time to dust off the cobwebs. The bullpen worked out their kinks; the rotation stretched a bit; the offense found their step. The season begins today at Shea Stadium.

The Phils begin their first series with their chief rivals, the Mets, today at the home opener at Shea Stadium. You all know the history — Mets won division over the Phils in 2006; Mets had the division won last year but choked, while the Phils made a tremendous run to take the crown on the last day; the offseason featured a few barbs; a lot of sportswriters think one of the 50 men between these two teams will be murdered at some point soon.

Let’s talk it up. First, Pat Burrell:

“It could be worse. It could be two teams that finish in last place every year and nobody cares. So it’s exciting. Personally I enjoy going to NY and playing, there’s a little extra excitement there and especially with what happened last year, I don’t think anybody would say otherwise.”

Manager Charlie Manuel:

“As long as we whip them, we don’t have to make a big deal out of it. They’ll talk, we’ll hit. That’s the only way I see it.”

Hollywood Cole Hamels:

“I am truly excited. People love to hate you, and they really do hate you. It’s something where the guys on the other team, I think they enjoy it. It’s not like we hate them. We don’t hate each other. But we just enjoy playing against each other because we have tremendous talent and it makes it very exciting for the fans.”

Willie Randolph deflected the talk about the Phillies and made it more about coming home:

“It will be good to be home. It’s good to make a statement early.”

The only Met quoted about the series at this point is one of the newest, Brian Schneider:

“I’m looking forward to it. It will be a blast. It will be kind of crazy against them.”

Juicy. Rollins did add this about the rivalry:

“You know about the Mets and the Phillies. We’ll never be [the Red Sox] and [Yankees] by any means, but the intensity is starting to pick up. The pressure is back on them, if you ask me. New York is always supposed to be better than any other city in baseball — the fans expect that and the media expects that, so the team is going to feel the same way. So they’re already under the microscope.”

Basically, a lot of words, but none of them volatile. Don’t expect volatile. While Jayson Stark said there’d be a brawl, I’m betting against it. These teams don’t loathe each other; the rivalry is too young, too fresh, really. Remember, the Phils and Mets have only been contenders together for the past three seasons, and before that, there were two seasons (1976, 1986) where both teams were good at the same time.

That doesn’t mean we should downplay the series; on the contrary, we should totally be revved up for the set. This is where the season really begins, where the Phils will be tested for the first time at all facets of their game. Injuries or not, the Mets are coming out to play, especially as they open Shea for the final time. There may not be a battle royal on the Shea grass, but there will be 100 percent effort, and the play will be fierce. It’s time for the Phils to load up their guns — this is where the marathon kicks in.

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