Phillies fans get early Christmas treat

Phillies fans get early Christmas treat

PHILADELPHIA -- Phanta Claus bounded down from the fire truck, with a little help from a few Philadelphia firemen Saturday evening, and was immediately engulfed by a swarm of children, as the Phillies concluded what is quickly turning into a tradition at the Second Annual Phillies Holiday Sale.

Close to 1,700 fans walked through the Majestic Clubhouse Store at Citizens Bank Park to meet such luminaries as Phillies Hall of Fame broadcaster Harry Kalas and Phillie alums Dickie Noles, Milt Thompson, Kevin Jordan, Larry Andersen and Marty Bystrom. Fans were there to meet and take pictures with the Phanatic, dressed as Santa Claus, and to punctuate the festive occasion with a tree-lighting ceremony, complete with Christmas carolers. A memorabilia sale of game-used items held over the weekend raised more than $20,000 for Phillies Charities.

While lines of adults stood in line to for an autograph from Kalas, who signed for nearly two hours, the real star -- at least for the many kids in attendance -- was easily the Phanatic.

"The Phanatic always loves this," said Tom Burgoyne, the Phanatic's best friend. "Other than Opening Day and the season, I can say that this is the Phanatic's favorite time of year. For a day, he's Phanta Claus. Some kids even think he's Santa Claus, telling the Phanatic what they want for Christmas. Mostly though, the kids want to high-five the Phanatic and take their picture with him."

Some children are apprehensive at first, since the Phanatic is so big, but eventually he wins them over.

"That's Phanta Claus for you," Burgoyne said. "What the Phanatic really wants is a World Series ring and a championship parade down Broad Street in 2007."

Nicole Teixeira got to share the day with her two sons, 4-year-old Darren and 2-year-old Justin, along with her husband, Wilson, who was in the Harry Kalas line.

"This is a new experience for us, it's the first time we've come here and the kids really love it," said Nicole, who purchased a couple of items for her sons. "The Phillies do a nice job with this, especially for children. My sons love the Phanatic and this gives them a chance to see him up close."

The event also presents Phillies personnel with the chance to interact closely with fans. Thompson and Noles were part of the event last year, and were once again more than generous with their time for anyone who wanted an autograph or just to chat for a few moments.

"It's always nice to come out and show the fans that we care, especially this time of year," said Thompson, who took his daughter, nephew and niece with him Saturday. "It's great to see people excited about baseball now, in December. I myself can't wait until Spring Training. I'm counting down the days. But this is the time of year that you realize how blessed you are. It's all about giving. And it means more since it is Christmas."

Noles is very familiar with that. Always active in community service, Noles greeted everyone with a smile. One fan presented the former Phillies relief pitcher with a 1981 card to sign, reminding Noles how high he used to wear his socks during his playing days.

"This is great; me and Milt have been doing this for a few years now," Noles said. "It's like you know everyone and everyone knows you. I love it because to get to see so many people who are not only fans, but people in the front office that you sometimes don't get a chance to normally see. You also learn a lot from listening to fans. It's a great way to interact."

Bob Playford, 45, is a huge Phillies fan. He waited in the Kalas line, looking to add to an already impressive collection of Phillies memorabilia, which includes game-worn jerseys of Steve Carlton and Larry Bowa, and Ryan Howard's first Phillies jersey he wore, from Spring Training.

"This is really a social event," Playford said. "You get to meet other people you see during the games and meet former players at the same time. You can't beat it."

As the sun started going down, the lights on the Christmas tree became more pronounced. Phanta Claus gave a jolly wave to his many little admirers as he boarded the fire truck again -- leaving a trail of tiny smiling faces.

Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing writer for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.