Thursday, April 21, 2011

Philadelphia Story

Attending any professional sporting event can require a significant dedication of time and energy on one's part.

Going to two games on the same day is strictly a labor of love.

Let's play two in Philadelphia -- in different sports!

On April 18th, 2010, the "City of Brotherly Love" offered a unique opportunity -- a multi-sport doubleheader in the same complex. The Philadelphia Phillies, who were just getting into the flow of the MLB regular-season, were hosting the Florida Marlins that afternoon. During the evening, the Philadelphia Flyers would host the New Jersey Devils in Game 3 of their NHL Stanley Cup Playoff series.

The marathon sports Sunday would begin upon arriving at Citizens Bank Park that morning.

Under a seasonably cool, partly cloudy sky, some fans dressed in red, white and blue Phillies' gear were tailgating in the parking lot...preparing for the day-at-hand. Those who were planning on attending the Philly double-dip were relaxing and pacing themselves for a roughly 11-hour sports day. Others were partying it up and enjoying life.

The first leg of the doubleheader took place at Citizens Bank Park

Inside the ballpark, it was a typical day on the MLB calendar. Phillies' pitcher Joe Blanton, who was rehabbing from an oblique injury, threw in the fans who arrived early some up-close access to his craft.

Phillies' pitcher Joe Blanton throws a bullpen session before the game

On the field, both the Phillies and Marlins participated in batting practice...getting ready for the game and providing some souvenir baseballs for those who gathered beyond the outfield fence for home runs.

The Marlins' Hanley Ramirez takes batting practice

With lunchtime now at-hand, the smell of Philly cheesesteaks and barbecue filled the air in Ashburn Alley. Fans mingled in the area...with some buying food and drinks, and others taking pictures of their surroundings.

Ashburn Alley is a popular pre-game destination

While it appeared to be a typical baseball Sunday on the surface, some subtleties suggested that it was anything but that. On the opposite side of the Philadelphia Sports Complex parking lot, the Wachovia Center sat quietly...but in a few short hours, it would be filled with a playoff hockey atmosphere. Some fans at the Phillies' game were already prepared for the evening, dressed in Flyers' jerseys.

Fans arrive at Citizens Bank Park as the Wachovia Center sits quietly

On the Citizens Bank Park scoreboard, there were promotional updates for the Flyers' game. It was a revealing look at the cameraderie that exists between Philadelphia's sports teams. Rather than feeling pressure to compete against each other, there was a partnership among the franchises.

Cross-promotion between the Phillies and Flyers

The Phillies and Marlins were both off to decent starts in the 2010 season. The Phillies sported an 8-3 record, while the Marlins were 7-5. Still, there was an expectation among Phillies' fans that this would be their their team boasted a powerful lineup and solid pitching.

National League East foes go head-to-head

On this day, pitching would dominate in a typically offense-friendly ballpark. Two left-handers -- Nate Robertson for Florida, and Cole Hamels for Philadelphia -- went head-to-head.

Cole Hamels pitched brilliantly for Philadelphia

During this pitching staring contest, Hamels would blink first...allowing a solo home run to Marlins' 2nd baseman Dan Uggla that bounced off the left field foul pole in the 2nd inning. Aside from that, both pitchers were stellar...matching zeroes on the scoreboard, as I looked on from Section 421.

Nate Robertson held the Phillies scoreless

After receiving an RBI double from Uggla in the 9th inning, Marlins closer Leo Nunez shut the door on the Phillies' hopes. It was a 2-0 win for Florida, and many in the sold-out crowd of 45,405 were going home unhappy. For the others, it was time to look toward the Flyers for redemption.

The Marlins top the Phillies in the afternoon session

Back in the parking lot, the party would some fans tried to drown the sorrows of a Phillies' defeat. Those who were attending the hockey game were trading their Phillies' red for Flyers' orange-and-black, changing right at their cars.

Outside the Wachovia Center, there was a FanFest area for get people in the mood for playoff hockey. A band played while some kids and adults had their faces painted with Flyers' logos. Playoff merchandise was being sold, revealing some of the financial windfall that comes with a post-season appearance.

The Sunday sports marathon continues at the Wachovia Center

At the arena doors, orange t-shirts were handed out to everyone in attendance, intended to create an "orange crush" effect throughout the seating bowl.

The Flyers handed out t-shirts to all in attendance

On paper, the New Jersey Devils held the edge in this playoff matchup. Winning the Atlantic Division and clinching the Eastern Conference's #2 seed with 103 points, the Devils boasted one of the all-time greats in goal -- Martin Brodeur. They also featured some talented offensive players, such as Zach Parise and mid-season acquisition Ilya Kovalchuk.

The Devils and Flyers met in the playoffs for the 5th time

The Flyers needed every game of the regular-season to even qualify for the playoffs...defeating the New York Rangers in a shootout to qualify as the #7 seed in the East. The Flyers' goaltending was a question mark, with a combination of Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton between the pipes. Still, with gritty players like Chris Pronger and Mike Richards, in addition to scorers such as Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne...Philadelphia was determined to make its mark in the post-season.

The atmosphere inside the Wachovia Center was so much different from that across the parking lot. The crowd at Citizens Bank Park, while passionate for their Phillies, had a laid-back, "it's only April" attitude...knowing that a long regular-season still awaited.

A sea of orange inside the Wachovia Center

For the Flyers, it was the pivotal Game 3 in a series that was tied 1-1. The winner of this contest would potentially have momentum for the rest of the series. That intensity was reflected in the audience, with loud "Let's go Flyers" chants buzzing throughout the arena.

Philadelphia fans were ready for this key playoff matchup

The crowd erupted into cheers when the Flyers broke out a post-season tradition before the game. Instead of singing the "Star-Spangled Banner," the players and fans stood for "God Bless America." On this night, Lauren Hart -- daughter of the late, longtime Flyers' broadcaster Gene Hart -- performed a "duet" with the recorded image of the late Kate Smith, who sang at many important Flyers' games during the 1970s.

Lauren Hart and Kate Smith's image perform "God Bless America"

As the game got underway, an above-capacity crowd of 19,957 watched intently. When Devils' winger Brian Rolston scored a power play goal roughly 7-minutes into the game, putting New Jersey up 1-0, the Philadelphia crowd let loose one of its famous "boos."

The Devils struck first

Those boos would turn to cheers a minute-and-a-half later, as Flyers' winger Claude Giroux scored a power play goal of his own to tie the game. Many of the orange-clad Philadelphia fans high-fived and hugged, as the players did the same.

The Flyers immediately responded with a goal of their own

The intensity of the Flyers-Devils rivalry just added to the playoff atmosphere. Only a 90-mile New Jersey Turnpike drive between Philadelphia and Newark separated these teams' arenas. Year-round bragging rights would go to the series winner, giving fans another incentive to cheer along.

The I-95 rivalry is alive and well

During the course of the game, Philadelphia and New Jersey would unleash bone-rattling body checks on each other. Players would dive for pucks, trying to sustain or relieve offensive pressure. Every Brodeur save was greeted with an "Ahhhhh" from the crowd, every save by Brian Boucher would receive a "Booosh" chant.

Brian Boucher makes a glove save

The Flyers and Devils would trade goals in the 2nd period, making it a 2-2 game as 20 minutes remained in regulation.

In the 3rd period, the tension inside the Wachovia Center mounted. Every shot, every save, every check and every penalty took on extra significance. The ice was tilted in Philadelphia's favor, outshooting the Devils 12-3. Some of the scoring chances resulted in spectacular saves by Brodeur, leaving Flyers' fans to wonder if they would get any more pucks past the future Hall-of-Famer.

Martin Brodeur made some amazing saves to keep the game tied

As the horn sounded to end the 3rd period, the score was still 2-2. Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series between the Flyers and Devils was headed to sudden-death overtime. Whoever scores next would win and take control of the series.

The sign on the scoreboard says it all

The teams switched sides for the overtime period, but the ice remained tilted for the Flyers. Their sustained pressure led to a Devils' penalty by David Clarkson at the 1:30 mark of OT, giving Philadelphia an all-important manpower advantage on the ice.

The Flyers go on the offensive during overtime

While the Flyers would not score during the power play, the scoring opportunities continued as Clarkson exited the penalty box. Forward Mike Richards was at the left side of the goal, trying to chip the puck past Brodeur. Suddenly, the puck trickled across the front of the crease. At the goalmouth was Flyers' winger Dan Carcillo, more known for his fisticuffs than his scoring touch. But in the blink of an eye, Carcillo became an unlikely playoff hero, stuffing the puck into the net for the game-winning OT goal!

The Flyers win in sudden-death OT

As the Flyers mobbed Carcillo in celebration, the fans in Section 220 and elsewhere inside the Wachovia Center celebrated wildly. Screams, cheers and hugs were commonplace. Only a few scattered Devils' fans would glumly head for the exits, enduring taunts from some Philly fans along the way.

Philly fans send their message to the Devils

Philadelphia now led the best-of-7 series by a 2-games-to-1 margin. The momentum from this game would benefit the Flyers, eventually eliminating the Devils in 5 games as part of their improbable run to the Stanley Cup Final.

The Flyers' playoff hopes received a big boost from this game

It was a memorable Sunday in Philadelphia. It started at Citizens Bank Park at roughly 11 am. One baseball game and one hockey game later, it concluded at the Wachovia Center at around 10 pm.

The end of a long, but memorable day

While doubleheaders are not all that uncommon, they usually involve the same sport. Being able to experience a professional baseball and hockey game in the same day -- and in the same sports complex -- required a perfect alignment of the stars.

I guess it's true that "timing is everything."

Two events -- one day -- one sports complex

No comments:

Post a Comment