MLB.com Columnist

Barry M. Bloom

Phillies are unsung heroes in hosting Classic

Phillies are unsung heroes in hosting Classic

Phillies are unsung heroes in hosting Classic
PHILADELPHIA -- It was the perfect synergy between baseball and hockey on Saturday at Citizens Bank Park. While the alumni of the Rangers and Flyers were fighting it out on a makeshift ice surface below, up in the press box etched in black marker on a white board remained the lineups from Game 5 of the recent National League Division Series between the hometown Phillies and Cardinals.

"It's a tradition here to leave the lineups up until we play the next game," said Ed Deal, a longtime pressbox attendant at Phillies games.

It's also a painful reminder to local fans that the Phillies lost and the Cardinals went on to win the World Series, that the unexpected can happen. It's also a reminder that the lineups will change. The No. 3 hitter for the Cardinals, one Albert Pujols, is now an Angel. The Phillies' No. 6 hitter, Raul Ibanez, is probably gone. Time marches on.

"In our sport, that's the way it goes," Dave Montgomery, the Phillies' managing general partner, said on Saturday. "You freeze the end of one year until you start the next one."

In the meantime, the Phillies are playing the part of a terrific civic partner, hosting Monday's annual Bridgestone Winter Classic for the National Hockey League. Behind two third-period goals and a Henrik Lundqvist save on a penalty shot in the closing seconds, the Rangers denied the rival Flyers, 3-2, in Monday's regular-season contest. The Flyers' alumni stopped the Rangers' alumni on Saturday, 3-1.

It was the fifth annual Winter Classic and the third to be staged in a baseball park, with Wrigley Field and Fenway Park previously getting the nod. The 8-year-old ballpark here has been magically transformed into a winter wonderland, complete with a regulation-size NHL rink at midfield stretching from the third-base to first-base side of the yard. Temporary bleachers have also been erected beyond the side boards in the outfield.

The sellout crowd of 45,808 on Saturday was resplendent, with Flyers orange and black replacing the usual Phillies red and blue. But make no mistake about it -- this is the same rabid fan base that supports all four local Major League sports teams. Sellout crowds were also expected on Monday and for a Friday night Minor League game that brought back the once-local Phantoms.

"We're pleased," Montgomery told MLB.com during an extensive interview in the Phillies offices. "I feel a little honored that Wrigley, Fenway and now our park are the three baseball facilities they've used. We have a wonderful relationship with the Flyers, and I think that's one of the reasons that we were able to host. It is a very hot ticket, I will tell you that. It's a real testimony to the sports fans of this community. I've always thought they are phenomenal."

For those who have never been here, the ever-changing Sports Complex in south Philly has long been home to the four professional sports teams. Gone are JFK Stadium, Veterans Stadium and the Spectrum, replaced by new facilities for baseball, football and the indoor sports.

As Montgomery was quick to point out, the complex has hosted the World Series, playoff football games, the Stanley Cup Finals, the National Basketball Association Finals, plus various All-Star Games in baseball, basketball and hockey. The Phillies have won two World Series here -- in 1980 and 2008 -- hosting the World Series again in their six-game loss to the Yankees in '09. The wild and raucous World Series parade in '80 wound from Center City down Broad Street and ended in old wooden, rickety JFK Stadium, where the annual Army-Navy football game was once played.

In the new ballpark, Roy Halladay pitched only the second no-hitter in postseason history in 2010 and the Phillies have been to the playoffs five years in a row. What the Phillies haven't hosted at Citizens Bank is MLB's midsummer All-Star Game, and Montgomery made a little news on Saturday, saying the ballclub is not pushing it.

The Phillies hosted the All-Star Game at the Vet in America's bicentennial year of 1976 and again 20 years later in '96. They are looking ahead to the next decade and there is method to that approach, Montgomery said.

"There's a debate about that in our organization internally," he said. "We had it in '76, which was the bicentennial. And, of course, 2026 will be the 250th anniversary of this country. In Philadelphia, we're pretty proud of that. It won't be on my watch by then, but I've often thought that that would be the ideal time to have the All-Star Game here again."

Commissioner Bud Selig has said that there's no end to the list of requests he has on his plate to host future All-Star Games. He has tried to highlight newer parks, but that list is growing short. Kansas City has it this coming summer in refurbished Kauffman Stadium, and unofficially, the Mets at Citi Field and the Twins at Target Field are on track to host the two after that.

Montgomery made it clear that it's his opinion only, but the Phillies would rather wait.

"If the Commissioner wants to do it sooner, then great," Montgomery added. "My thinking is that I wouldn't want to force it early and then miss that opportunity [in 2026], because it just seems to be the right place to have it."

As the weekend shows, though, there's no shortage of jewel events for the City of Brotherly Love in the here and now.

"I said the other day that it's kind of amazing that in this one square mile of south Philadelphia we've hosted all these events," Montgomery said. "I go way back, but the Liberty Bowl used to be played here every year before it moved to Memphis. You've had Stanley Cup Finals, NCAA Finals, you've had World Series games, and people performing from [Frank] Sinatra to [Bruce] Springsteen.

"I never thought we could have a Super Bowl here, but if there's one up the road to have maybe that also can even happen here. If an area had a bucket list of events to host, the Winter Classic would be on that. Now we can check that off. If there is a slow week in our game, it's between Christmas and New Year's. But for us it has been anything but slow."

Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.