Going to a Phillies game nowadays is different than it was 10 years ago. Every night there is a sense of excitement that something great might happen on the field — and for good reason. The “four aces,” in addition to Ryan Howard’s hitting prowess and Jimmy Rollins’ explosiveness, have the ability to ignite a Philly crowd.
But May 1, Citizens Bank Park expressed its intensity for a more important reason, on a national stage.
Sitting in the 300 level of the park during the ninth inning of a tied game, I was focused on a Phillies win against the New York Mets. As the Mets’ pinch hitter, Daniel Murphy, was being announced, the crowd began to murmur. The first half of the ninth inning was barely watched, as everyone in the stands seemed to be checking their cell phones with curiosity. Even the Mets and Phillies fans in the 400 level stopped a yelling match to recognize the news of Osama bin Laden’s death that circulated the park. I found out when the guy in front of me turned to tell us the news: “We killed bin Laden!”
The murmur turned into a chant of three letters that stand for so much more: “U-S-A, U-S-A.” The sellout crowd of 45,713 all joined in on the patriotic feeling that swept across the stadium. Typically, I keep to myself and appreciate the play at a ball game, but this was a different feeling. It was a feeling of pride for my country, but also relief that a man evil enough to kill 3,000 innocent people was no longer alive.
As the crowd became louder with every second that went by, the players stopped for a minute to take notice of what was going on. The Phillies players in the field may have been unaware of what exactly occurred, but they knew it was something special by the crowd’s reaction. It was a moment, and maybe the only moment, that Phillies fans and Mets fans were able to cheer together for a common source of triumph.
After the game, Mets third basemen David Wright acknowledged the reaction of the Philadelphia crowd.
“I don’t like to give Philadelphia fans too much credit, but they got this one right,” Wright said. “I guess it’s a proud moment to stand out there and you’ve got 45-50,000 chanting [people]. That was pretty special.”
Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino took a moment after the game to talk to reporters about what the moment meant to him.
“After the game, you sit back and you think about something like that happening and it has been almost 10 years,” Victorino said. “For those who have suffered, I heard a couple of statements on the news that for those people lost on 9/11, they have some kind of closure. It definitely is a big day for American history.”
ESPN’s national broadcast of the game put Philadelphia fans in the positive spotlight, for once. Typical national broadcasts of Philadelphia sports rip the fans for what the announcers describe as “Philadelphia-fan antics.” They tell old stories about throwing snowballs at Santa and bring up the way we treated former players such as J.D. Drew, without ever acknowledging the intelligence of our fans and the support we provide to our city’s teams. This time, they had no choice but to recognize the fans’ ability to identify the significance of bin Laden’s death.
Philadelphia’s appreciation of America’s successful mission was not limited to one night; the next day the Flyers faced-off against the Bruins in game two of their conference semi-final matchup. The already goosebump-giving “God Bless America” duet sung by Lauren Hart and a video-recording of the late Kate Smith had an added meaning after Sunday night’s news. The already intense crowd rained another “U-S-A” chant upon the players about to battle.
The Flyers’ star of Game 2, James van Riemsdyk, talked about what the news of bin Laden’s death meant to him.
“This is a strong country that never quit on it,” Van Riemsdyk said. “And now, supposedly, the head of the snake is gone, and hopefully this will make the world a better place.”
Philadelphia may have lost both games, but the show of American pride from Philly fans over the two days made me, like always, proud to be a Philadelphia sports fan.