In my 30-plus years on this planet, I have been to countless Major League Baseball games — the vast majority of them in Philadelphia, either at the now demolished Veterans Stadium or the current home of the Philadelphia Phillies, Citizens Bank Park. I honestly have no idea how many MLB games I’ve attended, but the number is well into the triple digits.
And in all those years, over all those hours upon hours of taking in games, I had never in my life witnessed a no-hitter firsthand. Not once. That is until Sunday afternoon in sunny South Philadelphia, when 34-year-old Josh Beckett held the Phillies hitless for nine remarkably easy innings.
As fate would have it, on Saturday I made plans with my buddy Josh and his girlfriend to attend the Phillies game on Sunday — my first Phillies game of the 2014 season. This was the longest I had ever gone — at least to my recollection — into a season without having attended a game, so even though I was already committed to going to Monday’s Memorial Day matinee against the Colorado Rockies, I was anxious to get to my first game of this already trying season.
So on Sunday, after getting picked up and procuring a small tailgate, in we went to Citizens Bank Park. We took our seats in section 144, row 7. The three of us had seats 5-7, with the row in front of us practically empty — as was a large portion of the ballpark. We aren’t in 2007-11 anymore, that’s for damn sure.
Upon entering the row in front and then stepping up to our seats so as to not make the large man with his three little children get up, I noticed this large man looked very familiar. It took me a few seconds before I realized it was Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Hal Gill. Yes, that Hal Gill. When I realized this, I told my friend I think that’s Hal Gill sitting right next to us. He said, “Look it up,” so I did, and my smartphone confirmed what my instincts had already uncovered: Hal Gill was most definitely sitting next to me with his two daughters and son.
Now, I’m not one to bother athletes or celebrities in public, but it felt weird to me that absolutely no one seemed to notice that the 39-year-old defenseman — a guy who won a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins and spent most of his career using his big body to defend Flyers forwards as a Bruin, Maple Leaf, Penguin and Canadien (not to mention Predator) before joining the Flyers this past offseason — was there taking in a game. One gentleman sitting behind him had engaged Gill in a short conversation, and when Gill got up to get some food with his kids, I asked the guy he was conversing with if that was Hal Gill he was talking to. This numbskull didn’t even seem to know who Hal Gill was, so I said, the Flyers defenseman. He said he had no idea.
Anyway, when he came back, I did what I usually hate to do. I turned toward Gill and said, “I’m sorry to bother you, but are you Hal Gill?” He said that he was, in fact, Hal Gill, and I told him quickly I thought the Flyers were going to pull it off after I attended Game 6. He said he did too and thanked me, and I let him be the rest of the way. He certainly seemed like a nice guy.
The only other interactions I had with the Gill’s were being entertained by his young son, who seemed to really be enjoying himself running and up down the empty row in front of us with his black wiffle ball bat, and asking one of his daughters if she liked Philadelphia, to which she emphatically nodded her head. Then the Gill’s left around the sixth inning because, as Gill explained, the kids got bored.
— Hal Gill (@Skillsy75) May 25, 2014
His kids weren’t the only ones. The Phillies were so dormant and so pathetic on Sunday that it was one of the most boring games I’ve ever been at in my entire life. And that’s a shame, because I was actually really looking forward to seeing A.J. Burnett pitch in the red pinstripes for the first time and doing so against his former Florida Marlins teammate Josh Beckett no less. But A.J. didn’t have his stuff from the jump, giving up two runs in the first two innings and getting knocked around for 11 hits and four earned runs before it was all said and done, while the Phillies were anemic at the plate.
By the time the fifth inning rolled around, I almost had forgotten the Phillies had any base-runners at all — Beckett walked one in the first and another in the second — as the Phillies still had a big, old goose egg in the hits department.
The thing about the performance was that Beckett didn’t seem to have dominant stuff. There have probably been more than two dozen times in his career that Beckett has looked more electric than he did Sunday afternoon. However, every time a Phillies batter entered the box, save for three who walked, that batter found himself recorded as an out. Only six of the 27 came via strikeout, as most came via weak contact.
The Phils, with their pathetic offense, had poor at-bats, often making Beckett’s job easy. And to Beckett’s credit, he didn’t allow solid contact. I can’t even remember more than one or two balls all day getting hit hard off him.
It was beyond an anemic performance by a putrid Phillies team, and truthfully, I was having more fun talking to my friends — a couple other friends were in nearby sections — than I was watching this no-hitter that was unfolding.
Even as I fully grasped that a no-hitter was a real possibility, there was no electricity in the air. I’m sure it’s often that way when the home team is the one getting shut out, but for some reason I thought there’d be more tension in the stadium, a more energetic and worried feeling. Maybe it was because the stadium had plenty of empty seats. Maybe it was because this Phillies squad is so uninteresting to begin with. Or maybe it’s because no one really gives a damn about the Dodgers in Philadelphia. I don’t know. But even when Beckett secured the final out and the scoreboard read zeros in the runs and hits departments for the home team, it was more anticlimactic than anything.
I mean, it was certainly cool to take in my first no-hitter, but it wasn’t quite what I expected. Yet I do have to admit, when it was clear the Phillies weren’t going to win, I was kind of rooting to see it. And I did, on a day the Phillies handed out toy bats to children, no less.
Citizens Bank Park was essentially a complete dead space Sunday afternoon. Beckett completed his first no-hitter of his storied career, beating his former teammate who has an interesting no-hitter of his own on his résumé. It was definitely a brilliant performance, but the drama never seemed to live up to the accomplishment. Maybe that’s just life at Citizens Bank Park in 2014. There is no excitement any longer, no expectations and little hope. So now even when something as exciting and rare as a no-hitter takes place, the life is drained from a once-thriving atmosphere.
As sad as that experience was, I headed back on Monday for more potential torture, particularly with Troy Tulowitzki and the Rockies in town.
This time, however, the fortunes were reversed.
On yet another beautiful day, I headed down to the stadium with three of my friends as we tailgated before watching Kyle Kendrick take the bump. After Kendrick set the Rockies down in the first, it took all of one batter for the Phils to eclipse their hits total from the day before, as Ben Revere continued his recent hot streak by leading off with a single.
From there, the hits just kept on coming. Revere, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard each had three apiece to lead the Phils to nine runs on 12 hits overall in a 9-0 shutout victory. Kendrick pitched a solid game, and the bullpen actually closed it out without surrendering a run.
In addition to downing more than a few dollar dogs, we were right around the landing spot for Ryan Howard’s mammoth two-run home run in the sixth inning, as in so close that my buddy was lining up the ball before the fellow in front of him deflected it.
By the time the eighth inning rolled around and John Mayberry had capped the game with a pinch-hit home run himself, we were wiped out. Two straight days of day drinking and baseball had taken its toll, and we departed with an inning and a half to go.
It was quite the memorable Memorial Day. In addition to honoring all those who serve and have given the ultimate sacrifice, I got to meet an NHL player at a game that culminated in the first no-hitter I’ve ever witnessed in person, and then saw just how crazy baseball can be with a 12-hit, nine-run explosion from the same team that just got no-hit the day before.
On a beautiful weekend, I saw the best and the worst my favorite ball club has to offer, and I’ll certainly never forget Josh Beckett’s first career no-hitter — no matter how hard I try to forget damn near everything about the Philadelphia Phillies in 2014.
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