What will South Philly sound like when Eagles, Phillies play to empty stadiums?

Dave Uram
July 15, 2020 - 11:09 am

UPDATED: July 16, 8:30 a.m.

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphia sports fans bring it to every game they attend. The 76ers weren’t 29-2 at home by accident before the coronavirus paused the NBA season. 

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However, even though the Phillies are allowed to play their games at Citizens Bank Park starting next Friday, and the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field this fall, the city says no fans will be allowed in either stadium through February 2021.

“We have seen the protocols for all the major sports leagues, and all the protocols look pretty good,” Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Tom Farley said. “I do think that games can be played with the kind of safety precautions that they’re proposing. I do not think that they can have spectators at those games. There’s no way for them to be safe and have a big crowd there."

Farley added that would include tailgating as well.

Phillies Executive Vice President Dave Buck told the WIP Morning Show that they weren't surprised by Tuesday's announcement. However, he wondered out loud: "What happens if every Phillies, Eagles, Sixers, Flyers and Union fan — and I’m not being political or anything — what if everyone of those fans wears a mask and gets two of their friends to wear a mask for the next three months, or two weeks, or whatever, and things start to get better? Things are gonna change throughout this whole process."

Philadelphia officials released a statement later on Wednesday to clarify its moratorium on public events, as it pertains to sports fans.

Currently, the city's initial modified "green" phase doesn’t allowing outdoor events of more than 50 people — which applies to the Linc — but it’s a fluid situation, and the policy is always under review.  City leaders say they are in close communication with the Eagles, and they’ll keep working together.

Mayor Kenney tweeted, "Sporting events will be determined by the team and city based on current guidance as COVID-19 evolves."

Also, the Eagles have been preparing for many scenarios lined up with NFL protocols and local guidelines. As of Wednesday, KYW Newsradio's requests for comment from the Eagles had gone unanswered. 

Missing the Linc

The NFL responded to NBC Sports Philadelphia's John Clark when he asked about Philadelphia officials' decision to bar fans.

And Eagles cornerback Jalen Mills said he thinks some time this season, fans will eventually come back. 

The Voice of the Eagles, Merrill Reese, said it’s going to be strange without fans, but he says he understands it’s for safety. For over 40 years, Reese has made sure the window in the radio booth is open — even on freezing cold days — because he wants to take in the atmosphere. It’s going to be very different this fall. 

“There’s no doubt, I’m gonna miss the crowd,” Reese told KYW Newsradio. “I’m gonna miss that big roar. I will miss it, believe me. And all of us will miss it, but it’s better than no football.”

Despite that strange feeling, Reese is confident his focus — and the players' focus — will be undiminished. 

“When I’m doing a game, I allow the crowd to punctuate the broadcast, but I’m really involved and deeply engrossed in concentrating and making the call.”

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On a normal Sunday, for at least half of the season, Reese, his broadcast partner Mike Quick, and his spotter, statistician, producer and stadium engineer share a very small, very tight booth at Lincoln Financial Field. It’s the exact opposite of social distancing.

Reese said he’s not sure what the booth setup will be like this season — or if he and his team will travel for road games. However, he said, “I’m certain that Mike and me and (spotter) Billy (Werndl) and Terry Small, our statistician, will not be sitting on each other’s laps the way we are on a normal Sunday.”

Fan-free Phillies

Meanwhile, the Phillies were already planning their 30-game home schedule for a fan-free ballpark. Tuesday night, we got a sample of what that might sound like. 

For the first time this summer camp, the Phils streamed an intra-squad game over their social media accounts and web site.

It featured a lot of the normal elements we’re used to — for example, playing Harry Kalas’ legendary “Outta Here!” call after Scott Kingery’s home run. 

There was walk-up music for the players and music between innings. 

Legendary announcer Dan Baker, who started with the Phils in 1972, did his job from the Phanavision booth on the Hall of Fame Club Level.

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,” Baker said to a ballpark with no fans. “The Philadelphia Phillies welcome you to Citizens Bank Park and Summer Camp 2020.”

There was even some artificial crowd noise pumped into the stadium during the game. 

Last week, Manager Joe Girardi explained why that’s important. 

“You just think about hitters. Can a hitter hear a catcher move without the buzz of a crowd or the noise, and can they hear us barking out directions that they normally wouldn’t hear to maybe someone in the dugout,” he said.

It was difficult to hear the simulated crowd noise on the Phillies' scrimmage stream, but as the game went on, it got a little louder. 

Girardi said he was pleased with the first go-around of this unprecedented experiment.

“I thought it was good. I asked (catcher) Andrew Knapp about it. He liked it. I like to see them maybe use different noises during the course of a game so it’s not the same noise all the time, but I thought it was good.”

Few athletes connect better with the fans than Bryce Harper. He interacts with them when he runs out to right field, and he uses their energy to feed into his game. 

“It’s gonna be a challenge for everybody,” Harper said on July 3. “I think everybody that goes onto to a baseball field this year, it’s gonna be a challenge. But you have to remember to yourself that you’re playing for your teammates, you’re playing for the fans that are watching at home. They’re probably excited as all get-up to be able to watch you play.

“I’m gonna play my same game. I’m still gonna pump my fist. I’m still gonna play as hard as I can, because they’re gonna be doing that at home, and they’re gonna be watching us go into our games each night and 7:05, 4:05 or 1:05, they’re gonna be watching us at home. So, they deserve my best, and my teammates do as well."

Phillies Executive Vice President Dave Buck told the WIP Morning Show on Wednesday that they will eventually offer fans the chance to buy cardboard cutouts of themselves to put in the stands.

"We hope to have a lot," he said. "We have a way to secure them to the seats, and we think it’s kinda fun."