When the Phillies and Citizens Bank Park were awarded the chance to host the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on Jan. 2, featuring the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers, it was a no-brainer to accept.
It has been quite a whirlwind over the past 11 months to organize such a huge undertaking, but it is nearly complete. And the final product will be on display to a sellout crowd and a national television audience on NBC on Monday at 3 p.m. ET. It was originally scheduled for 1 p.m., but was moved back because of the weather forecast.
"We couldn't be more excited to have been selected to be the site of this prestigious event," Phillies president David Montgomery said at a press conference on Thursday at Citizens Bank Park. "I also here have assumed the title of chairman of the Philadelphia Sports Congress, and the mission of that group is to attract as many sporting events as possible to the city as a whole and to the sports complex in particular. This would be right at the top of the list as far as a prestigious event to see take place in the city of Philadelphia."
About 11 months ago, Montgomery was approached by Comcast-Spectacor president and Chief Operating Officer Peter Luukko about hosting this event. There were countless meetings and discussions before it became a done deal.
Through all those long hours in preparation for this event, the Phillies maintained a level of excitement about being a major part of the Winter Classic.
"We've always enjoyed a great relationship with our neighbors across the street -- the Flyers," Montgomery said. "We think that's an important part of this. It provides national exposure to our city, which is important. We're proud of our facility. We've had great moments in the eight years we've been here, and this certainly will be added to that list. We've had some pretty special concerts here with Bruce Springsteen, Elton John and Billy Joel."
The Winter Classic will include an Alumni Game on New Year's Eve and an American Hockey League matchup featuring the Adirondack Phantoms -- a Flyers affiliate -- and the Hershey Bears on Jan. 6.
From the Phillies' perspective, nothing will match the feeling of clinching the World Series title, as they did in 2008 when they ousted the Tampa Bay Rays in five games. But they can hardly wait for the excitement of the Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park.
"We, the Phillies, have been such a beneficiary of solid fans that this community provides," Montgomery said. "I think it extends to so many events. It showcases our city. I'm born in Philadelphia, been here my entire life, and I'm very proud of this city in so many ways. One of the real sources of pride we all should have is the vital aspect of our sports community in the way we support each other."
Montgomery quipped that the most difficult meeting in anticipation of this event was alerting Phillies head groundskeeper Mike Boekholder, who has held that title since July of 2003.
The Phillies will take the field on April 2-3 in a pair of exhibition games against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
"I knew the toughest message would be going down to tell Mike Boekholder we were going to have ice," Montgomery said with a smile. "But the reality is that we knew it's a sacrifice on the field, and a price we would pay that would provide a little challenge. We're confident that come early spring, our field conditions will be fine for baseball."
During this usually sleepy week -- before the hectic pace of another baseball season begins -- the Phillies will have a chance to soak up the atmosphere of the Winter Classic.
It brings back plenty of hockey memories for Montgomery.
"My first hockey memories go back to Philadelphia Arena at 46th and Market, and the team was the Philadelphia Ramblers of the Eastern Hockey League," Montgomery said. "My guess is that there were probably 16 rows of seats around the ice -- eight downstairs and eight in the upper deck -- and my guess is that our attendance is going to be 20 times what was the average attendance for a Ramblers game. I was in college when the Flyers started and I remember Saturday afternoons watching the Original Six teams."
When the NHL moved into Citizens Bank Park on Dec. 19 to prepare for the Winter Classic, pitchers Roy Halladay and Kyle Kendrick were playing long toss on the field. That field is now an ice rink.
On Jan. 2, Kendrick and outfielder Shane Victorino are expected to attend the Winter Classic, according to a Phillies spokesperson.
The ballpark will look vastly different then, but no one can argue that it's a tremendously worthwhile project.
"You know what? I would just say that we're very excited and very fortunate to have been selected to have the opportunity to host," Montgomery said. "It's just a great opportunity for the South Philadelphia Sports Complex."