Feb 082011

By Barry Jeffrey Jr.

Has there ever been a more anticipated Spring Training than this one?  Maybe the 1981 season or the 2009 season, but both of those were teams coming off World Series wins.  Last year’s Phillies squad, as we all know, is coming off losing in the National League Championship series to the eventual World Series winning Giants.  Yet there is a spirit among Phillies fans like we actually won everything.  Even Losing Jayson Werth and his potent bat in right field to a division rival has done little to dampen the enthusiasm and anticipation for when “Aces and Catchers Report”.  Cliff Lee signing here has Phillies fans pacing the floors waiting for these last few remaining days of winter to slip away.  Some are anxious to get the bad taste of the Eagles season ending playoff loss to the Packers out of their mouths.  Some are just anxious to have something else to do on the days a very powerful Flyers team are not scheduled to play. 

Even with the Eagles annual falter and the usual questioning of Andy Reid’s worth, this is actually still a great time for sports for the Philly fan.  The Flyers are among the best teams in the NHL right now, usually ranking either first or second on most power polls.  They are a team, coming off a Stanley Cup appearance, running three strong scoring lines, a very good 4th line with six strong NHL defensemen guarding their blue line.  Not many teams can run a top to bottom defensive pairings as strong as Chris Pronger, Matt Carle, Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Colburn, Sean O’Donnell, and Andrei Meszaros.  It is a huge difference over running Lucas Krajicek and Ryan Parent out as the final pairing on defense. The firepower of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Danny Briere, Scott Hartnell, Claude Giroux, Ville Leino, James van Riemsdyk, and Nikolai Zherdev in front of that defense is a winning combination and can match production with almost anyone. The 4th line may not be as flashy but Blair Betts and Darroll Powe are very defensively sound and Jody Shelley and Dan Carcillo add the needed toughness for playing in the Eastern Conference.  Goaltending with Bobrovsky and Boucher has been a bit shaky at times but it has also been very strong as well.  Well enough that last year’s playoff hero (and goat) Michael Leighton is toiling for the worst team in the AHL, the Adirondack Phantoms.  This is a team that has the potential to win it all.  There should be a lot of love still to come for this team as their coaching by Peter Laviolette is on a par with any team across the league.

The Philadelphia 76ers often has been the red headed step-child among the teams lately, especially after the results of last season. This was a disaster under over-matched coach Eddie Jordan, who could not get anything to work.  Even a return by future Hall of Famer Allen Iverson did not work out.  With Jordan fired and the job given to Doug Collins, while there is still work to be done, the team is very exciting to watch on most nights.  Watching them you can see that there is improvement in every phase of the game this season.  There will probably still be some tinkering and maybe a major move (or two) on the horizon but basketball, which was dead in Philly, finally looks to have some life in it. Jrue Holiday, Thad Young, Evan Turner, a healthy Elton Brand, Lou Williams, Andre Igoudala, and Jodie Meeks have brought fun and hard work back to the Wells Fargo Center. The biggest improvement is definitely Collins though.  Last year Jordan pretty much gave up, not even trying to do any coaching after he lost the team.  Collins, a strong student of the game, has brought in a smart system that he can work the various players into and he has given the players confidence in themselves and in that system.  The ghosts of Wilt, George McGinnis, Dr. J, Moses, Barkley, and Iverson and winning basketball may not be laid to rest yet, but it may not be very long until we see it once more.

Now we come back to the Phillies.  Anticipation is running through everyone, but so is hunger.  Most of us feel like last year’s loss was not fulfilling of the promise of the team.  Some feel that the results were unsatisfactory, despite having the best record in baseball at the end of the regular season.  Now with the beginning of the spring here, we are all turning our eyes to Florida.  With a lot of hope and wonder of how this Phillies dynasty that began with Bowa baseball and has continued under Charlie Manuel’s cool, calm, and collected guiding hand will play out.  Let’s face it people, this team IS a dynasty under Phillies standards.  Those Bowa years were in fact mostly winning seasons.    

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Barry Jeffrey Jr. writes “The Crow’s Nest” column for PSC.  

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