The Big Issue: Philly now a destination for all-star athletes

Phillies outfielder Hunter Pence was an immediate hit with teammates and fans when he arrived last season.

After arriving at Citizens Bank Park for the first time in 2004, Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz noted that the Phillies would never be able to sign a big time pitcher.

Well, Smoltz couldn’t have been more off base. You can’t get much bigger than Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee. Each Cy Young Award winner elected to pitch in Philadelphia.

“We play in a hitter’s park,” Lee said. “There’s no doubt about that. If you worry about your numbers or want to pad your statistics, you don’t come to Philadelphia, if you’re a pitcher. You come to Philadelphia. If you want to win. A lot of guys in this clubhouse are here for that reason and I’m one of them. Philadelphia is the place for me.”

Philadelphia has become a destination for elite professional athletes. The Phillies attracted Halladay and Lee. The Eagles lured Nnamdi Asomugha to the fold. The Flyers signed Ilya Bryzgalov (it seemed like a decent idea at the time) and the Sixers inked Elton Brand to a deal.

“I had no problem coming to Philadelphia,” Brand said. “It’s a great city and I knew it since I’m from the Northeast (New York). The fans are great. They’re smart and they love the game.”

But it’s not just about life on the court for Brand.

“It goes way beyond that,” Brand said. “It’s great to play here but it’s a fun, vibrant city. I love the restaurants in Philadelphia. In the suburbs, I really like going to Azie (in Villanova) and I’m all about El Vez. That’s a place that you got to go to. Athletes know that if you come to Philadelphia, you’re going to enjoy yourself when you’re not playing.”

But the biggest reason Philadelphia is popular with top athletes has little to do with the clubs, bistros and bars. It’s about each local franchise doing whatever it takes to earn a championship.

“The commitment to winning is huge,” Lee said. “You come here and you know that the team is all about winning the World Series. You know deals will be made to make the team stronger. It’s not just the Phillies, the other teams in town are the same way.”

The Eagles spent a fortune on their secondary and will try to do what it takes to win the franchise’s first Super Bowl every year. The Sixers new ownership appears dedicated to building a championship caliber team.

Arguments can be made that the inconsistent Flyers should be sellers as the playoffs are on the horizon but Flyers CEO Ed Snider won’t give up.

“It’s about winning in this town,” the Flyers Wayne Simmonds said. “It’s a different vibe here (compared to Los Angeles, where Simmonds played with the Kings). You can see why players want to come here.”

Committed to winning again solidifies appeal

Dr. John F. Murray is not surprised that so many elite athletes want to come to Philadelphia. It makes perfect sense to the Palm Beach-based sports psychologist.

“There are a lot of reasons Philadelphia is attractive to premiere athletes,” Murray said. “First off, the teams are winning. If ownership is committed, that draws players in. You have that now. All four teams there will do whatever it takes to win.”

Murray, who is the author of “Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History,’ also believes what’s happening in Philly is cyclical.

“I think that good fortune is back in Philly since it was due,” Murray said. “In 1980 Philly was the sports capital of the country. During the late 70s, it was a huge time for Philly sports. The teams wanted to win and you got big free agents like Pete Rose, who helped the Phillies win a World Series. I see it happening again. Other athletes watch what other athletes do and it’s like a domino effect. What great athlete wouldn’t’ want to play in Philly now?”

Growing number of fans too

Philadelphia is growing. Michael Nutter’s city’s population increased for the first time since the ‘50s, according to the Census Bureau last year. Philadelphia grew 0.6 percent.

Mary Genovese Colvin isn’t surprised. She doesn’t wonder why so many people want to live in Philadelphia, particularly Center City. The associate broker at Prudential Fox and Roach is curious why someone wouldn’t want to reside in the City of Brotherly Love.

“It’s a wonderful place to be,” Genovese Colvin said. “You have everything you could ever want in a city. I love it here. It has great restaurants, a wonderful art scene and the best hospitals in the world. I always said if you have to be sick, be sick in Philadelphia.”

Genovese Colvin, who raised two daughters in Center City , lives at 20th and Chancellor streets.

“You know it’s a fabulous place to live when Cliff Lee lives around the way at 17th and Rittenhouse. Philly has it all. A lot of big cities are on the decline in terms of population but not Philly. It’s easy to see why. It’s such a great place to live.”


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