By Tim Kelly
Wednesday was a sunny and hot July day in Ocean City. Not the kind of day to put one in the mind of hockey. It was the kind of day when thoughts of ice are limited to cubes splashed with a refreshing drink.
Despite the nearly 90-degree temperature, ice, ice hockey and a winter sports team were at the top of mind at the Ocean City Sports and Civic Center grounds. Hundreds of Philadelphia Flyers fans and families looking for a good time turned out for the team’s Community Caravan local stop.
There were Flyers giveaways, free autographs and bobblehead figurines, an autograph table featuring Flyers Alumni legends Bob “the Hound” Kelly, Doug Crossman and Brad Marsh, a live DJ and all types of games.
With all due respect to those attractions, there was still no doubt who was the headliner of the day: Gritty, the team’s seven-foot, orange-bearded, wild-eyed mascot.
Gritty burst onto the scene only last September. Through the power of social media, his popularity soared beyond the original target market of the team’s fans. In just a few short months he’s become the second-most popular team mascot behind another Philly favorite, the Phanatic.
Dave Raymond, who originally portrayed the Phanatic, owns a mascot development firm and was a consultant on Gritty’s creation. Gritty’s popularity is so big at the moment that the current TV spot promoting Flyers season tickets features the mascot more than the players.
Five-year old Maya Swartz, of Center City Philadelphia, summed up Gritty’s appeal better than a marketing report or focus group: “I love him because Gritty is so happy all the time,” she said.
By the looks of those waiting in line for a photo op with the mascot, a depiction of a furry creature in Flyers gear, the great mood was contagious.
“Gritty’s the man! He’s Gritty!” exclaimed Lucas Joyce, 10, of Marmora.
Prior to the mascot’s arrival, Bella Guarner, 14, of Downingtown Pa., posed with Kylie McKeever, 7, of Haddonfield, beneath a giant inflatable Gritty.
“He’s just a lot of fun. He makes you smile,” said Bella.
After a Flyers staffer made some warm-up announcements, Gritty seemingly appeared out of thin air, ahead of his previously announced appearance time of 11:30 a.m. He was accompanied by one of his trademark Gritty Guards, the black suit and dark sunglasses-wearing security detail usually seen at Gritty’s appearances.
Not everyone was focused on Gritty. Caitlyn Schaffer, 11, of Upper Township, showed some fancy stick-handling and shooting at the street hockey area.
“I love street hockey. I’ve been playing it for five years,” Caitlyn said before snapping off a wrist shot and hitting the back of the net.
Jim Grant, of Fallston, Md., was on hand with daughter Riley, 7, and son Breandan, 5.
“We’re on vacation, but we weren’t going to miss this,” said Grant, a Flyers season ticketholder.
The good news for Gritty fans and Flyers fans who missed Wednesday’s festivities is that the Community Caravan will be making another stop in the area on Aug. 8 in Somers Point.