Keith Jones has been calling the races at Philadelphia Park for 23 years. He has been the Phantoms' public-address announcer for all of their 13 years. On March 11, midway through the third period of a game at the Wachovia Spectrum against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, Jones was minding his own business, just off center ice at ice level.
With no warning, a puck came flying over the glass, hit Jones in the mouth, knocked two teeth out, broke his jaw and cut his lip so badly that he needed 58 stitches to put it back together.
"My tooth was on the table in front of me,'' Jones said. "Blood was going all over the place. And I knew I was in trouble.''
Jones was pretty sure he had worked his last Phantoms game as the team has been sold and will be moving after the season. The Spectrum is to be torn down sometime before the end of the year.
But the team made the playoffs. Yesterday, the wire to repair Jones' jaw was removed. Tonight, Jones will be at the mike when the Phantoms play the Hershey Bears in the playoffs.
Jones has since watched the tape of the play that led to his getting hurt. You can't see the puck hit him, but he has figured out how it happened.
"The puck comes all the way from the corner of the rink to my right,'' he said. "I wouldn't even have been able to see the player much less that he fired the puck.''
It is a part of the rink that is blind from Jones' seat. So, there was no warning.
"It's certainly not the first time pucks have come into that area,'' Jones said. "When the pucks do come over, everybody's yelling at each other, 'Heads up, look out.' Because of where the puck was, nobody saw it. There was no 'heads up', no 'look out.' ''
According to Jones, "Penguins defenseman Alex Goligoski was racing back to try to clear a puck as a couple of Phantoms were bearing down on him in the corner.''
Goligoski "took a big whack at it to try to clear it along the boards and the glass.''
The puck wrapped itself around the curvature of the rink and rode up along the glass toward center ice. The glass in front of the spectators is a bit higher than it is in front of the PA announcer. The puck came flying off the higher glass right into Jones.
"That I had no warning might have been a good thing,'' Jones said. "If I had suddenly jerked my head up in reaction to somebody yelling 'look out', who knows where it would have hit?"
Horse racing can be a dangerous sport, but not to the announcers. Jones is high above the action at the "Pha.''
Jones has called 50,000 races at PhillyPark. After working the Phantoms tonight, he will call the races at Atlantic City tomorrow and the "Pha'' races on Saturday.
While he was out, he did get to watch closely as his alma mater, North Carolina, blitzed its way through the brackets to the NCAA championship. But he did miss doing what he does. He will be happy to be back tonight. He will also be looking both ways.