Being a life-long fan of baseball and the Phillies, Citizens Bank Park should be my favorite park, except…“Ain’t never been there, they tell me it’s nice.”
Connie Mack Stadium gets no vote here either. I went just once as a first year minor leaguer with my local Rec Council. Phils lost, kids stole the Cookie Rojas autographed program I had waited in line for him to sign. Older little leaguers I think. I promised myself if I ever pitched against any of them, they would get plunked. Depending of course on the game situation. I never did. Pitch that is.
My favorite stadium, the one with the greatest memories, and one sure not to get very many votes, was Veterans Memorial Stadium. I was in left field on April 10, 1971, the day the stadium opened. As an 11 year old baseball fan I was in amazement. I had been to Connie Mack Stadium in 1970, and it looked old. The Vet was a cement marvel of ramps and concourses with its bright new field of Astro-Turf and multiple levels of different colored seating used around the stadium. There was also a state of the art scoreboard (for 1971) that played funny cartoon videos. The Phillies even gave us 2 new “mascots”, Philadelphia Phil and Phillis, the colonial kids who along with the giant Liberty Bell were part of the Phillies new “home run spectacular” which went something like this…
When a Phillie would hit a home run, Phil would appear in center field and hit a baseball. It traveled toward the message board in right center and struck the Liberty Bell. The bell glowed and its crack lit up. The ball continued and hit little Phillis in the fanny and she fell down. As she fell, she pulled a lanyard on a cannon causing the cannon to explode. After some smoke and sound effects, a Colonial American flag dropped down. And, if that wasn’t enough, dancing waters would come to life to the tune of Stars and Stripes Forever.
As for the game, every Phillies fan can tell you that Boots Day made the first out (who doesn’t love a good Boots Day memory), Larry Bowa got the first hit and 3rd baseman Don Money the first home run in stadium history. More important, the Phils beat the Expos 4-1 and were in first place. And in an exciting pre-game stunt, catcher Mike Ryan caught the first ball after being dropped from a helicopter. The ball, not Mike Ryan. And the Phils were in first place…
I saw many games at the Vet over the years. In 1972 my dad took me to the Vet with the gang from Skippers Seafood Restaurant and Sports Bar when the Phils were the best team in baseball…but only on the days when Steve Carlton pitched. His 27 wins that season were almost half of the team’s total wins and made it easier for us to forget we gave up Rick Wise to get him.
In 1983, I went with some other inebriated friends to see the Phils finally beat the Dodgers and win the National League pennant. Gary Matthews hit a 3-run homer in the first inning that night giving the Phillies all the runs they would need to win the game. We almost missed it thanks to the time it took to ascend to our 700 level seats. Seats so high even a good Sherpa Guide would advise against going there. It didn’t matter that we were too high up to see anything, it was more about being there and taking in a moment that was a long time coming. The rest of the night was spent caught up in the post game drunken revelry of South Philly. I also had a ticket to Game 5 of the World Series against the Orioles. I was smart enough to scalp the ticket prior to the game. You didn’t have to be Joe Garagiola to know the Phils were done. Looking back on it though, I wish I would have gone to the game. I may never get a chance to go to a World Series game again.
In 1984 I sat with my girlfriend, now my wife, in the 700 level drinking melon balls from a thermos we brought in with us. That was back in the era of the Vet where you could bring in a thermos, you just had to promise there was no alcohol in whatever concoction you were smuggling into the park. And you could also bring in sandwiches as some thrifty fans on a budget did. How many cans of beer came into the park each night disguised as hoagies?
I saw the spectacular fast pitch softballer Eddie Feigner and his 4 man team, The King and his Court play an exhibition between games of a doubleheader. To be honest, he probably could have won with just himself and a catcher. Even against the home team.
And in 1993, baseball came full circle for me when I finally went to a game as a Dad. I took my daughter to a couple of games that season so she could see her favorite player…the Kruker. And the Phanatic. In ’93 the team also banned smoking from the seating areas and limited it to just the concourses. The Phillies had finally begun to remove Big Tobacco from the Vet.
The tradition of delivering the first ball led to one of the great moments in Vet history as Kite Man crashed with his kite after falling from a ramp in the outfield seats prior to the opening day game of the 1972 season. In all fairness, he was a last minute replacement for the actual Kite Man, and after he crashed he did try to throw the ball, believing he could reach the pitchers mound. It ended up in the Phillies bullpen and the fan base booed him for his efforts. The Phillies continued the tradition of unsuccessful Kitemen until 1980 when a ball was finally delivered as planned. Oh, and in August of that year Karl Wallenda walked 640 feet across a tight-rope that was 168 feet above the concrete and plastic grass surface of the Vet. Without a net. He did take a break during the walk, to do a headstand over the second base cut-out. I’ll take this kind of world class entertainment over a CB Park bobble-head or bucket hat giveaway any day. I think most people would.
The Vet has been called a toilet, and in many unintended places such as the 700 Level and the bathroom sinks, it lived up to that billing. But for many of us Phillies fans, it was the proverbial toilet where we wallowed with our favorite baseball team from April to September. It was where we went on hot summer days for an over-priced, watered down, flat beer or soda, ball park hot dogs boiled in that gray-colored water in boxes and carried by vendors to all parts of the park, except the 700 Level. If you wanted food there, your best bet was to buy it on the way in and haul it up to your seat. No wonder they were always so pissed-off up there.
And finally, the opening of the Vet in 1971 coincided with the first year of the greatest broadcast team we as fans had the pleasure of listening to, Harry and Whitey. Sadly all three are gone, but we will always have the memories.
“Hard to believe Harry.”