Mr. Unremarkable vs. The Power of No!

Another historical fiction from South Jersey’s favorite 1970’s SuperHero In Training.

Anyone who has ever participated in Superhero (S.H.I.T.) training or simply struggled to find an answer to a personal question knows the power of this one simple word. The word No can be a bulldozer in training, it oozes with negativity and can often be the final opinion in the daily decision making process. It’s probably one of the reasons there are so few superheroes around. Just like me, you may have experienced this verbal phenomenon early in your own life...

Hey Dad, since I haven’t mastered Fire Manipulation yet, can I soak these cattails in gasoline (not to be confused with cat tails or cat’s tail), imageand don’t you think they would make great torches for running around the neighborhood?” Of course my Dad replied with the one and only correct answer in his mind, “Noooo!” This was followed by a fast trip into the garage to see what fresh hell I had dreamed up. I swear he had developed Teleportation skills. Now as somewhat of an adult I can see why he was concerned,  but as a S.H.I.T. I was disappointed his No put an end to my daring idea.

Like most regular kids in the neighborhood, I spent many weekend summer days winning the imageWorld Series. Unfortunately, unlike so many other kids who had one of those pitch back nets, my bottom of the 9th inning was played out using a tennis ball thrown against a broken mirror propped against the side of the house. It worked pretty good for me once I broke the glass in the mirror, on just the second pitch I’m proud to say. Mom and Dad…not as proud however. And after a wild pitch broke 2 shingles on the house, the power of No won out once again. As in No more balls against the side of the house. The garage then? “No!” It was here that it became painfully obvious, if I was going to pitch in the World Series it would only be by my superpower to change reality, known in the world of S.H.I.T.’s as Reality Warping.

As a youth playing baseball in rural South Jersey in the ’70’s the yes vs. no debate was also a mental altercation I had with my coach during my first year in Little League. While I knew that Yes, I could and wanted to pitch, he felt that No, I wasn’t a pitcher, his son was, and my best talents that first year were to keep the official score book. And I have to give him credit, no matter how much I used my power of Mind Control, he fought it all season.

Unfortunately for my coach, league rules said I had to play at least one inning in each game, meaning someone else had to keep the book. So around the 7th inning of each game I would get up off of my glove (I liked to sit on it so I didn’t lose it) and take my place in right field or wherever he chose to play me. And God love him, he over-managed us all the way to the league championship game. And in that game, all of the double switches and pitching changes he made finally caught up to him. I would have to hit. With a runner on first and one out, down by a run. The air was filled with drama, or the remnants of Billy Zawatawicz’s last flatulent masterpiece, I’m not sure drama ever smelled like that. Happy to be off the bench, away from Billy, I made the most of my at-bat and lined a 6-hopper through the infield into center field allowing the runner on first to go all the way to third.

As a bench player, you would think that would have been my biggest accomplishment and I would be satisfied. It was, but I was not. Anyone, and I mean anyone, who has ever coached at the Little League level knows what should have happened next. A double steal. Make the other team throw the ball. Worse case, I might be out at second, but the runner on third would score on the throw to second base and tie the game. It was that obvious. Except to the coach who treated every game like it was Game 7 of the World Series, but was now incapable of that type of second-level thinking. And after no sign from him on the first two pitches, it would be up to me and my Superhuman Speed. When the next pitch crossed home plate, I was off and running to glory. About half way there I looked back to see the catcher had made up his mind to attempt and throw me out at second. It was working, by God my plan was working!

Now, following up on part 2 of my plan, I took a look over to third base, and what I saw shocked me. Not only was my coach there, waving his hands over his head in a, “Who told you to do that?” kind of way, but the runner on third was still there, standing on the base, laughing at another round of commotion Billy had caused on our bench.  As I started my slide, several questions popped into my head, the most critical of which was “Why was I the only one running?”  But as my foot touched the bag, barely ahead of the tag, I felt only vindication for my decision to run. It was up to the home plate umpire, the game’s only umpire, had he actually seen the play, would he make the right call? The answer was No to both questions. And as I laid there in the dirt, I had an epiphany. “When trying to think like an adult, sometimes you remove logic and common sense.” I’m still not sure what that means, but as we stood in line to get our Second Place trophy, my coach questioned my decision to try and steal second base. Would he ever have the logic to see the strategy in what I tried to do? Would he ever question his own lack of vision that stranded a runner at third base? Would he suggest to Billy’s parents a common sense low flatulent diet for Billy? Maybe, but if I had to make a guess, it would be No, all three times.

 

My Best Friend And A Ball Game

Baseball, probably more than any other sport, is constantly promoting the next big give-away day at the ballpark. Teams also have “special events” such as a 4th of July Fireworks show to lure in more fans. As a Phillies fan, one of the biggest events the team has each year is celebrating the Phillie Phanatic’s birthday. Mascots from everywhere show up, some recognizable, some not. This year marked the Phanatic’s 38th birthday in human years, not really sure what that adds up to in Phanatic years, and of course his mom Phoebe was there to help celebrate the big day, along with the Zooper Stars (Ken Giraffey Jr., Shark Mcguire, and the umpire-eating Clammy Sosa).

Unfortunately the Phanatic and I don’t get along ever since he climbed into my car at a public appearance and knocked a box of popcorn out of my hand, (true story) making my then 2-year old daughter cry. Apparently it’s okay for him to unroll that tongue of his in your face, but don’t ever give him a playful slap to the back of his fuzzy green head. He doesn’t like that. Of course my daughter being just 2 got over it, but being somewhat of an adult, I just can’t let it go. 

This month’s Can of Corn Challenge is to write about your favorite give away day that you’ve attended. For the sake of transparency, I’ve never been to a baseball game where something was “given away”. I did almost get a foul ball once, however my friend was able to grab it from underneath of the woman’s seat next to him before I could get to it…

…the ball’s live until it’s in someone’s hands. Beneath someone’s seat doesn’t establish ownership.

That was our rule back then, but to be honest, I always thought he should have given the ball back to her so she could give it to her grandson. Especially since he was sitting right next to her. But, it was the Vet in the late 1970’s after all, a place where manners and common courtesy went to die many deaths.

My choice of games to attend would be one of the newer, more popular event days baseball teams have, an event that is on the schedule of over 20 Major League teams…Bark At The Park.

Dog days, or nights, have become so popular in 2016 that many teams are offering them multiple times during the season. In Arizona, the Diamondbacks have made dogs welcome every Sunday in 2016. The Texas Rangers even combined a bobble head give-away, (for you traditionalists), followed by a post game concert by Cody Johnson. I don’t know who that is since my music knowledge ends at 1990, but I’ll assume he’s a Country & Western singer?

In May this year, the Phillies held their Bark At the Park Day for 300 of our Best Friends and their families. Dogs were encouraged to wear their Phillies gear for the chance to win the Becst In Show contest, and participate in the on-field parade prior to the game. The opportunity to be on a Major League Baseball field was a dream I was encouraged to give up when I was 12. Who would think a 13 inch Beagle would give me the best chance to ever “live that dream” imagesome 40+ years later? Of course, just like my inability to hit a curve ball, his love of a good cheesesteak would make it a challenge to get him by the concession stands in Ashburn Alley and make it on the field for the parade. I know, I know…the Phils are too smart to allow dogs in Ashburn Alley, they prefer them to be on the field. (You can interpret that last statement however you want.)

Bark At the Park Night also helped to raise money and awareness for PAWS (the Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society) and ARF (Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation). Representatives from PAWS had some adoptable pets on-hand and fans were encouraged to bring much-needed items like food and cleaning supplies.

Maybe someday Bailey and me will make it to a Bark in the Park game because I can’t think of a better way to spend a day with a loyal best friend. 

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My Favorite Ballpark…

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.”

My Favorite Ballpark…