“…you know more about your team than you ever will know again.” – Dan Shaughnessy
This past week has seen me really take a deep look back to those salad days of my Phillies Phandom. My day of baseball at the Phillies’ home opener was filled with wonderful recollections of those trips to Veterans Stadium to see my favorite team play my favorite sport. Later in the week, the third anniversary of the passing of Harry Kalas came and went, once again making me recall the magic of my youth and my passion for the Phillies.
To drive the point home, a few pieces of personal memorabilia have come in to my possession.
But before I get those items, I must bring your attention to a fellow photographer who sent along to me a blog post he published three years ago on the day Harry Kalas was taken away from us. From his website, Jerseystyle Photography:
“Back in 1989, the Phillies flat-out stunk. Stunk so bad I don’t even want to remember. I was 19, as was my buddy Jim, and we both thought we were going to take the sportswriting nation by storm. We’d listen and agonize over the Nonphightin’ Phils that summer. At some point, we thought ‘Hey, they should let us do an inning or two. Break up the monontany.’ So we drafted a letter to Harry and Ritchie and sent it off, never thinking twice. Little did we expect to receive a personalized response from The Voice himself. Complete with edit marks (this was WAY before email). An actual letter, polite and classy, back to a couple of dumb college freshman. That’s what endures – Harry’s class.”
This is why we will always love HK.
About a month ago, my friend Tom, who I attended the home opener with, sent to me all the newspapers he collected on April 18, 1987, the day Michael Jack Schmidt cemented his place in the Hall of Fame when he parked a Don Robinson pitch over the left field wall in Pittsburgh for his 500th career home run.
The sight of the Philadelphia Inquirer’s special section about Schmidt’s life in baseball created a wave of emotion and nostalgia. As an 11-year old, I poured over that inset, digesting all the pictures, stories, and statistics about my baseball hero. I must have looked at it at least 10,000 times. And then noticing that this year marks the 25th anniversary of that blast, another realization of how the years are flying hit me.
But then Tom took it the next level. At the opener, we talked about our first Phillies games. The sights. The smells.
To this day, this is all I remember: It was a Sunday game. I went with my first Little League team. My dad, unfortunately, was not with me. We sat somewhere between the 500 and 700 level, on the first base side. Larry Christenson pitched. That’s it.
Tom went home and immediately found the game on Baseball Reference.
The very next day, he sent me another email. We discovered that we actually both attended Game 4 of the 1993 World Series, and may have sat very close to each other in the high-altitude reaches of the 700 level in right field. In his search for his stub, he stumbled upon another ticket from 1982.
The same game. My first game. 30 years ago.
He was not in attendance. He had traded with another person to get this random game ticket. He popped it in the mail the very next day.
I will forever be in debt.
All of these artifacts could pique the interest of collectors and Phillies Phans. I don’t know what these yellowing pieces of paper hold in terms of dollars and cents.
It’s impossible to monetize.
That’s the way it should be.
Today marks the three year anniversary of the passing of the “sound of summer”, Harry Kalas.
We miss you HK.
There were many differences in my experience of yesterday’s Phillies home opener compared to last year’s. Instead of a three-train trek, I was once again charioted down to Citizens Bank Park by my fellow Phantasy Camper/roommate Sam. A quick PATH ride to his home in Jersey City truly beats wading through the throngs of humanity at Penn Station. Plus, I got to actually spend the time having a nice conversation, instead of draining my iPhone battery playing various (fill in the blank) With Friends games.
The weather was about 30 degrees warmer this year, but the early Spring wind returned, transforming the Cit into Candlestick Park East. Sitting on the right-field side, up in the 200 level put us directly in crossfire of the whipping breeze. But the sun was just warm enough to make us forget about our neighbor’s wayward hot dog wrapper slapping us in the face.
The one other difference? The Phillies lost this year.
But hey, lil’ Freddy Galvis got his first major league hit! Really, the only highlight of the entire game.
It was still the home opener. It was a beautiful Spring day. Baseball has returned. Phillies loss? Who cares?
Discussions with Sam and my good friend Tom, who was my game-mate for the day, seemed to focus a lot on our memories of seeing the Phillies at the Vet during our younger years… our very first games, the lean years in the late 80′s and early 90′s, the other-worldly ’93 season, and everything in-between. I don’t know if it was the relative ugliness of this game’s performance, the looming cloud over this team with age and injuries, and the very loud and consistent boo’ing (even after “God Bless America”!), but this sense of nostalgia (even if it was a tad negative) really warmed my heart. I thought of my dad a lot this day. Nothing excited me more as a child than getting in our ’77 Plymouth station wagon, making the 20-30 drive north to the larger-than-life Veterans Stadium. Armed with a cooler stocked with a full lunch supplied by my mom, I would take whatever free promotional gift was given out that Sunday, take our seats and gaze out at that bright green field that seemed about as big as the Atlantic Ocean. I never remembered who won. I didn’t care. I had the best time.
After Chooch’s last at bat, we made our to the Diamond Club for a quick Phantasy Camp reunion. Our attention was drawn to the incredible painting called the “Dream Scene” by Jamie Cooper that adorns the wall above the stairs leading down to the Club.
Everyone’s gaze was stuck on this incredible image.
We just stared and smiled at all the memories. It’s a wonderful selection of all the most important Phillies players and personalities. Easily, the best little tribute in the whole painting came in the form of the small vase with the single rose, standing on the table in front of Dallas Green… He may not be painted in to the scene, but he’s still there.
Tom and I made our way down to the Club and went outside to check out the view of the grounds crew taking care of the field. I’m 36 years old, but still feel like a little kid, completely surrounded by the echos of a professional baseball game.
I took him over to the other end of the Club to show him the window that looks down on the Phillies batting cages. We had just missed Placido Polanco taking some post-game swings. The sea of baseballs strewn all over the cage proved work definitely still needs to be done to get this offense kicked in to gear.
Phantasy Camp stalwarts Larry Andersen and Scott Palmer made an appearance to greet us Campers. After that game, I’m sure L.A. could have used a drink.
Our reunion was brief, but was still able to speak with fellow Campers and discuss our desire to return once again. But what made my afternoon was being approached by a woman named Sumi, the wife of Craig Gerhart. Campers from this past January (and readers of my diary) know Craig as easily THE happiest man in the world. His infectious child-like, positive attitude and never-ending smile was absolutely incredible. Sumi had come over to tell me how much she loved this blog and how happy Craig was to be mentioned. She told me he signed up for next year right before the game. Not at all shocking. Craig is exactly what Phantasy Camp is and should be all about: Being a kid.
We made our way back to our respective cars, taking in the beautiful weather. We stopped to snap some pictures of another one of our childhood baseball icons.
We passed the various statues that adorned the ramps at the old Vet. They acted as official greeters to our own Roman Coliseum… when we were kids and just being at a baseball game was everything.
When we didn’t care who won or lost.
No, not the running-towards-the-exit-of-the-Polo-Grounds/over-the-head Willie Mays catch… but my Defensive Play Of The Game-earning catch from the first game of Day Four from Phillies Phantasy Camp.
Now where do I pick up my Gold Glove Mr. Selig?