Saturday, March 20, 2004

Veteran's Stadium Memories

It's implosion time. Though I don't think I'll get up and watch at 6:30am tomorrow morning. I guess I shouldn't be surprised about all of the media coverage. It's just another event in the city's history. But, after watching misty-eyed men being interviewed about the Vet and all of their memories I started thinking about the relationship that stadium and I share...

I think I went to the Vet for the first time when I was 9 years old. These six years have really flow- OK...OK... It's been about 27 years since that first trip to the "cookie cutter."

It's amazing how times change. All of those stadiums (Veteran's, Riverfront, Three Rivers & Busch) were built in the late 60s/early 70s and seemed like a great idea at the time. I can hear the planners & engineers now, "Multi-purpose, multi-function stadiums are the wave of the future." They were, for a while. The Vet would have been best served to switch to grass in the early 80s, it would have prolonged careers. (I can remember Scott Rolen having to take days off during his third year because of the way that turf treated his back. You could ask Michael Irvin about it too, but not the fans. That's a post for another time.) Busch, in St. Louis switched to grass and the other two ballparks are gone. they've been replaced by the "re-generated" ball park. Old park feel, with new park convenience. And in the case of Baltimore(Old - Memorial Stadium) & Pittsburgh they got TWO new stadiums each for their outdoor teams. And now Philly is coming onto the scene, in typical Philly style, late.

I've probably been to 200 or 300 events at the Vet in my life (probably more, my stubs are in storage, so i'm going from memory here.) Some winning, lots of losing. But the best thing about the stadium was the people. Not just the employees (who were helpful, if you needed a tourniquet) but the amazing cross-section of people who attended the games, concerts and tractor pulls. Suburban families, urban dwellers, Goretti girls, O'Hara boys, college kids and the people who enjoyed the beer garden ($8.50 for a Guinness?) The crowds at a Phillies game on a warm Summer night were a wonderful snapshot of the city of Philadelphia. Diverse, vocal, opinionated (we're sorry Von Hayes!) and most of all interesting.

A couple of events stand out for me. I was there the day they retired Mike Schmidt's number, I think they lost that day to the Braves, but I do remember during the pre-game ceremony Schmidtty presented Harry Kalas with a LeRoy Neiman painting of himself mid-swing. He gave it as a thank you for all of his home run calls (all 548.) Harry got all choked up. After that moment I had a new found respect for Schmidt.

The second event was a Pink Floyd concert. It was the Division Bell tour ('93 or '94 I think.) It was a beautiful night and they played two sets. The entire first set was stuff from the new album. So, at intermission, their was a real buzz in the crowd because we knew that the second part of the show would be old favorites. We were right. The music was amazing but I vividly remember something else. Behind the sound board (about where the 50 yard line would be) in the center of the stadium was a disco ball that was raised from a big box. From where I was seated I didn't see it come out, but all of a sudden, the lights went completely dark. Simultaneously, two spotlights were trained on the spinning ball from either side of the stadium providing an unforgettable accompaniment to the music. The inside of the Vet turned into a dance hall with 60,000 people on their feet screaming. An unbelievable show.

I think the Vet will always be remembered, and not just in Philadelphia. But the new stadiums will always share something with the Vet. The people.

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