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Field Trip of Dreams

jk

 Around the Major Leagues in 49 Days

Veterans Stadium
Philadelphia, PA
New York Mets at Philadelphia Phillies
July 22, 2003
 

By Ken Schlapp

This was the most interesting, strange, exciting and sad day of the entire trip.  My day began in Philadelphia, by getting up early to see the sites of two old stadiums; The Baker Bowl, where the Phillies played from 1887 through 1938 and Shibe Park/Connie Mack Stadium, where the A’s played from 1909 through 1954 and the Phillies played from 1938 through 1970.  First up was Connie Mack Stadium, which was located on 21st Street and Lehigh Street.  This was easy to find because I knew an Evangelistic Church replaced it at the same location.  There was not actually a whole lot to see other than the brown landmark sign that was placed there by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission in 1997.  I drove there, took a picture and stopped to grab some food at Burger King.  The next sight is where my favorite story of the trip had its birthplace.

To give a little background on the scenario of trying to visit the former site of the Baker Bowl, I will tell you that I did not grow up in a completely safe neighborhood (I was mugged 5 times by the age of 15), and I am fairly familiar with Philadelphia and what constitutes the good and bad areas.  This particular area would fall under the not so good definition.  I would also say that a white guy walking around with a camera and a notebook stands out like a sore thumb.  To finish this explanation, I will let you know that I was the sore thumb here.  The Baker Bowl was located on Broad Street and Lehigh Street. 

When I reached the designated location, I parked my car, grabbed my camera and notebook and looked around for the stadium marker, but I could not find it.  I did notice on the corner a rather large gentleman that I was fairly confident was the local drug dealer.  Using my instincts, I knew that this was the man to walk up to and ask for assistance (directions to the stadium landmark sign) to defer any suspicion of other neighborhood patrons to take advantage of this specific sore thumb.  He was surprised by my approaching him, but immediately tried to help me find the sign.  He did not know the answer, so he referred me to ask someone in the clinic on the corner.  I thanked him and went into the clinic to pursue the location of the marker.

The person behind the counter at the clinic was also surprised to see me and unfortunately did not have an answer for me either.  However, she did say that she was sure that Pops would know the answer.  I of course asked her how I could find Pops.  She said that all I would have to do was walk around the corner, head into the alley way and walk into the first door and look for him.  This is where the “bad horror movie” signs went off in my head, but there was no way that I was not going to go through with this bad plan to find Pops.  Although, I was a tad uneasy, I headed through the alleyway, looked towards the first doorway, and lo and behold, I see an elder African-American gentleman wearing a baseball cap with, get this, “POPS” emblazoned on it! 

Pops turned out to be one of the nicest people I have ever met.  After his initial confusion of seeing me walking up to him from the alley, he listened to my story and immediately went into help-mode.  He said he had read a book about the old stadium and invited me inside to try to find it, so we hopped on a manually operated elevator to the 6th floor (I think).  When we stepped out of the elevator, we walked into a room that reminded me of the warehouse in Raiders of the Lost Arc where they dumped the Holy Grail, but only this was full of books.  He looked all over, but could not find it.  He then asked me for my address and said he would mail it to me when he found it, but he had one more idea, so we got back on the elevator and went up one more floor.  We exited into a similarly looking floor, where Pops yelled out “Steve!”  Unfortunately, for Steve, we woke him up.  Pops asked Steve about the sign and Steve knew where it was!  Steve led me over to the window and pointed it out across the street.  It was right under my nose!

I thanked Steve and Pops for all their help, hopped back on the elevator down to the ground level, walked back out through the alley, crossed the street, took my picture of the landmark sign placed there by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (dedicated in 2000), and moved on.  That was a lot of work for one picture of a landmark sign for a stadium that was torn down 53 years ago, but it gave me the best story and experience on my trip.  I am truly grateful that I ran into Pops and found the landmark sign in this way.

From there it was time to go see some afternoon baseball.  Not only that, I got to see the Mets again.  Today’s game started at 1:05 PM.  My adventure to find the Baker Bowl landmark sign took longer than I thought it would, but I still thought it would not be a problem to get to the game on time, but I was wrong again.  Getting across Philadelphia was a traffic nightmare today.  I have been to The Vet many times, so I figured I would at least have an easy time parking where I wanted.  Wrong again, with the building of Citizen Bank Park in progress, the addition Lincoln Financial Field for the Eagles next door, the new Wachovia Center and the still standing Spectrum across the street, there was an abundance of stadiums, and an inefficient number of parking spots.  I had to park in Roosevelt Park and walk over, which again caused me to miss the beginning of a game on this trip involving the Mets for the second time.  I am beginning to think that the Mets are bad luck.  Just like the Braves game, I had to miss the Mets first batter and take my traditional walk around the stadium after the game.

Larry Schenk, of the Phillies, arranged to have a ticket waiting for me at will call, so I picked up my ticket and quickly entered the stadium, bought my scorecard, souvenir soda, and picked up my Veterans Stadium T-shirt from the credit card application, and sat down.  Since Philly is only a 2-hour drive from home, I have been to many games here, so I did know my way around and knew where I wanted to walk around and take pictures of the special Veterans Stadium attributes.  The bad part was that I did not have enough time to wait on line for a cheesesteak; the signature Philadelphia food product.  From past experience, I know how good they are too!

At least this time I got to my seat after only missing Mets leadoff hitter Jeff Duncan starting the game with a single.  The seat they gave me was in the first row of section 212, which is right behind the aisle of the 2nd level behind 1st base on the edge of right field. This was close to the field, but in front of the aisle with people constantly walking in front and blocking your view.  As I was struggling to write the lineup in my scorecard, the Mets were conjuring up a rally of sorts.  After Jose Reyes lined out to second, Phillies pitcher Kevin Millwood drilled Jason Phillips with a pitch and walked Cliff Floyd to load the bases.  Duncan and Phillips came home on Ty Wigginton’s RBI double to give the Mets a 2-0 lead.  It is nice to actually see the Mets with a lead.

After the 1st inning, I took photos of the noticeable things in the stadium.  By now, you realize, that I like when teams embrace their history, so I will point out where the Phillies do so at The Vet (which is how most people refer to the stadium).  First of all, the Phillies embrace the city and our country’s history as well as their own, with the Liberty Bell on the centerfield roof between the jumbotron and electronic lineups.  Although the Phillies have not won too many pennants and championships in their long history, they display those that they did beyond the left field wall in red circles and white lettering to fit the teams colors.  They display their retired numbers in similar fashion on the right field wall.  Grover Alexander and Chuck Klein are also included even though they played before the days of uniform numbers.  The entire rims of seats below the 300 level include bright green banners celebrating the players and championships as well.  Mike Schmidt and the 1980 Phillies stand out the most.  I also notice that there is nothing about the Eagles, who also played here from 1971 to 2002.  I assume that is because they are already playing in their new stadium.

The Phillies did not do anything in their half inning, but the Mets had another interesting rally in the 2nd.  Joe McEwing led off with a single, The human rain delay, Steve Trachsel, sacrificed him over to second.  Then Millwood’s wildness continued as he walked both Duncan and Reyes to load the bases for Phillips.  Phillips came through with a big hit by pitch to extend the Mets lead to 3-0.  Lots of cheers went through the crowd as many Mets fans drove to Philly for the game.  As I said before, I have come to many games here in the past to see the Mets play the Phillies, and I have always been disappointed that every time I came, the crowd was predominately Mets fans even though it was a road game.  This time, I would at least say that there are more Phillies fans than Mets fans.

In speaking of the fans, Philadelphia fans in general are infamous for their rowdiness.  This is true more so for Eagles and Flyers fans, but Phillies fans up in the 700 level are infamous for it too.  700 level seats are the general admission seats at the top of the upper deck.  As far as I know, this has to be the only stadium with seven levels.  The 100 level only makes it past the dugouts, the 400 level is only for press and dignitaries, and the 600 level is the reserved seating in the upper deck, while the remaining levels “Phil” in between.  All levels but 100 go all around the circular stadium.  Back to the Philly fans.  They are so cantankerous that they even booed Santa Claus at an Eagles game!  In today’s game some fans poked fun at rumors about Mike Piazza being homosexual.  I have also personally been witness to several fights breaking out in the stands, but honestly, other than trash talk, nobody has ever really given me a hard time for wearing Mets gear here.  There are no worries if there is serious trouble, because this stadium comes equipped with its own jail, including a judge especially assigned to the stadium.  This is truly unique, interesting, and a bit disturbing.

There were no fan troubles today though.  Trachsel continued to shut the Phillies down through three, while the Mets continued to push forward in the 4th.  Duncan and Reyes started things off with singles, and then Millwood drilled Floyd for his third hit batter of the game and another bases loaded situation for the Mets.  Roger Cedeno added to Millwood’s misery by smacking a 2-run single to give the Mets a 5-run lead and knock Millwood out of the game.  Millwood ended his day with 3.2 innings, 5 earned runs, 3 walks, and 3 hit batsmen.  The Mets then added another run in the 5th in a unique way.  McEwing led off with a double, moved to 3rd on Trachsel’s 2nd sacrifice of the day, and scored on a perfectly executed suicide squeeze by Duncan to put the Mets up 6-0.  It is fun to see the Mets winning for once.

In between innings I took the time to look around the stadium some more.  It is difficult not to notice how all seven levels of seats were blue and that the stadium is basically a complete circle.  Like its twin stadiums (Three Rivers, Bush, Riverfront, Qualcomm, and the Astrodome), it was built for both baseball and football and had Astroturf instead of grass, which is always a negative in my book and the book of many players that ruined their knees on this type of surface.  You also notice just how far the upper deck seats in center field are from home plate.  Like the other dual-purpose stadiums, it sufficed for both sports, but was not good for either one.  It is interesting that because of the height of the seats in center field, there is no true batters eye here.

The Phillies would finally score in the bottom of the 5th, when Todd Pratt walked, reached second on a passed ball, moved to third on a Nick Punto single and scored on an RBI groundout by pinch hitter Ricky Ledee.   After the Phillies batted, there was a bit of a ceremony to count down the number of games remaining at The Vet.  The Philly Phanatic and a fan jointly removed the 31 pasted on the right field wall down the line to reveal that there are only 30 games left.  This is my first mention of the Phanatic, but I have to say he is the best mascot in baseball (including Mr. Met).  All game long he wreaks havoc with the opponents and has fun with the crowd, whether he is standing on the dugout leading cheers or driving around on his cart, he is loads of fun.

In the 6th, the Phillies started to get to Trachsel.  Jim Thome singled, and Bobby Abreu doubled in front of Met Killer, Pat Burrell’s bases clearing double.  This knocked Trachsel out of the game.  Todd Pratt followed with another walk, which he did twice.  He erroneously ran to first after ball three, went back to the batter’s box and walked again on ball four.  Burrell would end up scoring on Punto’s single to bring the Phillies within 2, and making me feel like I would see another Mets loss.  Neither team scored in the 7th and the organ player played Take Me Out to the Ball Game during the stretch, followed by the painful playing of YMCA.  At least it was not as awful as in Yankee Stadium, where the grounds crew stops to do the corny YMCA dance.  For me the most amazing thing about the 7th and 8th inning was that Mike Stanton came in to pitch and did not blow the game for the Mets!

After the 7th inning, home plate umpire, Paul Emmel, left the game.  I am not sure why this happened, but the second base umpire replaced him behind the plate, and play continued with only three umpires for the remainder of the game.  The Mets then added their final run in the 8th with more unusual play.  Duncan led off with a walk, but was struck by a Jose Reyes grounder on his way to second, which made him out and gave Reyes a single.  Reyes then stole second and scored on Phillips single to bring the lead back up to 3.  For the 9th inning, the Mets brought out long-time blown-save specialist John Franco.  After a groundout, Marlon Byrd (for whom {just wanted to use “whom”} fans hold up “Byrd’s Nest” and “Byrd Cage” signs) singled and moved to second on defensive indifference (which should still be a stolen base in my mind) and Scored on Jim Thome’s double.  After Abreu singled to put runners on 1st and 3rd, the blown-saves champion was thankfully removed from the game.  With Pat Burrell coming up to face Dan Wheeler, I thought for sure he would homer to beat the Mets yet again.  However, much to my surprise Wheeler struck out Burrell to end the game with the Mets winning 7-5 and improving their record on my trip to 1-4.  However, another statistical ridiculousness that occurred though was Franco earning a hold for his uselessness.

After the game, I took my walk around the concourses and outside the stadium, while kids were getting to run around the bases.  The concourses here are actually wide enough for comfortable access to the concession stands and most importantly the cheesesteaks.  They had more tributes to the team history on the concourses too.  There was a tribute to the Negro Leagues by section 226, a Phillies Wall of Fame by section 224, plaques with the all-time team leaders, and a tribute to the 1980 championship team by section 230.  Again, I appreciate that they remember their past.  They also have a Phanatic Phun House for kids by section 268 and Stick by Stan by section 201 to make your own personalized bat.  Overall, there is plenty to keep you interested.

Around the outside of the stadium, it looks quite similar to the previously mentioned dual-purpose stadiums, but the huge baseball and football statues of nondescript players make it unique.  The two baseball statues consist of a player sliding into a base and one of a batter swinging.  The two football statues are of a player being tackled and a punter punting.  These statues are phantastic and I hope they do not get demolished with The Vet.  The statues must be a theme for this huge sports complex, because across the street by the Spectrum there is a statue of Dr. J going up to dunk and Rocky with his arms raised in the air.  Lastly, on my walk around, the Phillies new Stadium looks like it is progressing rapidly to be ready for the 2004 season.  It looks like it will be a beautiful stadium and I look forward to going there next year.

After the game, reality set in for me.  The signs on the highway as I drove towards New York said it was less than 100 miles away, but home was a lot further than that.  You would think I would be spending a night at home before moving on to Boston, but I did not really have one anymore.  After 16 years, my wife and I decided to split up before my trip (but not because of my trip).  We decided not to talk during the duration of my 7-week journey to see if we would change our mind after being apart.  Although, we continue to be friends to this day, reconciliation was not in the cards.  I spoke with my sister Jacki, who told me they were having a barbecue at my Mom’s house that night.  She was upset that I was so close, yet would not see them, but I could not handle seeing anybody until the trip was over.  I decided to drive to my office in Manhattan, dump off many of the souvenirs I picked up during my journey to lighten up the load in my trunk, and grab a bite to eat at Blockheads.  From there, I found a hotel in Floral Park to save me some time picking up Vinnie in Minneola the next morning on our way to Boston. 

Bottom line – Although The Vet was one of those cookie-cutter dual-purpose stadiums built in the 60s and 70s, I still liked it.  I think it is because I had been to so many games there due the proximity to New York. Therefore, I may be amongst the few, but I will be sad when it is no more.

Basic trip facts:

-Stadium # 24
-Old Stadium Sites visited – Baker Bowl & Connie Mack Stadium (Total – 15)
-Under construction Stadium Sites visited – Citizens Bank Park (Total – 2)
-Miles traveled – 138 via Car (Totals: Driving – 15,360, Subway - 20, Air - 3,196, Total – 18,576)
-States, provinces, Districts and/or commonwealths passed through – Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York (Totals: States – 41, Provinces – 0, Districts – 1, Commonwealths - 1)
-Seats – Section 212, Row 1, Seat 7 – 1st row behind 1st base on 200 level
-Prices: Parking – $8.00, Beer - $5.50, Hot Dogs - ??, Program (including pencil) - $5.00, Souvenir Soda Cup – $4.75, Philly Cheese Steak - $6.50
-Credit Card giveaway –  Veterans Stadium Pennant or T-shirt
-First Pitch -  1:08 PM
-Attendance – 37,164
-Results – Mets 7, Phillies 5, W – Steve Trachsel, L – Kevin Millwood, S – Dan Wheeler
-Home team record to date – 13 wins, 14 losses
Record of “team I was routing for” to date – 11 wins, 16 losses
-Lodging – Floral Park, New York

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