Our Trips To Other Ballparks: Part 6 – Veterans Stadium
by Mike Whiteman
I cut my baseball spectator teeth at a place that is now the site of a parking lot – Veteran’s Stadium in Philadelphia.
“The Vet” was one of the now abhorred multi-purpose stadiums that popped up in the 1970s. It had significant resemblance to Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh and Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati.
I was fortunate to have a good friend growing up whose family had season ticket packages to the Phillies, and I was able to attend many games throughout the 1980s, mostly on Sundays.
Now the Vet was a massive structure. When I was attending games, it could fit well over 60,000 fans. Some of my first games were in the really, really cheap (and high up) seats. I remember seeing my ticket for a 1980 game – 50 cents! There was lots of concrete – the stands, the concourse, and on the field.
Yes, on the field.
One time I went onto the playing field after a game for a fireworks show and was aghast about the field feeling like the road in my neighborhood. Check out an old Phillies game on YouTube – if an inning ends with a groundout thrown out at first, watch first baseman Pete Rose spike the ball – it bounces high!
Philadelphia baseball after the Phils’ run in the early 80s wasn’t all that good, and the attendance showed. One of the great things we could do would be to start a game sitting in a higher level and then move to an empty seat (plenty of them) in a lower level later in the game if we could get past the usher. I got my first look at a true MLB fastball when we moved to a front row seat behind home plate during a game against Houston in the mid-80s’. On the mound for the Astros was reliever Aurelio Lopez, known as “Senor Smoke”. Now the onetime Tiger was at the end of his career, but he could still bring it, as we could just listen to him pitch, hearing the pfffffffft of the ball travelling through the air, and the loud POP as it hit the catcher’s mitt.
It was rare that we stayed in one place for too long during a game – It was much more enjoyable to get out and explore. In a sparsely filled stadium, interaction with players wasn’t all that difficult, be it in the outfield or the bullpen. A thrill for me as a kid was to yell “hey Lee” at Lee Mazzilli when he played for the Mets – and have him wave back at me. Perhaps the funniest memory of my many games at the Vet was when some of us were trying to get pre-game autographs, and Phillies outfielder Von Hayes taunted me for wearing a Yankees shirt.
While the Vet gets a lot of grief, it was Major League Baseball! I’ve got a lot of great memories.
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