and coaches that called it home often
referred to it as a "dump" (or
worse) and it was regularly voted one
of the worst
stadiums in sports.
like cement and had derailed more
than one career. (In 1993, Chicago Bears
receiver Wendell Davis blew out both knees
simply running down the field during a
bowl at Broad and Pattison had a notorious
reputation for attracting vile fans and
a court/jail was installed after the Eagle
faithful fired flare guns in the stands
during a nationally-televised 'Monday
Night Football' game.
It sat in a
South Philly "sports complex"
where it rubbed elbows with one-story
warehouses and other nondescript business
Yet for all
these shortcomings and personality defects,
I found myself getting misty as I made
my final trip to Philadelphia's much-maligned
To me, The
Vet was something special. It was where
I'd seen my first pro baseball and football
games. I spent many summer nights in its
hard plastic seats watching the Phillies
battle for one of two things: superiority
or mediocrity. Usually the latter.
It was where
we'd go to catch a twi-night doubleheader,
munching greasy Roy
Rogers Fried Chicken as the fans rained
boos down upon Von Hayes, Juan Samuel
and future Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt.
Unable to afford the NFL's rapidly-escalating
ticket prices, we welcomed the Philadelphia
Stars of the short-lived USFL with
I still follow
the Phils, thanks to the 2001 hiring of
Larry Bowa my all-time favorite
baseball player as manager.
baseball wasn't the game I remembered.
Players switched teams with alarming frequency
and interleague play was no longer reserved
for the All-Star Game and World Series.
As my wife
and I drove north from our home outside
Baltimore where I, like the Stars,
had relocated memories of The Vet
came flooding back. The concrete walkways,
the prison-like turnstiles, the watered-down
beers, chewy pretzels and soggy hot dogs.
Good times, good times.
dark clouds overhead, we wondered if they'd
get the game in. The Phils had wilted
in the late-summer drive for a wild card
playoff spot (another greed-driven abomination),
and this game's outcome was meaningless.
But, as we approached and saw people cavorting
atop statues and posing for pictures in
front of the stadium, we knew it still
meant something to the fans.
Thanks to the
final series hype, the best tickets we
could get were $10 seats in the 700-level.
It didn't matter where we sat I
was just pleased the was team treating
their soon-to-be-former-home with a little
respect. Not like the Eagles, who belittled
the stadium for years, never realizing
that in the words of Eagles great
a dump, it's a toilet and the field is
horrible, but it was our field, our dump
and our toilet."
With our penulatimate
game booty in hand a bobblehead
featuring 1970s Revolutionary War-themed
mascots Phil and Phillis we made
our way up the concrete ramps. As the
95% humidity drenched us, we passed Lincoln
Financial Field (the Eagles' new home)
and the under-construction Citizens Bank
Park, the new, baseball-only home of the
around the railings to gaze at the new
ballfield and a fellow fan remarked, "It's
not finished and it already looks better
than The Vet." Nothing like a little
section, we made our way to the concession
stand for $5.50 beers and $3.00 hot dogs.
As we wandered back to our seats, the
tissue-paper food carrier buckled under
the weight of our snacks, and watery beer
cascaded onto my shirt and pants. A group
of Philly cops laughed as I wrestled the
dogs and brews back into the holder, (expensive)
cheap beer spilling everywhere.
"You know, you can get arrested for
that," one cop cracked as his buddies
in blue snickered. Remembering the days
when Philly cops cracked skulls for kicks,
I laughed and kept walking. Frank
Rizzo may be dead, but old habits
die hard like thumping the melon
of some wise-ass.
returned to our seats in time for the
first thunderstorm to dump buckets of
late-summer raindrops upon us. We scurried
into the tunnel and waited for the storm
to pass. Minutes after returning to our
seats another storm drenched us as The
All Vet Stadium Team was announced.
The game finally
started and it wasn't much different than
the last month of the season first
baseman Jim Thome delivered all the offense
he could muster while the rest of the
team stood and watched. With one eye on
the game and another on the approaching
storms we listened as people around us
shared their memories of The Vet with
friends and strangers.
It was a bittersweet
moment, sitting in The Vet one last time
with my wife of two weeks next to me.
It'd been a busy month: we were wed during
a monsoon and our honeymoon was shortened
by Hurricane Isabel, so today's rains
As more clouds
moved in overhead and threatened to dump
another deluge, a six-year-old boy sitting
behind us turned to his father and quietly
said: "Dad? This place makes me want
I laughed and
felt more drops of rain.
Maybe the kid
was on to something. Perhaps there was
more to The Vet than just a physical presence.
Maybe its weird aura would live on, even
after the seats were ripped out and the
concrete columns imploded
into so much dust and rubble.