A Young Man’s First Phillies Game
Posted by Kurt Smith
Every baseball fan remembers his first ballgame. Except this one.
I don’t remember how old I was; probably five or so. The family all got in the car and drove to Memorial Stadium in Baltimore from Willingboro. The Orioles were taking on either the Brewers or Twins; according to my brother Tom, the O’s lost 5-3.
I only remember a couple of things about my first ballgame. I remember my oldest brother Doug telling me how when it gets dark they turn the lights on and it looks like it’s daytime on the field, and seeing that he was right. I remember Mom trying to point out to me where they were selling hot dogs–probably a vendor in the stands–and looking for a grill that I couldn’t find.
My first game at the Vet, now that’s a different story.
I found the game’s box score on Baseball Reference, which jogged a few memories that I did forget, like Jim Kaat being the starter for the Phillies and Gene Garber getting a win he probably didn’t deserve, and the date, July 1, 1977.
But even three and a half decades later, I still remember an awful lot about that night.
I was nine. The Phillies were playing the Pirates, at the time a tough NL East rival. It was just Dad and me; we sat in Section 320, in the lower level on the first base side. The small scoreboards that showed the linescore of the game called the Pirates the “BUCS”, probably because the word “Pirates” didn’t fit. (The Phillies were called the “PHILS”.) Back then the Vet had a huge scoreboard in right field.
John Candelaria was the starter for the Pirates. Dad said “He’s their ace”; I was proud of knowing what “ace” meant. Even at nine, Dad talked baseball to me like I was an adult, and sometimes it was tough to keep up–as it is today.
Kaat and Candelaria both had relatively strong outings. At the end of nine innings the score was knotted at 4-4. The game continued on into the 14th, still tied. Tug McGraw, one of the most popular and excitable Phillies, pitched three innings of scoreless relief.
In the top of the 14th the Pirates scored two runs. 6-4 Pirates going into the bottom of the 14th. I don’t remember if people headed for the exits at this point or not; they probably did.
But the Phillies didn’t give up. In the bottom of the 14th someone led off with a single, and the big scoreboard proclaimed “It’s only the beginning…”.
A couple of batters later, with two on and one out, first baseman Richie Hebner came to bat. He hit a ball that bounced off of the top of the right field fence, went over the wall and hit the black draping. A home run, without question, for anyone that knew the Vet’s ground rules. But the ball bounced back and right into the glove of the Pirates right fielder, who threw the ball back into the infield.
The umpire called the runner at third out, which made the Phillies very unhappy. I remember Larry Bowa in particular furiously screaming at the umpire at second base.
At one point earlier in the game I had asked Dad for another hot dog or something and he said, “Absolutely, Kurt. This is your night. You can have anything you want.” Probably not the best thing to say to a nine-year-old at a ballgame. By the 14th inning, I had a pretty rough stomach ache from several hot dogs, popcorn and ice cream. I was probably the only person sitting down in the stands during the argument. Even Dad was standing, for the first time all night.
After a long argument and a conference with the umps, they appeared to reach a compromise. Dad turned to me and said “They’re gonna call it a double.”
One batter later, Ted Sizemore would get a game winning base hit. Phillies 7, Pirates 6.
It remains today one of the greatest games I’ve ever seen. I replayed it in my backyard for weeks, complete with stepping up onto the mound and holding my cap on my heart for the national anthem.
I was having dinner with Dad on July 1, 2012, and I told him that it was the 35th anniversary of that game. Despite that my father was sharp as a tack at 72, he had no memory of it. I couldn’t believe it.
I had some great memories at the Vet; the 1996 All-Star Game with the long ovation for Cal Ripken and the mammoth home run by Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling’s one hitter, fireworks nights, the Phillies shutting down the Yankees to help the Orioles in ’97, jinxing Donovan Osborne’s no-hitter. And the concerts–Pink Floyd, Paul McCartney, Genesis. I had a lot of great times there. But that first ballgame, the first visit to the ballpark with Dad, is still the most memorable.
For obvious reasons.
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