Remembering the Vet and Harry and Pop (tf)

My father passed away a year and a half ago. I miss him intensely still. But time is allowing me to remember some of the wonderful times we had together. And that makes me smile, in spite of the tears.

August is when I start tuning in to baseball. I am really getting into the Phillies drive to the World Series this year. They seem a near perfect blend of starting pitching and situational hitting, and I shudder for that poor city if they find a way to not win it all this year. Philadelphia does not tolerate teams that do not perform up to expectations.

I followed the Phils as a kid. The Mike Schmidt teams. On channel 17. The smooth-as-butter voice of Harry Kalas drifting through summer nights. Richie Asburn the perfect side-kick….sounding like a guy with a few drinks in him who wandered into the booth by mistake and decided to stay ’cause it was so much fun.

It was the days of Veteran’s Stadium, a ghastly edifice that managed to feel creepy even when it was relatively new. But still, even filled with drunks, druggies, thugs, pimps, hookers, guys who used to pee in the sinks, and those one-legged dudes selling pencils, it was a glorious place to spend a summer night. Schmidt would strike out 3 times and he’d need a police escort to get to his car. The next night he’d hit one 450 feet and he’d be a god again….the guy every little kid wanted to be when he grew up.

Pete Rose at first base, bouncing the ball high off the artificial turf at the end of each inning….slapping hits to all fields. When the Phillies needed a hit, it seemed Rose always came through. He’s the one guy on the team nobody ever booed. He played so hard and with so much enthusiasm, fans never dared. Santa Claus, yes. Rose, no. Schmidt carried his awesome gifts as a burden. You could almost feel the weight of expectations on his back. Rose was the old guy who managed to stay perpetually young. They were perfect for each other.

My Dad would take us to “Scranton Night at the Vet”….a bus trip filled with beer coolers for a tacky promotional night that consisted of a brief mention on the scoreboard in the 7th inning and seats so far back in left-field that even Mike Schmidt couldn’t reach us. One night he tried like hell though, and dropped a home run about 10 rows in front of us. It looked like a missile launch. Or somebody hitting a golf ball with a driver. You can take McGwire and all the needles he stuck in his ass, but I don’t think any human being ever hit a baseball farther than Mike Schmidt.

But my Pop was ever-resourceful. One year he wrote a nice column about the mayor of Philly, and in gratitude the mayor sent game tickets….with seats in the Mayor’s box. Enclosed in glass, with air-conditioning, private toilet, bar, bartender, free food, televisions, and piped in sound. And of course a private security guard at the door to keep the partisans away. We felt like Kings watching over the un-washed masses.

Those were indeed the days. But of course the Vet was dynamited eventually, which was entirely proper since the place was a sewer that just happened to have a diamond with fake grass in the center, but still you felt sorta bad about it. Worse was when Harry Kalas dropped dead a few years later in the broadcast booth. My youth wasn’t being chipped away…but gouged out in large chunks. And then Pop got sick.

I met Mike Schmidt at a celebrity golf tourney at the Scranton Country Club years ago. He still looked the magnificent specimen. Huge in person… heroes should be. Turns out he’s a complete asshole. Churlish and arrogant beyond belief. He could hit a golf ball about 6 miles, but all his drives ended up in left field. Guy had a wicked hook he could not control, and I found myself rooting for him to hit yet another out-of-bounds. It sucks to find out your idols are human, and I felt better about myself for booing the bum when he’d strike out all those years ago.

I think my Dad would like the current Phillies. An odd-ball assortment of silky-smooth vets and scruffy kids and live arms and a hayseed manager who won’t put up with any nonsense, and the larger than life Ryan Howard hitting the ball Schmidt-like distances…..or striking out and getting booed.

He’d miss the Vet though. And Harry Kalas. And Pete Rose’s head-first slides. And being able to procure tickets to the Mayor’s box in such a cool, understated way. My Dad was old-school. Naming stadiums after corporations never met his approval, no matter how gorgeous a place “Citizen’s Bank Park” might be. He’d still call it “The Vet”.

He’d miss it all.

But not as much as I miss him.

— Tom Flannery

~ by admin on August 15, 2011.

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