Monday, December 30, 2013

July 10, 1993: Phillies vs. San Francisco Giants

My father lit the spark of my interest in baseball, but the 1993 Phillies fueled the flames.

We all like to pretend that we are not fair weather fans. We support our team no matter what, but the truth remains that when “our guys” are winning, we cheer louder, we pay more attention and we are much more willing to spend some of our hard-earned money to attend their games.

What made the ’93 Phillies such a great team to watch was that no one saw them coming. The squad didn’t include a single superstar; just a bunch of scruffy, mullet-wearing goofballs. Hell, their highest paid player was their closer, Mitch Williams, who was the wildest and bushiest of them all.

My dad and I watched in awe from the very beginning, as the Phillies swept their opening series and jumped out to a 9-3 start. They carried that .750 winning percentage into mid-May, and I remember thinking that this team was really something special following a win on Mother’s Day when Mariano Duncan slugged a game-winning grand slam against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Speaking of my dear old mother, not even she nor my sister could avoid the Philly fever gripping the region, so they joined my dad and I for our first game of the year against the San Francisco Giants.

I paid close attention to this four-game series because to this point in the season, the Giants were the best team in baseball. They also had the best player, moody superstar Barry Bonds, who would go on to swipe his third Most Valuable Player award in four years. In our eyes, this was the Phillies’ biggest test of the season and gave us a look at how they might stack up against a postseason opponent.

We went to the third game of the series, and the ugliness of the first two games didn’t fill us with confidence. San Francisco dropped a few touchdowns on the Phils, outscoring them 28-10 (the only bright spot being rookie Kevin Stocker’s first major league home run the day after getting called up to the bigs).

If the boys in red pinstripes were going to right the ship, they would have to battle both the Giants and the elements. The two lopsided losses had mercifully taken place at night, but this Saturday game took place in the afternoon on the hottest day of the year.

I will never forget how my mom brought a cooler full of ice into Veterans Stadium. She insisted we rub our arms and face with ice cubes throughout the game to stay cool. Thinking back, I’m sure sunscreen would have provided better protection for our skin, but when you’re 10 years old, mother always knows best.

The beginning of the game featured an exciting back-and-forth. The Giants scored a run in the first and two in the second, but the Phillies matched them each time. Philly left fielder Milt Thompson provided the early fireworks with a rare two-run shot. The celebration in the crowd was brief, however, when it was discovered that the ball hit a young girl in the head. She had to leave the stadium with her parents, but from what I remember, she wasn’t seriously injured and had a story to tell for the rest of her life, I’m sure.

The Phillies brought back the smiles with a run in the bottom of the sixth, taking their first lead of the entire series. The lead would stick thanks to an incredible moment that also remains a humorous one between my parents and I.

Wes Chamberlain had taught me two years earlier that even the little guy could be a hero. They didn’t come much smaller than Mickey Morandini.

The lanky, second baseman would emerge as one of Philly’s better hitters in the mid-1990s, but to this point, his only claim to fame was an unassisted triple play in 1992 (amazingly, one of his three victims was Bonds, who was in his last year as a Pittsburgh Pirate).

The left-handed hitting Morandini stepped to the plate with the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth. The way he always choked up on the bat, he needed the fattest of pitches to drive the ball, but he must have gotten one. All of a sudden, I saw the small, white dot fly over the right-field fence just inside the foul pole for a game-changing grand slam.

Everyone in Veterans Stadium lost their minds, except for my poor father. A few minutes before Morandini’s blast, he had succumbed to the call of nature. When he returned to us, befuddled by the sudden change in score, we gleefully told him what happened, adding salt to his wound with a, “We can’t believe you missed that!”

When my mom and I bring this up with knowing smiles on our faces, my dad always beats us to punch. “Yeah, I know. I was in the bathroom.”

There was every reason to believe we were good luck charms for the Phillies that day. It was the only game in the four-game set that they won, and the only one in which the Giants didn’t score in double digits.

Bonds particularly faltered in our presence. He went 0-for-3, got thrown out at home plate and dropped a foul ball. We had a great view of that miscue from our seats along the left-field line. The seats weren’t anywhere near the field, but my dad and I pretended Bonds could hear our taunts.

Looking back, the best thing about this win was that it came from the unlikeliest of sources. Between the two of them, Thompson and Morandini amassed a grand total of seven homers during the 1993 season. By comparison, Pete “Inky” Incaviglia (a fellow platoon outfielder with Thompson) deposited eight noggin nailers into the stands in the month of August alone.

Despite all the magic we witnessed that day, it came as no surprise to me. Though there was plenty of season left, I had bought into this team. However it happened, they were going to win.
Even if it meant forcing Dad out of the room whenever the Phils loaded the bases.

Friday, December 27, 2013

July 31, 1991: Phillies vs. San Diego Padres

The mind of an eight-year-old child is a sponge. Nearly everything he or she sees and hears is processed and stored to aid in future experiences.

My father loved teaching me new things, and I could see the excitement in his eye when he did so, like it reminded him of when he learned them himself. My dad stayed informed on a wide array of topics, and he frequently passed that knowledge along to me. For example, on November 9, 1989, we watched the ABC World News’ coverage of the fall of the Berlin Wall. My dad said to my sister, Lindsay, and I, “Make sure you remember this date. It’s a very important date.”

Another one of my dad’s ongoing projects was building my vocabulary. I can attribute one word in particular to the Phillies, and more specifically, former corner outfielder Wes Chamberlain. The word of the day was “potential.”

Whenever my dad spoke about Chamberlain, he always talked about how much potential he had as a player; he had the potential to do great things as a Phillie. On this day, Chamberlain sought to prove my dad right.

The Phillies hosted the San Diego Padres. Our seats were in the upper deck (older fans can well remember the seats of school bus yellow), and it turned out that we were at a good altitude for the show Chamberlain was about to put on.

In addition to the new word I had learned, I fell in love with the home run, as Mr. Potential clubbed not one, but two three-run bombs. All I could do was shake my head and say, “Wow,” as the ball sailed out of the yard.

They were the first home runs I had seen at a game, and possibly ever.

Chamberlain finished a perfect 4-for-4, and his six RBI set a career high for a single game. The Phillies cruised to a 9-3 win, and unbeknownst to me at the time, they were in the midst of a 13-game winning streak that would pull them out of last place and make up nine games in the standings. Philly would never return to the basement in 1991 and finished the season in third, its highest standing since 1983.

Chamberlain had a total of three 4-hit games that year and finished fifth in the Rookie of the Year voting, but sadly, he didn’t live up to my dad’s hype. He never moved beyond the role of a backup outfielder, and by the age of 29, he was out of baseball. My dad and I caught but a glimpse of what could have been. Still, I will never feel sorry for witnessing the best game of Chamberlain’s career.

My dad may not have known it, but Chamberlain’s performance taught me another important lesson in the end. When you put forth your best effort, you may not always succeed, but every so often you can achieve what seems impossible.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

August 30, 1990: Philadelphia Phillies vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

This is the first posting in a series about baseball games that I've attended with my father. The series will chronicle my developing love of our nation's pastime, helped along by my dear old dad and the great Phillies and Orioles teams of the past 20 years. It's something I hope to one day turn into a book, so please share this with your friends and family, particularly if they love baseball!

When I was a young child, my dad was my world. I wanted to grow up to be just like him, and everything he said and did I took as gospel.

This also meant I loathed anything that took his attention away from me. Such was the case with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Every Sunday afternoon in the spring and summer, my father parked himself in his favorite chair and tuned into WPHL17 to watch his favorite team. “How could this silly game on TV be more important than spending time with me?” I often asked myself.

My dad did his best to show me that there was plenty of room in life for him and baseball, and eventually, I came around enough to agree to go to a Phillies game with him. I was a month shy of my eighth birthday and had no idea this father-son activity would become such an important ritual that lasts to this day.

But I wasn’t going to root for those nasty Phillies just yet. Clearly, I still hung onto to some of the bitterness from the aforementioned Sunday afternoons.

A product of the “cookie cutter” era, Veterans Stadium was well known as a bit of an eyesore and an unpleasant place to play, particularly considering the Phillies and Philadelphia Eagles had to share it. But to a kid who had only known beat-up, neighborhood diamonds – where my dad would frequently take me for a game of catch or batting practice – this cathedral of our National Pastime was a sight to behold.

As my mother would later articulate for me, another big attraction of seeing a live, professional baseball game is the crowd. Veterans Stadium seated nearly 60,000 people. To put that into proper perspective, my hometown of Wilmington, Delaware has a population of approximately 72,000 people.

The crowd completely surrounded the field in several levels that seemed to ascend indefinitely, and the circle of fans created this vacuum of noise that my youthful ears had never heard. How amazing it was that these tens of thousands of people were all there for the same reason.

I was still learning the rules of the game, so I didn’t really follow what was happening on the field after the game began. I was also distracted by a teenager, there with his dad, sitting next to me, who kept on calling out, “Hey battah battah battah…”

The Phillies offense could not accommodate him, losing to Tommy Lasorda’s Los Angeles Dodgers 3-2. This would be my one and only time going to a Phillies game and rooting for the opposing team. They appeared to me as strangers in white uniforms and red caps, but I would soon know and enjoy the exploits of Darren Daulton, Lenny Dykstra and John Kruk.

The most memorable part of the night amazingly occurred after the game. My dad’s used Toyota was on its last legs. The engine kept overheating as we made our way back to Wilmington, forcing us to stop on the shoulder of 1-95 several times. The car finally conked out for good after we got off our exit, and we had to walk home from Gander Hill Prison, an impressive accomplishment in one of the most dangerous parts of the city.

Considering the deep significance this night now holds in my memory, I feel extremely fortunate the car mercifully waited until the drive home from my first-ever major league baseball experience to die. It seems quite poetic.

I was still five days from starting third grade, so my dad suggested we continue our special evening by staying up well past midnight to watch the re-broadcasting of the game we had just attended. We played Super Mario Bros. on my old-school (then brand new) Nintendo Entertainment System to pass the time. We watched about half the game, and then finally went to bed at 3:30 a.m., the latest I had ever stayed up to that point. It remained a bedtime record for the next nine years.

Now that I look back on that night, it was probably the first time I sat down and watched a Phillies game on TV with my dad. Two precedents were set mere hours from one another and soon, Sunday afternoons would turn from times of frustration to times of joy.