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.