Thursday, January 2, 2014

July 29, 1993: Phillies vs. St. Louis Cardinals

Life’s priorities are not always clear.

My dad had the day off from work, and it at least appeared to me that this free day was taken for the sole purpose of going to a ballgame with me. This was a rare afternoon contest during the work week. It would have been easier to just go to night game, or a day game on the weekend, but this was a special season, and I suppose the Phillies had earned more of a commitment from us.

Perhaps it was a fortunate coincidence, but 1993 was also the year I began keeping a journal. The Phillies are mentioned several times in my sporadic entries, and the one dated July 29 unearthed an interesting and telling fact about this game: my dad said we were going, but we had to talk my sister, Lindsay, out of it first.

When we were children, my sister and I constantly competed for my father’s attention, particularly since he was the more involved and less strict parent. Unfortunately for Lindsay, I was the firstborn and the only son, which meant I won that battle more often. In this instance, my dad probably succeeded in letting my sister down easy because she wasn’t into baseball.

We made a full day of it. We took the Septa Local from the Wilmington train station and arrived a few hours before the game to do some sight seeing. It was always fun riding the train to the big city (I received a big jolt of childhood nostalgia when my dad and I used the same and long-forgotten method of transportation for the World Series parade in 2008), and Philadelphia was still the biggest I had ever seen to that point. I will never consider myself a Philadelphian, but I grew up close enough to know and love cheesesteaks, soft pretzels and Tastycake products. I don’t bother with racing up the steps of the Art Museum because my name begs the belting out of Rocky’s classic line from people I’m meeting for the first time.

The Philly magic once again worked like a charm, as the hosts took a 4-0 lead over the visiting St. Louis Cardinals late in the game. The scrappy Redbirds would not go quietly, however, as they scored two in the seventh and two more in the eighth off emerging ace Curt Schilling to put a victory very much in doubt.

After the game started, I was personally disappointed to see Todd Pratt’s name in the lineup instead of starting catcher Darren “Dutch” Daulton, who was my favorite player for good reason. Daulton wasn’t your typical catcher. He hit in the middle of the lineup, instead of the bottom, and he was one of the best run producers in the league for the second straight year. It was a thrill for me to see his name on the same lists as sluggers like Barry Bonds and David Justice. Surely, a win was guaranteed with him on the field.

I got my wish in the bottom of the eighth. Daulton came in to pinch hit with the bases loaded. He seemed born for these kinds of pressure situations, and while his bat remained silent, he still drove in the go-ahead run by working a walk.

Lenny “The Dude” Dykstra followed. He was in the midst of a career year that would see him finish second to Bonds in the MVP voting, and he padded Philly’s lead with an infield single.

These kinds of rallies were almost second nature to the team by late July. The Phillies hung on for the 6-4 win, completing their sweep of the Cardinals.

My dad and I had to leave at the end of the eighth due to some important family business. The Phillies were moving up in the world, and so were we.

For most of my childhood, my family lived in my grandmother’s house on the east side of Wilmington near the Christina River because we could not afford a place of our own. Locals know the east side as one of the most impoverished and dangerous sections of the city. By 1993, it was common to hear gunshots after going to bed, but my parents were finally making enough money to get us out of there.

My dad and I left the Phillies game to meet my mom and sister in Wilmington to look at an apartment. Though it wasn’t the right one for us, we soon found the right one in Little Italy and moved there in December. It was in that neighborhood that I found friends who loved baseball and the Phillies as much as I did.

A new chapter was beginning, but another, less obvious one was ending. 1993 was the big year for baseball in my family. The Phillies’ monster season coincided with the return of minor league baseball to Wilmington after 41 years. The Wilmington Blue Rocks, a Single A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, offered a destination of family fun in my hometown. The four of us went to several games in that first season and continued to do so over through the remainder of the decade.

When it came to major league baseball, however, those games returned to their previous incarnation as a strictly father-son activity. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but baseball games, as with any other spectator event, are simply more enjoyable when you’re watching with other baseball fans.

As I will illustrate further down the road, the few times we included other people into our special ritual yielded unsatisfying results. A major league game is an impressive sight to anyone, but those non-fans who don’t have the diaper dash and dizzy bat race to keep them entertained between innings will quickly lose interest.

And they won't be willing to skip work for an afternoon game.

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