A Dream of Fields 7: The Philadelphia Phillies

Lucky number seven, which is why I’m posting it on 7/7. With the exception of being at Fenway Park for the 14-inning Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS victory against the Yankees, this very well may have been the best baseball experience I’ve ever had.

Saturday, July 24, 1999, 7:05pm

Veterans’ Stadium

07Phillies

Philadelphia Phillies 4, Atlanta Braves 3

We woke up relatively early the morning after the Mets game the night before and drove to Philadelphia. We wanted to be there for lunch so we could have cheesesteaks at the best cheesesteak place in Philly. Apparently, the good people of Philadelphia are divided into a few different camps when it comes to their cheesesteak. I’ve been to the major places, and I’m most fond of Jim’s Steaks. Yum.

As with the Mets game, I had pre-purchased cheap tickets online, and they had been mailed to me. Veterans Stadium was among the multipurpose “cookie-cutter” stadiums that were constructed in the 1960s, and we had high upper deck seats.

However, one of my road-trip friends had a college friend who just so happened to work for the Phillies. My friend contacted him well in advance of our trip, and he said that he’d see what he could do about upgrading our seats. He’d also give us a tour of the facility if we showed up a couple hours before game time. So after having our cheesesteaks (Yum), we dropped our stuff off at our hotel, and then we headed to the stadium.

The interior tour included the press box (cool), a luxury suite (swanky), and the corridor outside the visiting team’s clubhouse. At the end of the hallway in a makeshift batting cage was Andruw Jones. Yes, that Andruw Jones! He was a Brave then, and oh my, he was a tall muscular guy!

All the Braves and Phillies were muscular guys. We were brought onto the field into a little cordoned-off area behind home plate where members of the press were standing. I’m going to name drop a bit, but walking by us included Javy Lopez and John Smoltz—the starting battery that night for the Braves! I don’t think I had ever gone to a baseball game before and felt like such a giddy fanboy.

Then he escorted us to our seats. Did I mention we would be getting our seats upgraded? What about second row, right at first base, next to the home dugout? HECK, YEAH! The three of us were still in childlike glee as we arrived at the seats. It was maybe fifteen minutes before the game, and the people who would be sitting in front of us weren’t there yet, so we stood in front of their seats at the short wall watching all the ballplayers walk by.

Then a woman from on the field approached us. Because she had free reign on the infield, I assumed she worked for the Phillies. Now, I can’t speak for my friends, but I thought we were going to get a reprimand for not being in the right seats or something. The woman seemed determined to speak to us, and the question that she asked was a curveball like we never expected.

“Which one of you will be throwing out the first pitch?”

We stood there with blank deer-in-the-headlights looks on our faces trying to process the question. She. Asked. Us. WHAT? I’d never thrown out a ceremonial first pitch before so under usual circumstances, I wouldn’t hesitate with an answer because the answer would be something like: “I’m sorry, you must have the wrong person.”

But these weren’t the usual circumstances. We had gotten a VIP tour, walked near baseball players, and gotten our seats upgraded to the team’s field box. Was it a major stretch of the imagination that a ceremonial first pitch was also being arranged for at least one of us? I can’t speak for my two friends because I was in a hypnotic trance focused on the woman and the pitcher’s mound in the distance, but without saying a word, I raised my hand.

Inside my head, I was waving my arm back and forth and jumping up and yelling in an eager elementary-school-child voice, “Pick me! Pick me! Me! Me! Me! Me!”

Well, it turns out the question wasn’t for any of us. Someone important from the Philadelphia Archdiocese was throwing out the pitch, and he was among the people who had the seats in front of us. Simple mistake, I guess, for the woman to assume one of us was the pitch-thrower. But at that moment, I became a Phillies fan.

Don’t get me wrong—my blood bleeds Red Sox red. But as a fan of baseball in general, it’s good to have a team to cheer for in the National League. Ever since this game, that team has been the Phillies, who have recently been among the worst teams in baseball. They won the World Series in 2008 against the Tampa Bay Rays (who had just beaten the defending World Series Champion Red Sox in the ALCS), and I wanted them to beat the Yankees in the 2009 World Series. My affection for the Phillies started that night. Can you really blame me?

The game was wonderful; the home team won again. A foul ball bounced on the aisle right next to us. I wasn’t sitting in the aisle seat, but if I had been, I would have dived to block and catch it. My friend sitting in the aisle seat didn’t want to spill his beer. We may have teased him about that, but it didn’t matter. The game was wonderful (the home team—my NL team—won), the cheesesteaks were wonderful, the entire experience was wonderful, and the memories of that night are still vivid more than fifteen years later.

I consider myself lucky to have these memories.

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Check out the other posts in this series:

  1. Boston Red Sox
  2. Minnesota Twins
  3. Los Angeles Dodgers
  4. Baltimore Orioles
  5. Montreal Expos
  6. New York Mets

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