Birth of a Phillies fan

(In celebration of Opening Day 2014, a trip down my baseball memory lane …)

My first recollections of Philadelphia Phillies baseball came during that Season From Hell – 1964!  You really do not have to explain that reference for most Philadelphia baseball fans, especially those over the age of 55.  Most long-time Phillies fans and – due to generations of legend sharing – even many of those newer to the game can recite the scenario that played out that year.

Gene Mauch

What I remember is my father sitting at the kitchen table; the radio playing; listening to By Saam, Bill Campbell, and Richie Ashburn (in just his second year as a broadcaster with the Phils); smoking cigarettes with a quart bottle of Schmidt’s or Ballantine’s beer, a glass sitting on the table beside him.  He would sit there throughout the game listening and visualizing the game being played.  In those days games were rarely televised during the week.

So some of my first Phillies memories were the turmoil and angst being lived and endured – one game after another – as the Phillies frittered and fumbled away a 6 1/2 game lead over the rest of the National League with only 12 games to play.

(Of course none of this in any way led me to feel sorry for NY Mets fans who went through two straight years of this in 2007 & ’08!!) 

It was difficult watching Dad going through that September.  He lived for his Phillies, much more so than the football Eagles.  He would just shake his head, when he wasn’t yelling at a botched play or a wasted at-bat.  But he was hardly the only one suffering from Phillies Depression in my young 8-year-old universe.  Neighbors – both young and old – could find little else to talk about.

When the end finally came, there was a sense of disbelief, then anger … anger at Phillies manager Gene Mauch especially.

That was a HUGE part of my introduction to Phillies baseball.

The Phillies didn’t make it easy for their young, impressionable fans in the 1960s and early ’70s.  From 1965-1974 the Phillies posted just three seasons with winning records.  Among the more abysmal campaigns were losses that totaled 99 (’69), 95 (’71), 97 (’72) and 91 (’73).  It’s hardly the kind of performance that builds loyal fan followings in most cities.

And yet they remained Our Phillies … Dad in particular never lost his love for the game, especially his affection for the Home Team.

Bobby Wine

The players I remembered from my first years paying attention to Phillies baseball were Clay DalrympleTony Taylor, Johnny Callison, Jim Bunning, Bobby Wine, Chris Short, Wes Covington, Frank Thomas, Cookie Rojas, John Briggs, Rick Wise, Jack Baldschun, and of course Richie Allen.

My biggest thrill as a young Phillies fan was my first visit to Connie Mack Stadium as the Phightin’s took on those Houston Colt .45s.

Back in the day, we only saw baseball and all our sports on TV in black & white.  I can remember sitting down next to Dad as he watched a football game (most likely Notre Dame) and asking him which team he was rooting for, the “white” team or the “dark” team?   Whichever one he picked – for some contrarian reason – I would say I was rooting for the other team.  Maybe my sense of fairness demanded someone root for the ‘other guys”.

Clay Dalrymple

That night at Connie Mack I can remember entering the stadium bowl from the tunnel and being absolutely stunned by the colors.  The bright green grass especially … the red and white uniforms … the grays of the visiting team … the colorful billboards … the right field “spite fence” … the brown dirt of the infield … When you are used to seeing an event purely in blacks & whites & grays, you suddenly realize what you have been missing; what color and natural sound add to the spectacle.

To top it off, as we took our seats in the upper stands along the third base line, I was horrified at the steepness of the grandstand seating.  For the first three innings I was so afraid  that, if I leaned forward too far in my seat, I would go tumbling down the rows of seats and be thrown from the grandstand to my untimely – though spectacular – death.

The images and sounds are memories still so vivid I doubt they’ll ever fade.  For me, there was no turning back.  I was hooked.  Hooked forever …

For that, Dad, I cannot thank you enough!

(Joseph Vincent Shortall passed away in August 2001.)

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