"Random Thoughts on the Phutile Phils"

Growing up in the City of Philadelphia was a definite benefit for a little boy. It had everthing any large city could have; except the Yankees! There were plenty of other kids and lots of things for them to do. Whether we hopped the "el" and rode to 69th St or jumped on the subway and rode to South Philly, we found adventurous journies to fill our days. Our favorite pastime however, was the many trips to Connie Mack Stadium (Shibe Park) at 21st and Lehigh. We didn't mind that the Phillies were usually a dismal team, with a record of desperation unmatched in the millenium. They were the "Phillies", and we were faithful fans! We made the trips with the proper "reverence" in our minds, smiles on our faces and hope in our hearts. Though we were often disappointed, the memories aren't so bad! There are many, but here's one of my all time favorites.

Nights in North Philly

The year was 1958, late April or early May. There was a chill in the night air, but the first hint of spring, immediately recognizable in the mind of an eight year old boy, was apparent when the breeze was still. Not much was on his mind as the trolley lurched to a stop at the corner of Broad and Lehigh, nothing but the seven block walk to 21st St.

He didn't mind the walk. It was a chance to hear again, the old stories that he knew so well...Stories of Howard Ehmke and Rube Wadell; tales of Babe Ruth and Connie Mack and legendary yarns of roof- top crowds and the "spite" fence that shut them out. As they passed the "10th Inning Cafe", he asked about the name, as he had so often in the past. The answer was the same, and he wondered why anyone would want to spend the 10th inning in a bar.

The walk was almost done. The statute of the old man with the scorecard and the funny name always told him he was there. Soon he would view the grass, but at the moment he was puzzled why anyone would name a baseball park after an old man with a funny name. His attention was soon distracted by the crowds, and the old men with their cigars. As they passed the vendors, he made his usual plea for peanuts and a yearbook and was disappointed by the perpetual box of Cracker Jacks. Some of the kids had yearbooks......Why couldn't he?

A long climb to the high seats began. They always sat in the high seats. Only relatives and friends of the players got to sit downstairs. Some of them even lived on his block. He silently cursed his genealogy, but then he saw the grass. It was the greenest grass on earth, not the sickly grass of mud patches on the sandlot fields at home. This was perfect grass, and it gave him the usual thrill. It was special grass; Phillies grass. It was special, and he understood.

His eyes shot through the park, seeing everything and seeing nothing. He saw the scoreboard, the dog food sign, and the baggy pants group of pepper players playing in front of a sign which read "NO PEPPER". He never could understand what the old man had against pepper. He just assumed he was a mean man, and anyone who would build a "spite fence" would naturally tell you what to eat. Again he wondered about the statute. He watched as the men in the blue suits and the older players stood around home plate. They talked and pointed, and he heard about ground rules. He couldn't understand how you could play every day and still not understand the rules. They were simple where he came from. Three strikes, four balls, and if your name was on the ball you got to make the close decisions.

His attention turned to a giant man named Valo. He was standing near the dugout. He had heard him hit a pinch hit home run in the 10th inning of a summer game ages ago, or was it last year. No matter, he knew it happened. He had hid his transistor radio under the covers and heard it with his own ears. He wondered if the men in the bar heard it too..That Valo was great! He would ask him 25 years later if it actually happened, and it did! By the top of the 6th, he was tired and bored, and admonished that if he didn't sit still, he would be seeing his last ballgame. He sucked on his Cracker Jacks, broke the prize, and spent the sixth and seventh making faces at the creeps in the last row.

The Phillies lost, and though his world was shattered, no one else seemed to care. If wishes were base hits, they would have creamed them! As they walked through the night, he felt strangely happy. A security long since lost. A security attached to fathers, losing teams, old men with scorecards and simpler times. The stories began, though he barely heard. He wondered if he could make the big leagues. He asked again, the old man's name...."Cornelius Magillicudy", he was told...."Connie Mack".. sounded so much better!


Through the Years

Much has been written on the subject of "baseball and dads", so much so that people begin to view such writings as sentimental hype and emotional drivel indicative of relationships that must have been extremely weak if baseball served as their anchor. As parents, we live in an era where relationships with our children are very important to us, and rightly so. We will not encounter any relationship, short of marriage, that will have such an impact on our lives as that which we have with our children. Thankfully our style of living enables us to pursue those relationships with more fervor and possibilities than did parents of the past.

The average American Dad, and Mom, of 1999, spend their weekends living for their children. We travel from soccer game to soccer game, to cheerleader practice to ballet lessons and conclude it with a trip to the video store or the local McDonald's or Burger King. We sign our children up for music lessons, schedule them for computer class or baseball camp, and we wouldn't dare miss the PTA meeting. In short, our lifestyles and double incomes allow us to spend a considerable amount of time with our children. Through these activities we form bonds and create memories that our children will carry with them throughout their lives. These opportunities are significantly different than those presented to parents of the 40's, 50's and 1960's.

During my childhood in the 50's and 60's, I dearly loved my parents. My mother was a "stay at home mom", who cared for the family and the house. I can still remember Mondays and Thursdays were laundry days, and returned from school to find the clothes drying on clotheslines in our "postage stamp" back yard. The Sunday night chicken dinners along with spaghetti on Wednesdays, soup on Thursdays and fish on Fridays still rules my metabolic clock. She was the emotional support for the family, who ruled the lives of the children, while Dad worked each day. He was a factory worker, who left the house at 5:30 am, by trolley, to an automobile plant miles away. He returned at 5pm, and of course dinner was soon on the table. He was the head of the clan, didn't seem to say much, but was always there to examine report cards or back up mom's ultimatums. In short, they were parents, deeply loved, but not the best friends of their children as we try to be. My best friends were outside the home, living on surrounding streets, and our days were spent doing what kids did in the 50's and 60's. We'd spend hours playing war games, cowboy games and of course, ballgames. Growing up in the inner city provided a million opportunities to play ball. We played ball! We played wall ball, step ball, wire ball, wiffle ball, sponge ball, fast ball, stickball and hard ball. We played box ball, slow ball, hand ball and bounce ball. We played pimple ball, and when the balls would split, we played half ball. When we couldn't' find a ball we cut up one of our father's garden hoses and used a small piece to play hose ball. We played from morning to night, every day of the spring and summer. We had our own rules, our own teams and our own leagues. We knew the game, and we all had numbers stenciled on the backs of our t shirts, the numbers of our favorite players. We played amidst the wailing of neighbors over broken windows, dented cars and roofed balls that clogged drain spouts. The pitchers mound would usually be in the middle of the street while first base might be a sewer cover. Third base usually ended up being a 55 Studebaker. But we did play ball! We also played on little league teams with real uniforms and gloves. We couldn't wait to put on the old woolen, baggy uniforms, usually with "Ray's Auto Body" stenciled on the back of the shirts just above your number.

A noticeable difference that would have struck you immediately, had you attended a little league game of the 50's or 60's would be the absence of parents, grandparents, second cousins, in laws, cameras, video cameras and other accoutrements of the 90's. Parents were home. We played ball for ourselves, not for them! A few Dads may have meandered by, but by and large the stands were empty of rooters. In some ways it was a blessing not having to exhibit your most intimate failings to the extended family, to be forever recorded on cellulose and shown at family gatherings for the remainder of the millenium. Baseball was a deeply personal game for boys of the mid-century, a game we loved on its own merits.

We all had our major league heroes and favorite teams. It was, more often than not, the team that played in the city where you resided. In my case it was the Philadelphia Phillies, which automatically extends bragging rights for one of the most miserable baseball childhoods on record. No other major league franchise has such a futile history. They have lost more games in their existence than any other team. They have finished in last place more than any other team. The optimism of youth however, encouraged us to keep the faith and return to the fold every April to root for the hometown heroes. Names such as Roberts, Ashburn, Hamner, Callison, Bunning, Allen and Tony Gonzalez remain with us to this day. We can recall the heroics of Bobby Del Greco, Jim Coker and Gene Connelly. Where else could you find a guy named Wine and a guy named Boozer in the same lineup? The summers of our discontent were brightened, not by World Series appearances or pennant races, but by wins and individual deeds. We had the luxury of appreciating the game and the events, absent any other expectations. I pity the Yankee fan who based success on World Series triumph! We were much more cerebral in our appreciation of the game (We had to be!).

Our tenth birthday brought with it the realization that baseball was probably the most important thing on the planet. Though few people agreed with us outside of our insular clique, we were undoubtedly destined to break all known records if only given the chance to play. We also realized something else! Our dads, quiet and distant as we perceived them to be, also loved the game. We listened to the same team, rooted for the same players and shared the same anguish. Few games were televised in the 50's, and even the 60's saw only "away" games on the TV airwaves. Sunday afternoon doubleheaders were usually an exception. Summer nights in Philly, were spent on the front porch or front steps, both being an extension of the ever-popular "parlor" or "living room". There we (kids and dads) would listen to By Saam or Bill Campbell, as they provided radio play by play commentary. We would relish victories, share defeats and debate the heavier issues of the day. Could Lefty Grove really have been a better pitcher than Art Mahaffey? Did Babe Ruth really point to the stands and hit a home run? Was Connie Mack a better manager than Gene Mauch? Why did everybody boo Richie Allen? How come he didn't like the name Richie? Do you think Pancho Herrera will be in the Hall of Fame someday? Do you think the Yankees will ever trade Mickey Mantle to the Phillies? Endless questions and adolescent naivete were greeted with patient respect and endless tales and teaching. A connection had been established that would continue for years. A connection based on a shared love, not of a game, but of what a game can inspire in the field of human interaction. Memories of summer nights, Dads, 55 Studebakers , home runs and a time in our lives when they were cherished above all else.

We grow apart from our Dads; we move, marry, get jobs and drift away in spirit, if not in fact. We usually try to return when we also are wearing "father's shoes", and if we're lucky, Dad will still be there. My most poignant memory involves the 1980 World Series, in which the Phillies were victorious. Though I saw Dad often, and we occasionally took in a game at the Vet, I was much too busy with job and family to pursue the closeness of those summer nights on the porch. I took him to a series game, a game that they lost! I remember phoning him at 1am on the night that they became World Champs! I don't recall what we said, but it was a conversation that will remain with me forever. The last memories of my father involve a vacation in the Poconos in 1981, the whole extended family being present. Of course I would find him on the deck at night, listening to the ball game. He was older then, his hearing was going and the stories about Ruth and Gehrig became jumbled. We sat and talked and enjoyed the game, until crying children and other duties called me away. Dad passed away the day after our return from vacation.

The next time you hear someone waxing nostalgic about the game of baseball, pause a moment and reflect on what was important in your life and what connected you to those you loved. The summer nights we share are what fuel our passion for life and for living. Only then would you understand the significance of Kevin Costner's closing line in the movie, "Field of Dreams". Our desire to return to those summer nights, those moments of connection, and the innocence and security of years gone by explains our love of the game. Our fathers are Our youth and baseball the bridge that connected the years.

Rate This Site at Skilton's Baseball 

Sign My Guestbook Guestbook by GuestWorld View My Guestbook

OldBallGame I // OldBallGame II // OldBallGame III // Sitemap // All Those Years
1964 Phillies // Dick Allen // Richie Ashburn // 1920 World Series // Baseball & Dads
Willie, Mickey & Duke // Mickey, Humberto & Me // Ballpark Song // Baseball Essays // Baseball Links
History Books // Mailing List // List Archives // E Mail // About Me