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Friday, September 29, 2006

Old Tickets, Long Rain Delays and the Ghosts of 1964

Gloomy night in the mid-Atlantic region last night, the day that my dad would have turned 77 were he still with us. The Phillies ended up being engulfed in the longest rain delay in MLB history, only to fall to the Nats, 3-1 and fall two games out of the Wild Card with 3 to play. Phillies' fans are hoping that the echoes of Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and yes, Joe Morgan (whose last-day HR in the fall of '82 while a Giant knocked the Dodgers out of the NL West lead and enabled the Astros to win the division) inspire Barry Bonds & Co. to take three straight from the visitors from L.A.

The Phils, meanwhile, travel to Florida to play a pumped-up Marlins' squad, two of whose players, Scott Olsen and Taylor Tankersley, provided bulletin-board material for the Phillies in this morning's newspapers. Apparently when your team's payroll has defined the new term "Loria Line", the payroll equivalent to hitting's Mendoza Line, there is no room in the budget for a Dale Carnegie course for brash rookies playing in one of baseball's circles of hell.

In St. Louis, the Astros have gained 8 games on the Cardinals in the past 3 weeks, summoning up bad memories for those in Philadelphia 50 or over who remember the collapse of the '64 team, which was 6 1/2 up with 12 games to play, only to end up in third place in the National League. Will the Cardinals hold on, or will Tony LaRussa get paired with Gene Mauch in post-mortem discussions about what went wrong with the Cards' season. Even the St. Louis headline writers are acting like they worked for The Philadelphia Daily News in 1964, calling last night's effort against the Brewers "half-hearted." Perhaps it's the Philadelphia writers who get the bad rap. At any rate, all eyes will be on the Cardinals -- and the Astros.

So what do do during a rain delay? After playing a game of Strat-o-Matic with my son (Brett Myers bested Bronson Arroyo, and Kenny Lofton got four hits in four at-bats -- we played the '05 season as, of course, the '06 game cards won't be out until March of '07), we watched a videotape of the 1980 World Series, the one and only time the Phillies won a World Series. One thing we noticed was how thing the players were, especially Bake McBride and Gary Maddox. Now, in fairness, people are generally heavier today, and there wasn't the weight training then that the players do today. There also weren't all of the supplements that are lying around, including, of course, the banned ones. We also saw great hitting by Willie Mays Aikens, Amos Otis, Willie Wilson and Mike Schmidt, as well as a great throw by Manny Trillo and some heartrate-increasing pitching by Tug McGraw. And, yes, there was Pete Rose's great "save" of a dropped foul pop-up by Bob Boone that signaled to Phillies' fans that for once the stars were aligned and that the hometown nine was going to win a World Series.

During the rain delay, we watched the "Return to Glory" episode that featured the Dodgers' improbable 1988 World Series victory of the Oakland A's, and that also featured Kirk Gibson's memorable game-winning HR in Game 1, when the rugged OF limped to the plate because of injured knees. One thing that was apparent that this Series was played before Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire discovered the weight room, GNC stores or poorly lit parking lots of local gyms and the people who hung out there. Back in that day, not every baseball player was built like he could catch a swing pass, lower a shoulder and knock out the LB trying to take his head off. Not that every baseball player today looks that way, either, but the comparisons are striking.

The rain delay continued, and I brought out an old lucite cookie jar in which I store my old tickets from sporting events. I know, they should be in lucite or lying flat, but there is only so much stuff you can keep. I found my father's ticket to Game 6 of the 1980 Series, the final game, and the face value was only $15.00. I found tickets from the 1983 World Series (where the Phillies lost to the Orioles) and the 1993 World Series (where the Blue Jays beat the Phillies). I found my ticket to Game 6 of the 1974 Stanley Cup Finals, where the Flyers beat the Bruins 1-0 after Kate Smith sang the national anthem. Through a bizarre set of circumstances, an acquaintance of my father's couldn't go to the game, and we sat in the fifth row behind the benches at center ice. After the Flyers won and started celebrating, I ran up to the benches looking for a souvenir. I took a water bottle from the benches. I still have it -- it's at my mother's house, but, of course, I doubt today anyone will believe what that was or where I got it. There's just no way to authenticate stuff like that. It was an energizing time nonetheless.

There were tons of Phillies tickets, some of which had a face value of $5 or less. I couldn't remember whether I had the tickets from August 1990, when I was in Europe on a business trip. The significance of that was that I had planned to go to a Phillies' game that week, and it turned out that Terry Mulholland pitched the only no-hitter in Veterans Stadium history on the night I was supposed to go to the game. There were Dodgers' tickets, Giants' tickets and A's tickets from my days of living in California, and various college football and basketball tickets. I shared them with my kids, who couldn't believe at how inexpensive some of those tickets were relative to what we pay today. It was a great trip down memory lane on a day when I remembered my father, who, would have been 77, still would have found ways to take my kids to games and would have loaded up their rooms with all sorts of goodies. If there's one solace that I can take from his too-early passing (he died 20 years ago), it is that the kids are endowed with his spirit and sense of joy about their games -- both playing and watching.

I miss him, especially at times when the Phillies are doing well, which remain far too few. We shared the watershed days of the late 1970's and early 1980's, and I look back thankfully to the Sunday plan that he purchased and our trips to Veterans Stadium where it was hot as can be and where there was a giveaway and Steve Carlton ended up pitching on Sundays before 45,000 more often than not. I remember how we left home after an early lunch for a 1:05 game, only to return home slightly after 3 with my mother asking what happened. The answer was simple and funny -- Carlton had hooked up in a classic pitcher's duel against the Padres' Randy Jones, who, for two years in the mid-1970's pitched like the great lefties of all-time -- Koufax, Spahn and Grove -- and the Phils won 1-0 in a game that took only 1:30 to play. Sure, the Vet isn't Wrigley or Fenway, but your hometown park is a magical one when you're a kid, and, when your team is winning, it's heaven on earth, your secular temple.

The tickets were a trip back in time for me. I haven't matched them up on the internet with actual games, but at some point -- perhaps during the next big snowstorm in the winter -- I'll do that. Normally I don't like rain delays, but what filled last night's up was a link between generations -- what I had with my father and what I'd like to accomplish with my own children. Seeing them laugh at Bake McBride's hair or Larry Bowa's bouncing after McGraw struck out Wilson to clinch the World Series, having them marvel at the World Series tickets, sharing chuckles at some of the outfits people were wearing, even in 1980, was much fun. I hope to be around them for a long time, and I hope that I am honoring my father's memory by starting them on the road to a good number of shared experiences that they'll reflect back upon happily decades down the road, just the way we did last night.

Yes, our favorite team lost (the game began at 11:37, and I was fast asleep by the time it started), and, yes, they're probably going to miss out on wild card birth narrowly for the second year in a row (sorry, but the realistic Phillies' fan must take over now -- it's a time-honed defense mechanism). But the compelling thing about the national pastime is sharing it with your family and friends.

Even in a rain delay.

Especially in a rain delay.


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