Sunday, June 19, 2016

Fathers's Day & Baseball

Gus, Bob, Aaron & Brett Boone

Everyone sits back on days such as Fathers Day and Mothers Day and reboots their memory about something from the past which really stood out. With my father and me it was always about baseball and the Phillies, no matter how bad they were. I remember vividly the first baseball game he ever took me to. Well, maybe not vividly but a lot of it. It was summer time, 1960, against the Giants.
I had just got home from the 9am Mass with intentions of changing clothes and heading to the vacant lot that we used as a baseball field. That was where I was going to spend my day. Mom told me that I could not change and had to wait for my father to come home from the 10am Mass but didn't tell me why. Being 5 years old, all I could think of was I had done something wrong and an ass-whipping was in store. Dad got home and told me to come with him, nothing about where we were going. We walked the 4 blocks to Lehigh Avenue and stood on the corner. Dad told me we were waiting for a bus but still didn't tell me where we were going. We got on the bus and everyone was in their church clothes just like us. I didn't pay much attention to what they were saying because like any other 5 year old, my attention was rivited to looking out the window. At about Broad and Lehigh, a woman got on the bus and Dad made me get up and give her my seat. I did as he told me with no questions asked. Thats just how it was in those days, obeying your parents and being a gentleman.
After what seemed an eternity of a bus ride Dad told me that our stop was next. I could see everyone else was getting ready to depart and I was still pretty much clueless. When we got off the bus I saw this giant building with the words "Shibe Park" on it. Now I knew where we were, we were at a baseball game. Shibe Park was the old name for Connie Mack Stadium. Even after the name was changed, Dad called it Shibe Park. I couldn't believe it!!! My first Phillies game. We got our tickets and entered the ballpark. This is where my senses kicked into overdrive. To this day, the smell of cigars and popcorn filled the air. We stood in line to get a hot dog and coke for me. Dad got a beer and complained that 25 cents was too much for a beer. We walked around the concourse of the stadium looking for the section we would sit in. Finally he pointed out a tunnel, well to me it was a tunnel, which would take us to our seats.
Now this is my Wizard of Oz moment. In my memory of this day, up until this moment, everything was in black and white. We walked through the tunnel which went up for some reason and the bluest sky I had ever seen was right in front of me. At the top of the tunnel I stopped dead in my tracks. There, right in front of me was a real baseball field. It had the greenest grass I had ever seen. Where I was raised, grass is something that grew through the cracks in the sidewalk. Back in those days your imagination was all you had. Two games on each week. Game of the week on NBC on Saturday and the Phillies on channel 6 on Sunday only. Dad and I never missed a game. Dad had to nudge me because I was holding up everyone. We made our way to our seats, third base side, second deck, right behind one of the small scoreboards. We were in THE FRONT ROW. Batting practice was still going on and the Giants had the field. I guess we were there about 15 minutes and a ball was coming our way. It landed about 7 seats down from us. I froze. Dad yelled at me to go get it and I did. I could not believe it. Not only was this my very first baseball game, I actually got ball. Who hit it? I don't know and don't care. It was mine. Dad was proud. He had been going to games since 1930 and had never even got close to getting one. An usher came down to where we were sitting and teased me, saying I had to give the ball back. That was NOT going to happen. I looked at Dad and he was smiling so I knew the ball was officially mine.
All the players left the field and the ground crew started putting down the paint on the lines and batters box. I didn't miss a second of it. When the field was ready for the game to begin, the PA announcer simply said, "Ladies and Gentleman, our National Anthem"...everyone stood up immediately and the men removed their hats. No one had to be told to do this. When it was done, the Phillies took the field and I cheered until my throat hurt. I already knew that my favorite player, #6, Johnny Callison, would be in right field so there was a little disappointment but not a lot.
The game went by way too fast. Looking back on it, those 3 hours seem like 3 minutes today. I cheered every foul ball, every catch, everything the Phillie did but it was not enough. It was 1960 and the Phillies didn't do a lot of winning back in those days. We stayed until the final out because you just don't leave a game early. As everyone was leaving I stood there looking at the ground crew again and just taking it all in. Dad didn't nudge me to go. He just stood there with a big smile on his face. But finally we had to leave.
On the bus on the way home I kept that baseball about 12 inches from my eyes. I had every bit of it memorized. I could not wait to get home and show it to everyone.Over the years Dad and I went to a lot more baseball games. The Phillies actually won some of them. But those games, even the game when Mike Schmidt hit 3 HRs, will never replace that first game in 1960. When I think of my father, and I do that quite often, that day is always the first thing that comes to mind. Happy Fathers Day Dad. Let's sit on the couch and cheer for the Phillies.

Joe Stratton

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