CD's Connect the Dots...Magical Childhood Memories

My first trip to Disneyland. A surprise birthday party. My first Little League hit. A pack of baseball cards... and the day the Phildelphia Phillies forever became MY team. It is one of the crimes of life that a childhood memory is becoming endangered specie. Virtual reality TV, non-stop streams of information, teachers who insist on only one answer, and creative visualizations in the mind, are causing today's child to possibly grow up with memories of their youth. Not so with mine.

My memories are forever etched in the recesses of my mind, as vivid today as they were 39 years ago.... on the day the Phillies truly became the sports love of my life. Oh, I had seen a baseball game before, ironically the sad sack 1961 Phillies, they of the famous 23 game losing streak. But baseball then was a mere sidelight to the hot dogs, and the coke and the excitement of being surrounded by so many people. Names like Curry, Walters, Herrera and Roberts were but a passing note on the way to the concession stand.

However, something strange did occur that day, in Seals Stadium as the Giants beat up on those forlorn Phillies.... I began to feel an affinity for that team. Perhaps it was the uniforms, or the way they appeared so helpless.... perhaps it was the first pack of baseball cards that I bought the following day.... with two Phillies in the pack, Jim Owens and Bobby Malkmus. Certainly this must be sign that this was a team that I could identify with.

Surprisingly, the ‘62 and ‘63 seasons went well, and I discovered the Sporting News, a once a week magazine that could allow me to follow my newly adopted team. Oh, all my friends were San Francisco Giant fans, and I dared not share my secret. Besides, these players were mere images in my mind, I had never seen most of them play. Yet, I was Johnny Callison on the playground, certain that my swing emulated his. Never mind that he threw righty and I was a lefty, certainly he must have thrown lefty when he was a child. And I was Chris Short on the mound, though I had no idea what Chris Short looked like, he was nowhere to be found on a baseball card. Players like Art Mahaffey, Ray Culp, Tony Taylor and Tony Gonzalez became names I loved.... and the images in my mind told me stories that television had not yet discovered.

The season of 1964 looked to be a special year for the Phillies as they had acquired a pitcher I knew well, Jim Bunning, and were touting a young 3rd baseman I had never seen, Richie Allen. Oh, how I wanted to talk with my father about this team, surely he would know the answers to my questions. But my father was rarely available, tormented by demons a child of 9 would never understand. Then a special moment occurred, a moment that would transcend time, a moment that I treasure forever. My father, ever the Giants fan, had noticed my strange affinity for baseball and decided to make a special trip to Candlestick Park on July 4, 1964 with me. He almost apologetically told me the game would be against the Phillies, this strange collection of players that was somehow battling the powerful Giants for the NL lead. Little did he know of my burgeoning devotion to this team.

There was a baseball theory in those days that a team leading the league on the 4th of July would win the pennant and as the Phils prepared to meet the Giants that day, I was faced with a dilemma. The Phils had entered the weekend series trailing the Giants by 1 1/2 games but a Ray Culp 5-1 win on Friday night had sliced the deficit to 1/2 game. I did not know whether that baseball truism meant at the beginning of the day or at the end of the day.... and as things transpired I decided it was meant for the standings at the end of the day.

As we entered the park it was as if a whole new world opened up for me for down on the field were players I had only read about but never seen.... Cookie Rojas, Wes Covington, Dennis Bennett and Richie Allen. I will never forget the first time I saw Richie Allen in a Phillies uniform. If ever a player looked like a baseball player it was Allen. The game itself would only reconfirm that.

The game.... words do no justice to the images I created that day, July 4, 1964. In all, seven Hall of Famers would grace the field, names spoken of even today.... Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Duke Snider, Orlando Cepeda, Gaylord Perry, Juan Marichal (well, he didn't actually play that day but he was there!) and our very own Jim Bunning.

Certainly the lineups favored the hometown Giants...and the crowd of 31,000 expected a victory. And after the Phillies scratched out a run in the top of the first against Jack Sanford on a Callison walk and a Richie Allen double, I understood why. Two pitches into the bottom of the first inning and the Giants led, a Jim Ray Hart single and a booming home run off the bat of Duke Snider. As Snider's ball left the park, I saw Bunning slam his fist into the glove, as if to say.... no more. And no more was exactly what the Giants got.

In a suddenly tight, taut game, Bunning and Sanford matched 0's until Sanford was forced to leave in the sixth inning. In came Billy Pierce, who was quickly replaced by young Gaylord Perry. Although a young boy would have no understanding of this, what I witnessed that day was four pitchers, Bunning, Sanford, Pierce and Perry, who would go on to accumulate nearly 900 wins.... yet only 1 would win this day. The Phils tied the score in the 6th on a brilliant base running play by Allen and my father and I settled in for a classic duel...Bunning vs. Perry. Neither gave an inch, and I still picture Bunning's strange windup, he would literally fall off the mound to the left side.... almost inviting enemy hitters to bunt. Yet, they never did. I remember my father teaching me to watch the outfielder and you would know if a fly ball would be caught, and though he was cheering for the Giants, he was patient with my seemingly insolence at rooting for the Phillies.

Perhaps I should interrupt this baseball play by play to convey how very much this whole day meant to me.... for I perhaps can count on one hand the number of truly memorable moments I had with my dad. That this would be one of them might make him particularly sentimental, seeing as how this devotion to a team I saw 39 years ago has stayed with me to this very day. And how could it not be memorable? Independence day at the ballpark with my dad, cheering for a team I was growing to love more by the inning and creating those paintings in my mind of the players I was watching for the first time.... John Hernstein, Clay Dalrymple, Ruben Amaro, Bobby Wine, Johnny Callison...and Richie Allen.

As the game entered the eleventh inning still tied at two, I remember being filled with a sense of awe at the utter purpose of these players...you could tell it truly mattered who won.... the grimace on Mays face as he struck out, the frustration out, the utter disbelief in McCovey's face as a certain game winning home run in the ninth inning strangely sailed foul at the last moment.... surely this was a game the Phils would win, and win they did.

Once again, it was Richie Allen who did the honors, and whenever I think of Allen, it is this moment I imagine...a slicing drive into right centerfield in the 11th inning with Hernstein on first base. Never again have I seen a more perfect triple than was struck by Allen that day, his grace and sleekness afoot had me spellbound. That it was a standup triple was even more amazing to me...and the following two run home run by Wes Covington that sent most of the crowd home in disappointment was merely icing on the cake.

As a Willie Mays fly ball landed softly and harmlessly into Tony Gonzalez glove to end the game, I stood to soak in what had just transpired.... and there I saw again an image that would stay with me even now...the unadulterated joy in Manager Gene Mauch's face as he congratulated his troops. Those visions are vividly still playing in my mind… there was Roy Sievers and Cookie Rojas and Art Mahaffey. Out came Cal Mclish and Dennis Bennett and Danny Cater. Finally Gus Triandos and Ray Culp. Certainly, the baseball truism applied to this team. This team became MY team and MY team was in first place on the 4th of July. Images then...and same images, even today. Images that only a child could create and memories that would last a lifetime.

The drive home was uneventful, the radio blaring with songs like Pretty Woman by Roy Orbison and Suspicion by Terry Stafford. Yet, it is not the songs I remember, but the memories of a day long ago, yet only seems like yesterday, when a boy's childhood dreams became the reality that would move him 39 years later.....July 4, 2003.

Columnist's Note: Your comments or questions are welcome. Send it to connectthedots@earthlink.net and I will respond! CD


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