Sunday at Veterans Stadium, I sat in those seats in section 305, row 1, one last time before the game started. My actual seats were in section 626, row 7, but for my last game, I wanted to sit where I sat for my first game, at least for a little while, and touch the last piece of my childhood.
The photos I took were eclectic; from those seats in section 305, to the "Stargell Star" in far away right field, to the 700 level behind the plate; my memories of the Vet will now live with me in eternity, as will the memories of an otherwise lackluster Phillies loss to Atlanta. I'll remember seeing Danny Ozark bring the lineup to the plate, just as he did that day in 1974. I'll remember Kevin Millwood's reaction to the boos after getting pulled in the fifth inning. I'll remember Harry Kalas turning over the number of games remaining at the Vet to "0", then looking skyward to salute Whitey Ashburn. I'll remember Mike Williams' reaction on the mound in the ninth inning, when the stadium erupted as Brian Westbrook ran for a 62-yard TD in Buffalo to seal the game for the Eagles. And I'll remember the closing ceremonies, at least those I could see through my tear-soaked eyes.
I saw Jim Lonborg, the aforementioned pitcher in my first game at the Vet; I saw Jay Johnstone, always one of my favorites; I saw Manny Trillo, looking as if he could still gun it from deep second base. There was Bake McBride, with his familiar limp to the plate, masking his terrific speed; there was Dick Ruthven, head shaven; there was Larry Christenson, in his once-worn burgundy uniform, from a Saturday night promotion gone horribly wrong. Del Unser dug in one last time, and Greg Luzinski made one last trek to left field. The trio in center field was no Willie, Mickey, and the Duke, but today it sufficed: Marlon (Byrd), Garry (Maddox), and the Dude (Lenny Dykstra). The only regret was no sighting of one Peter Edward Rose.
But it was the final moments that put a lump in everyone's throats. Lefty struck out another with his wicked slider; Schmitty blasted one last imaginary home run and the black limo that emerged from the bullpen fittingly transported the only person who could close the Vet: the closer; The Tugger. The sight of Mr. McGraw stepping onto the mound spoke volumes. I had my tickets for this game in January, but after Tug's bout with brain cancer in March, I was wondering if I'd see him at this game. From what my wife told me, my eyes weren't the only ones wet at the sight of Tug McGraw striking out an imaginary Willie Wilson again. I had to leave at that point. What better way to remember your secondary childhood home than a re-creation of your greatest childhood memory of Phillies baseball.
The saddest moment will come in February, when the massive concrete walls some crashing down. I think I'll bring my Kleenex.