Each Friday, we will post a reader story from our “Why I Love the Phillies” contest.
I have lived my entire life in Central Illinois to this point, right in the middle of Cubs/Cards territory. All my classmates in school were Cards or Cubs fans (with a few White Sox fans scattered in). I didn’t want to just be led onto a fan bandwagon due to geography, and while in junior high in the late 70s, the Phillies regularly were winning NL East division titles. With stars such as Schmidt, Bowa, Luzinski, Carlton, and McGraw, they were a strong team that I could appreciate.
So I liked them and followed them, suffering much teasing from my classmates as a result. Then, when the Phils won it all in 1980, it was my turn to gloat a bit.
All this planted the seeds for me to be a long-time fan, but the crowning jewel occurred in 1981.
Being in Central Illinois, my closest chances to see the Phillies were in St. Louis or Chicago. My mom preferred driving in St. Louis, so we would go see the team there when it worked out. In 1981, the Phillies were ultra-popular after winning the World Series; Tug McGraw and Mike Schmidt had appeared in some national TV commercials for 7-Up. After the game, my mom took me down to where the players exited the stadium.
At the old Busch Stadium, fans were able to get right next to a security gate as the players walked out, and there was a large crowd waiting for the Phillies. I was not far from the door to the stadium when Tug McGraw walked out, and most of the crowd started screaming, “Tug!” “Tug!” Many people had programs, baseball cards, and other items they wanted him to sign. He glanced around and was a bit wide-eyed; “Tooooo many people…..tooooo many people….” he said as he started walking from the door toward the team bus. As he was walking, he glanced my direction as I stood there in the crowd with my faux Phillies jersey. He looked down and noticed I had a marker and a paperback copy of his autobiography, “Screwball,” in my hand. As he was telling the crowd there were too many people for him to stop and sign things, he took the marker and book and somehow managed to sign it as I contorted my arm through and between people, clinging to the book so I didn’t lose it. Eventually, I felt him let go of it, and as I snaked my arm back through multiple people (trying not to drop the book or force it back and tear it), I eventually got it back. I turned it over, and on the front, he had autographed it. Well, for a kid from a town of 500 in central Illinois, it was pretty much the highlight of my life to that point that, of all those in the crowd, he signed that book for me while others were asking and coming away disappointed.
So, while I was a fairly strong Phillies fan to that point, with that one seemingly small gesture by the Tugger locked me in as a Phillies fan for life. (And yes, I do still have that autographed book.)