September 1, 1964
I was a textbook classic little six-year-old boy. Still chubby with baby fat, chipmunk cheeks and a classic 50’s crew cut. I loved my mother. She was a wonderful provider, a tremendous cook, and an outstanding homemaker. But my father was my life. He was a large, tall man with an overwhelming if not intimidating presence. Even at age 6, I knew I was named after him. He was Senior and I was Junior. All I wanted at that age was to be him.
On that day in 1964, my father asked me if I wanted to go see a baseball game with him. Two simultaneous thoughts flashed through my young mind.
First off, what is baseball? And secondly, yes, yes, yes, if it was something to do with my dad, I was all in. No further questions needed or asked. Let’s go. Wait, where are we going again? Philadelphia. Where both my parents were born and raised and our extended families still lived. We lived on the Jersey Shore roughly 75 minutes away. So off we went.
Connie Mack Stadium. Opening in 1909 as Shibe Park, it was baseball’s first concrete-and-steel stadium which eventually replaced the rickety old wooden bleacher parks that proved to be both fire hazards and inadequate for baseball’s growing attendance. Shibe Park was later renamed in honor of Cornelius “Connie Mack” McGillicuddy, the legendary manager of the Philadelphia Athletics better known as “The A’s” who now play in Oakland, CA. Connie Mack Stadium occupied one entire square city block which meant the outfield was uniquely square too. The stadium was located at 21st and Lehigh in a rough neighborhood.
My dad held my little hand as we walked from the parking lot to the stadium. Next thing I know we were past the turnstile and inside the edifice. And that’s when my 6-year-old senses overloaded.
I had never seen anything as green as that immaculate grass field. Colorful billboards lined the outfield walls. A giant metal wall rose high up above right field. The sounds of baseballs being thrown and hit during pre-game warmups. The smells of the grass and the beer, hot dogs, and peanuts. And the fans murmuring as they took their seats.
I still had no idea where I was or what was going on. All I knew was my dad had taken me someplace special. The Phillies hit 4 solo home runs and won that night, 4-3, over the Houston Colt .45’s, their original name and now the Astros. Since I couldn’t see over the fans in front of me, my memory of those 4 home runs is watching each one soar high above the crowd and then everyone going nuts. I slept all the way home and woke up the next morning hooked for life.
Side note: Years later after reading up on Phillies history, I discovered to my horror that September 1964 was the month the Phils choked away a 6.5 game lead with 12 to play and blew the NL pennant. Get ready, boy, more losses were still to come.
After that first game, my dad and I never missed another year. In 1965, we saw a doubleheader against the San Francisco Giants with all-time greats Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, and Juan Marichal. In 1968, we saw another double header, this one against the Los Angeles Dodgers. That night, the Phillies fired manager Gene Mauch in between the two games.
– Robert from Matthews, NC
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