June 15, 1980 – San Diego at Philadelphia, at Veterans Stadium.
This game was my 9th birthday present, as I was by that age an avid baseball fan growing up in Central NJ. Having never witnessed a major league game in person, the anticipation of looking forward to this day for me at the time was as big as any vacation or holiday I’d ever experienced. I of was a near-obsessive fan and youth player – which led to later careers as a player, coach, and administrator in scholastic, college, and independent baseball. As I got older and into my teenage years – I took every opportunity I got to see the Phils at the Vet, until I left the area in the mid 1990s.
THIS is the game however, that started it all – a lifelong passion for not only baseball, but the atmosphere of being present at a ballgame – surrounded by those equally-engaged.
I am also diagnosed clinically as on the Autism spectrum – I mention it only because as I look back at this day – my memory is unshakable, as I recall the starting lineups to this day, perhaps because of the way I visualize and recall memories. Many of the sights and sounds from that first game remain, or at least I’d like to believe, as fresh as they were that Sunday afternoon in South Philadelphia.
The pitching match-up was rookie Bob Walk against San Diego’s (and ex-Phils notable Rick Wise). Even with my $5 ticket in upper-right field section 605 and a pair of binoculars – my excitement to watch Mike Schmidt, Greg Luzinski, Pete Rose, and the rest of the 1980 cast was barely containable. I remember that I was disappointed that San Diego had given the day off to Dave Winfield, although he’d later deliver a pinch-hit single late in the game, batting for light-hitting catcher Bill Fahey. The outstanding memories of the day include:
The start was an absolute nightmare for Rick Wise – he didn’t make it out of the second inning, giving up a handful of walks and 3 or 4 quick runs. The Phils plated two in that first inning – I remember a Bake McBride single, and later a Luzinski hit that drove him home, and Schmidt scoring on a sac fly (I believed it was Maddox, but checking the box score it was Keith Moreland). Listening to other fans around me – that was the point in which I learned it was Wise who the Phillies traded in the deal with St. Louis to acquire Steve Carlton…as a 9-year old – I hadn’t known that, but tucked the info away for posterity…as in that stage of life I was absorbing every info-bit imaginable about baseball’s rich history.
Walk lasted 5 innings for the Phils, who gave way Kevin Saucier in the 6th for two outs, before Lerrin LaGrow took over for a 10-out Save. Our Phils won, 8-5, highlighted by key base-running and and timely hits. No home runs were hit in the game – it’s have to wait another year to witness my first – a walk-off blast by Manny Trillo against the Cubs, in April 1981.
I clearly recall my response to my first trip to a big-league game… the color of the game was a sensory delight – maybe more so because of the way I see the world with some of my autism-inspired characteristics… but the Astroturf was electric green in my young mind. Color TV could never replace the bright turf, orange-yellow-maroon stadium seats, and the contrast of the Phil’s maroon pinstriped uniforms vs. San Diego’s multi-colored spectrum highlighting gold and dark brown. Dan Baker’s voice was permanently imprinted in my mind as the voice of the ballpark. and a thrill to take my own son to his first game in Philadelphia 23 years later – with Dan still behind the PA microphone.
The players I saw perform in my first MLB game was an eye-catching collection of former stars and future hall-of-famers, looking back. While the Padres were not in the thick of the NL West race that season, they were far from a boring club. Ozzie Smith and Dave Winfield were still in the early parts of their careers with their original team, and featured a roster with ex-Phils Dave Cash, Willie Montanez, and of course Wise – who all saw action that day. John D’Aquisto finished the game on the mound for San Diego – a pitcher who one day I’d actually oppose as a pitcher myself in semipro/adult baseball, and that would also coach my son briefly in the 2010s. For the Phillies – what can one say – it was their first world championship to-be, and seeing Schmidt, Bowa, Rose, McBride and Maddox at defining moments in their careers – one has to regard as special as a lifelong fan. When I met Greg Luzinski as an opposing high school coach in the late 1980s, immediately my enduring memory was seeing that first major league game in June of ’80.
Avid fans forget more details over time perhaps that we could ever remember, but that first game remains special for most if not all of us – they’re the ones we never forget!
How many of the five senses do you remember experiencing at your first Phillies game?
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