Today is Harry Kalas’ birthday. It should also be Opening Day for the Philadelphia Phillies and the rest of Major League Baseball. Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, that is no longer the case.
As I sit here watching a rerun of Bryce Harper‘s classic “grand slam game” from last August, I thought it would be a great background for my own backstory. Like most Phillies fans, I was introduced to baseball as a child. I played softball, watched games on TV when they were available, and listened to By Saam and Bill Campbell on my trusty transistor radio. My whole extended family followed the Phillies, even though we lived about 100 miles away in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. My first live game was at Connie Mack Stadium. I also was lucky enough to attend Opening Day at Veterans’ Stadium in 1971. My kids went to games at The Vet as well.
Fast-forward to 2007, when I was lucky enough to inherit a small stipend from the estate of my uncle, Richard Phillips. He was a huge Phillies fan who was working at Bethlehem Steel on July 28, 1962. At the time, the Phillies promoted a “baseball special” train that stopped in Harrisburg, Lancaster, and Coatesville, and took fans directly to Connie Mack Stadium. On this day, however, five railroad cars jumped the track in Steelton, causing a horrific crash into the Susquehanna River. Richard was one of the men frantically trying to help rescue the injured passengers. Nineteen people died that day.
I found the perfect way to honor my uncle when my daughter and I purchased our first Sunday season ticket plan to see the Phillies play during that 2007 season at Citizens’ Bank Park. We couldn’t have picked a better time.
It was an amazing year for the team, of course, and it was my first time at Citizens’ Bank Park. We sat out in left field, in section 141. The seats were right next to the foul pole in home run territory, eight rows up from the field. It gave us a great view of Pat Burrell‘s backside. We could even see the outline of a can of tobacco in his pocket.
The infield was a bit farther away, but I had my trusty binoculars. My daughter came equipped with a small radio, headphones, and a camera. She took very good pictures, and kept us informed of all the stats being provided over her radio by Scott Franzke and Larry Andersen.
Our “seatmates”- the four guys that sat beside my daughter- were all in their 20’s and drank copious amounts of beer. When the Phillies were losing, our pastime was counting the empty bottles they left behind. There were LOTS of them. At $9.00 a bottle, these guys must have had great jobs.
I had so many favorite players on that team. Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Pat Burrell, Cole Hamels, Shane Victorino, and Jayson Werth come to mind. But Jamie Moyer was the player I always wanted to see.
Moyer was a local boy from Sellersville, Pa. who had made his biggest impression in MLB with the Seattle Mariners. The 44-year-old southpaw had the slowest pitch in the big-leagues, and I just enjoyed watching his game. My daughter’s favorite player was Burrell, the home run-hitting ‘Pat the Bat’ who was the starting left fielder. This was also the season where Brett Myers was the Opening Day starter and ended up on the final day of the season the closer.
We quickly learned when to follow the crowd. We also learned which players were definitely NOT favorites. Adam Eaton and Rod Barajas were both on the 2007 team. Neither will be favorably remembered by any Phillies fan. Eaton was actually drafted by the Phillies, but traded to the Padres before entering the majors. He found himself back in Philadelphia with a three-year, $24 million contract for the 2007 season. In his first outing on April 7, Morgan gave up seven runs in little more than four innings. It did not get better.
On July 15, we witnessed an event that no other team in any sport had ever accomplished when the Phillies suffered the 10,000th loss in franchise history. Eaton was, of course, the losing pitcher. Going into the 9th inning the Phillies were losing by 10-0. The fans who stayed were delirious because, well, it was going to be historic, right? The proud fan in front of me even made a sign proclaiming the 10,000 losses…like a victory of sorts. I was just angry that Michael Bourn chose that moment to hit his first Major League home run. Couldn’t even keep it a shut out. Eaton finished the season with a 10-10 record and an ERA of 6.29, among the worst in the league. He was booed every time he stepped on the mound.
Rod Barajas was signed to backup rookie catcher Carlos Ruiz. His critical mistake came in Miami on May 23, when Barajas failed to block the plate, which was allowed at the time. This allowed Hanley Ramirez to avoid his tag and tie the game in the 9th inning. Subsequently, Myers injured his shoulder during the lengthy inning and was out for two months.
Back in 2011, Susan Cohen-Dickler at Bleacher-Report quoted Glen Macnow of SportsTalk WIP radio: “He came in as a guy who showed absolutely no effort, showed no guts, and was a lackadaisical player in a way that this town absolutely can’t stand, especially for a catcher.” Ruiz did most of the catching the rest of the year, backed up by “The 33-Year-Old Rookie”, Chris Coste.
The season continued, and we faithfully attended every Sunday game. The Phillies stayed in the race and manager Charlie Manuel continued to play his same lineup, work around injuries, and bolster the players confidence. After coming close in five of the prevous six seasons, the fans filled the ballpark each night. As the calendar pushed into the middle of September, the Mets were leading the division by seven games with just 17 remaining on the schedule.
Our drive was 100 miles to get to Citizens Bank Park. I leave four hours before game time to beat the traffic. I couldn’t wait to get there on that last day of the season in 2007. The Mets had already lost 11 of their last 16 games going into that final day. Could they lose one more? Could we then beat the Nationals? That scenario would give the division title to the Phillies. My hero, Jamie Moyer, was starting on the mound.
As we checked the scoreboard after the 1st inning, future Hall of Famer Tom Glavine had given up seven runs to the lowly Marlins, and our crowd let out a tremendous roar. Meanwhile, Moyer gave up only one run. We were on our way. Ryan Howard hit his 47th home run, and the Phillies won the game, 6-1. The Mets had lost, completing their collapse and eliminating them from the playoffs entirely. The Phillies were the 2007 National League East Division champions. Our first year as season ticket holders was a blast. Could the 2008 season possibly be as much fun?
We couldn’t wait to renew our tickets to find out.