Pharewell Veterans Stadium

Thirty-three years ago a concrete structure was erected at the corner of Broad and Pattison Streets in South Philadelphia. It was a dual-purpose stadium for the masses, to house the many future championships long entitled to the City of Brotherly Love.

The masses, oh how they came, but those championships did not and within just a few months of the dedication ceremony, fans 'round the city were calling for the demolition of this "concrete cereal bowl," a building for which only tears of frustration could ever be shed. Come 2003, the city has finally been granted its wish as the Phillies season finale saw the final game played at Veterans Stadium. And what a fitting tribute it was.

As a life-long fan of all things Philadelphia, I could think of no better way to close the stadium than on a dreary Sunday afternoon with a three hour long, meaningless contest in which the Fightin' Phils showed more spunk and energy getting into their cars to go home than they did on the playing field. And where else could one expect to see a daytime fireworks show? At least I think it was fireworks. I couldn't tell because it was DAYLIGHT!

Perhaps it is a fitting testament to the fans of Philadelphia, regarded around the country as the roughest, most difficult-to-please bunch of S.O.B.'s in sports. You're damn right we are. After all, it was Philadelphia that booed Santa Claus. Santa Claus? Yes, Santa Claus. We booed and hissed the man who has dedicated his life to bringing joy and happiness to all the children of the world (offer not valid for non-Christian children).

But can you really blame us? I don't recall getting the Transformer action figures I requested for Christmas that year. As paying customers, we owe it to Santa to let him know when he screws up, rosy cheeks or not.

We're also the bunch of hooligans responsible for pelting the Dallas Cowboys with a barrage of snowballs during a football game. I see nothing wrong with enjoying the childish delights of winter while rooting for your favorite football team. Plus, it was the Cowboys. I dare you to find any other town that wasn't jealous that they didn't do it first.

Another quirky aspect to the Philadelphia fan is the tendency to boo our own plays just as much (okay, more often) than we boo the other team. Yeah, we booed our very own beloved Mike Schmidt. Well, we pretty much booed any other guy on our team that struck out twice in one game, so why not him? I don't care how many homeruns you've hit so far. Go hit me another one.

Granted, most cities have rivalries with other cities or teams, but not so much with specific players. You should have no problem guessing which town it was that cheered with unfettered joy when star receiver Michael Irvin lay motionless on the stadium floor after an explosive collision. That's right, chalk up another one to us.

Perhaps we weren’t excited about the potentially crippling injury, but for our team’s hard work. The philosophy in this town is that a boo is louder than a cheer and all that matters is making noise. Then again, maybe we’re just jealous that Michael Irvin is so darn good at pulling off a mustard colored suit. Whatever the reason may have been, is it so wrong for the little guy to revel in a temporary setback of his own personal Goliath? Wait, David actually won at some point. Forget that one.

In keeping with the Irvin episode, Philadelphia was armed and ready for the return of J.D. Drew, the Phillies 1996 draftee who refused to play for the team, despite a $10 million offer. The nerve. What reason could he possibly have to not want to play here? Well, we sent our response loud and clear by hurling batteries at him upon his return. Batteries, you ask? Yes, batteries. Duracell, Energizer, you've got it. Freaking ouch is right.

Even that act is justified in that it was simply our way of saying...hmm. Well, you see...um... Okay, there's no way to sugarcoat it, we did a terrible thing. It's just that we, as Philadelphians, have always been rebellious by nature. Throughout history we've counteracted accepted culture in liberating defiance. Maybe you can think of a couple times. Yet, somehow I don't think that pelting some spoiled brat with AA's is going to go down as a revolutionary act in the course of history. But we still got our point across, whatever the hell it was.

Even if you’re not native to Philadelphia, you’ve probably heard of the Vet before. You may know it as “The Worst Stadium in Baseball,” or “The Stadium With the Worst Playing Surface in Football.” Yeah, that’s our home. Many professional athletes have seen their demise at the Vet as it has caused more career ending injuries than any other building. Except for Chuck E. Cheese’s. I hear Babe Ruth loved the ball pits. Poor bastard.

The Vet was also the first sports arena in the country to staff a judge and install a courtroom system in the basement to swiftly convict the mass of lawbreakers guaranteed to commit some sort of felony during the course of a game. That’s how much we love our sports, never letting a petty thing like organized law deter us from supporting the home team.

So it was with these fond memories that Philadelphia set to close the door on the storied and often misunderstood history of Veterans Stadium. Over sixty former Phillie favorites came back and marched around the field, recalling all the fond sport-related memories that occurred within that concrete structure. Oh yeah, they played sports here, too.

Tug McGraw even reenacted his 1980 World Series winning pitch. As he did so, the trumpets of the orchestrated soundtrack seemed to pull the clouds in the sky apart, as the sun broke through at that very moment and shown onto the 59,000 screaming fans for the only time that afternoon. Nice touch.

As I left the Vet, I looked back on the building that was never-to-be-missed and overhead someone remark, “It’s just an empty landfill. Always was.” Though every one of the 60,000 seats was vacant, I couldn’t help but think that the place was far from empty. Throughout the afternoon I walked around the Vet, for one last inspection of the joint. From the concession lines to the infamous 700 level, I overheard countless recollections of first trips to the ball game, Eagle’s games and other cherished memories that occurred within those walls. Empty? I think not.

Walking down those concrete ramps for the final time, I casually noticed some of the symptoms overcoming my fellow fans: hoarse voices, blistered hands and yup, even a few moist eyes. It seemed that the City That Doesn’t Give a Shit actually cared. For the building we’ve hated and the country has hated for 32.5 years of its 33-year lifespan, it appears there will always be an empty space in the shape of a concrete bowl in the hearts of Philadelphia.

No comments:

Post a Comment