I've been a football and baseball fan in this town my whole life, and there is no one who wants to see grand new homes for the Phillies and Eagles more than myself. The poured concrete and green carpeting of the Vet make it a cold, desolate, unfeeling place, too big for baseball and too round for football. It's too old to be on the cutting edge and too young to be considered a classic. It's out of date, out of style, and soon to be out of luck. And that is as it should be.
Before the Vet has its date with the executioner, though, I think it might be wise to give the place a long, standing ovation from all of us. Sure, the Vet is no longer en vogue, but it really isn't such a bad place. The Phillies and Eagles enjoyed their greatest successes at the Vet. And, in its day, it did seem big and beautiful and wondrous. To me, the Vet is something like an aging couch. When first bought, it's a comfortable, attractive, fashionable piece. But, as time passes and years of wear begin to show, it becomes a lumpy, ugly anachronism. And yet, somehow, it's tough to throw it away.
Though the Eagles and the Phillies will never admit it, the Vet really did give a whole new dimension to going to a ballgame. Analysts say that the Vet is in such an out-of-the-way, isolated location that it hasn't helped the city one iota, totally failing to revitalize the city in any way or bring even a hint of added revenue to the town's coffers. Those analysts are absolutely right. But there is something about the location that is oddly charming as well. One of my favorite summer rituals is taking the trip down I-95 a few times a month to that odd corner of the city. What makes the trip so special, I think, is knowing I am going down there for one reason only: to take in a Phillies game. Similarly, going down I-95 with the masses on Sundays in autumn, knowing you are all going to one place for one purpose, is a thrill accentuated by the Vet's remote location. Oddly enough, the Vet's perfectly inconvenient location for just about everyone heightened the sense that Phillies and Eagles games are communal events, breaking the barriers of race, creed, and color. In fact, the location has become so important to the Philadelphia sports scene that the Phillies research showed --- overwhelmingly --- that among fans the preferred site of the new ballpark was at the current sports complex. That's an amazing thing when you consider that that location almost defeats the purpose of building a "retro" park --- no panoramic skyline view, no surrounding neighborhood, no nearby tourist attractions --- just an ocean of macadam.
Of course, the Vet has contributed more to Philadelphia's collective sports consciousness than its curious location. Though the drab concrete and the crummy carpeting aren't aesthetically pleasing, they do hold some of Philadelphia's finest sports memories. It was within the massive and imposing confines of Veterans Stadium that the Phillies won their only World Series. In fact, though the Phillies have played at the Vet for just 31 seasons, they have easily played the best baseball in franchise history there. The Phillies have collected three of their five pennants in their time at the Vet, and from 1976 through 1983, the Phillies were a dominant force in the National League. The Eagles won their only Super Bowl berth at the Vet, and saw two great eras of Eagles teams, from 1978-1981 and 1988-1992. The Vet has seen some of this city's greatest stars come and go: Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Darren Daulton, Ron Jaworski, Reggie White, and Randall Cunningham just to name a few.
Like it or not, the Vet will always be a romantic reminder of the sports teams of my youth. I'll never forget my first trip down; I was only five years old, and I was sick and cold. The Phillies were playing a game against the St. Louis Cardinals on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in 1984, and names like Glenn Wilson, Mike Schmidt, and Ivan DeJesus highlighted the lineup. I don't remember the final score, but I do remember the Phils won, and Glenn Wilson hit the first home run I ever saw by a Phillie at Veterans Stadium. It's the first in what has been a long string of happy memories at the Vet. I've seen the Eagles stop the then Phoenix Cardinals from scoring from the one on seven successive plays; the Phillies fight out a win over the Dodgers in twenty innings; the Eagles send out Pat Ryan as quarterback in a particularly desperate moment of 1991; the Phillies stun the Pittsburgh Pirates with a seven run bottom of the ninth to win 8-7; Mike Schmidt hit his last home run at the Vet; Randall Cunningham throw one of his many touchdown passes; Donovan McNabb begin to break out as a legitimate NFL quarterback; and Scott Rolen break out as a Gold Glove third baseman. Games with my Dad, games with my friends, teams that were great, teams that were awful, players who challenged my imagination, players who challenged my patience, I've seen it all. Sure, maybe it would have been nicer to see it all someplace a little more scenic, maybe things could have been even better around here if the stadium had been a little better, but the fact remains I grew up watching sports at the Vet. See why this is such a tough couch to throw away?
The clock is winding down for Veterans Stadium. The time has come for it to go; when I have kids of my own, I expect it to be long gone, my memory of it serving only to prove what an old fogy I am to my children. But before it goes, join me in taking time to stand up and give it three cheers from all of us. Make no mistake about it, the Vet is a beautiful place. Not for its looks, but for what has gone on inside. After all, isn't that supposed to be the ultimate measure of beauty?
Back to my "Remembering the Vet" Page