Friday, September 03, 2010

Kids Days at the Vet

As the Phillies push again toward the post season, I can't help but remember the highs and lows as a Phils fan. Thankfully, the past few years have been more highs! Becoming a fan during the teams losing era, it was nice to experience 1980, and again the current run from 2007 through today.

My brother and I, along with many of our friends, spent a good deal of our youth at Philadelphia Veterans Stadium, known to most Philly sports fans as "The Vet". Some remember it more as "The Big Toilet" because of the state the City of Philadelphia left it in for a good part of it's history. But as kids, we didn't even think about the condition of the concrete octorad at Broad Street and Pattison Avenue. All we were concerned about was taking in Phillies games and having fun, both watching the games and otherwise.

Back when the stadium first opened in 1971, the cost of a general admission ticket was just $0.50. That's right, fifty cents! Cheaper than the cost of monthly phone service using MagicJack. You can't by a ticket anywhere for that low a fare anymore, so every day was Kid's Day. We would spend at least one day out of the weekend there whenever the team was in town, sometime both Saturday and Sunday if we could swing it timewise. Not that we had a full schedule as kids, but as I moved into my teen years and held two jobs on the weekend making stroboli at Pizza Shack and busing tables at The Forum caterers, I had less time for ballgames.

What was amazing was that even the Sunday giveaway day games were at that low admission price for the first few years. After a few years, they raised the general admission rate to the adult price of $2.50 for the gift days, and eventually kids had to pay that same amount every game. And that didn't last long either. After the 70s, the cost of a ticket anywhere in the Vet went higher. General admission - the famed "700 level" - was pricier than the cheap seat days that I remembered as a kid. Sneaking down into the box or reserve seats somehow left me feeling less guilty after the increase.


Being able to see double-headers for the price of one admission. This was the era before what is now known as Day/Night Double Headers, where games are now played first in the afternoon, and again in the evening, a separate ticket purchased for each game.

... The events that often occurred between the double headers. I remember being there when Karl Walenda, aka "The Great Walenda", walked the tightrope over The Vet. Being a dweller of the 700 level, we were there when he came down into the crowd after his walk and got to shake hands with him. Sadly, Mr. Walenda died a number of years afterward when a gust of wind took him off the wire during a stunt in Puerto Rico.

... Charlie Frank, the king of the hot dog vendors. His cries of "Doggie-ho!" were famous, so much so that he appeared in some TV commercials and the Phillies had a special day to commemorate his service. Some folks were known to try to get tickets in his section after that for a while.

... Nasty stadium food - The Vet could never be called a ballpark. Wilted hot dogs would be forgettable (sorry, Charlie) were they not so bad. The fries weren't bad, but then again, it's hard to mess up fries. The food available at The Bank - Citizen's Bank Park - is gourmet by comparison.

... The animated boards in the outfield that predated the newer screens found in today's ballparks. In 1970s technology they seemed to be spectacular. Today they would seem woefully outdated.

... Philadelphia Phil and Phyllis, the two colonial figures that stood in the outfield. Kind of a pair of mascots that served the Phillies prior to the arrival of the Phanatic, although they didn't do anything to fire up the fans or satisfy the kids - they were after all, made of fiberglass.

... The hike up the long concrete ramps when you sat in the cheap seats. It was good for a workout, but not so good if you were older or had a handicap.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Cartoons in the Afternoon (and in the Morning too!)

Long ago and faraway, there was a time when kids had a vast selection of cartoons to choose from when they came home from school. When you turn on the TV today, where are the toons? With the exception of the Cartoon Network, and The Simpsons, The Family Guy, and King of the Hill (the last three seeming to be adult-oriented), there isn't much in the way of cartoons today.

Up through at least the late 70's - and probably later than that - the Philadelphia stations that fill the afternoons with their judge programs (Channel 29), and "talk" shows that should at least be on late at night (Channel 17 with their Maury and Steve Wilkos shows) once had the hours from 2:00 through 5:00 dedicated to entertaining kids. Parents knew when their kids came home from school, they were able to sit down to watch harmless programming. Add to that lineup the now-defunct WKBS, Channel 48, and they had their choice of many cartoon shows. They may not have gotten their homework done after school, but at least they weren't getting an eyeful of trash.

For the kids yet too young to go to school, there were programs in the AM too. Channel 6 - then WFIL TV - had both Sally Starr's Popeye Theater and the Happy the Clown programs. (It was alleged that Happy was a nasty fellow who would berate the kids during commercial breaks - obscenities included - then come back on the air full of smiles for the viewing audience. The source, a friend of my mother's, is pretty reliable. She said she took her kids to be part of the peanut gallery one fine day, and would never bring them back). I don't believe the other two VHF stations had kids programming, but for at least an hour, the young ones had something to watch besides Good Morning America.


... Dr. Don Rose, the DJ from then-popular AM top-40s station WFIL, keeping kiddies occupied during commercial breaks with his cornball quips on Channel 48. Along with various cartoons, this station also broadcast the Our Gang/Little Rascals comedies of the 30s and 40s.

... Looney Toons filling a good part of the afternoon on WTAF-TV, Channel 29.

... Wee Willie Webber, the uncle-like moderator of programs on WPHL-17. Mr. Webber recently passed away, another icon of my childhood now gone.