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.