Tag Archives: Mike Piazza

Dodger Stadium the scene as top two teams in the NL do battle

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Phillies are at Dodger Stadium for the weekend

The Philadelphia Phillies (33-24) continue to lead the National League East Division standings by three full games despite dropping Friday night’s opener to the NL West leading Los Angeles Dodgers (39-19) by a 6-3 score.

The two teams will meet once again on Saturday night at Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine, just four miles north of downtown Los Angeles.
For the Phillies it will be an attempt to get the series even, setting themselves up for an opportunity to win it on Sunday. The club has built their divisional lead on accomplishing just that – winning series. They have an 11-4-3 series record coming into this one
However, to accomplish that feat they will have to overcome the powerful Dodgers. Ranked as the top team in Major League Baseball at this stage of the season in our first MLB Power Rankings released this afternoon, the Dodgers have won the last two National League pennants and six consecutive NL West crowns. They currently lead their division by 8.5 games.
In that Friday night opener, the Dodgers spanked Phillies pitching with four home runs, one each from Max MuncyCorey SeagerJoc Pederson, and Enrique ‘Kiki’ Hernandez. It was part of a 12-hit attack. The Phillies were held to just five hits, and are going to have to somehow find more offense on Saturday night against a future Hall of Famer if they want a better result.


SATURDAY STARTING LINEUPS

PHILLIES LINEUP

  1. Andrew McCutchen LF
  2. Jean Segura SS
  3. Bryce Harper RF
  4. Rhys Hoskins 1B
  5. J.T. Realmuto C
  6. Scott Kingery CF
  7. Cesar Hernandez 2B
  8. Maikel Franco 3B
  9. Jose Alvarez P

DODGERS LINEUP

  1. David Freese 1B
  2. Max Muncy 3B
  3. Chris Taylor LF
  4. Cody Bellinger RF
  5. Enrique Hernandez 2B
  6. Corey Seager SS
  7. Alex Verdugo CF
  8. Will Smith C
  9. Clayton Kershaw P

INJURY REPORT

PHILLIES: Zach Eflin joined an IL that seems to grow by at least one new Phillies arm with every passing week. The following relievers are there as well: David RobertsonTommy HunterPat NeshekEdubray RamosAdam Morgan, and Victor Arano. The latter may miss the rest of the season, while none of the others will be back for this road trip. Center fielder Roman Quinn also remains out, not likely to return for another week or so.
DODGERS: The Dodgers are missing three starting players from their everyday lineup: third baseman Justin Turner, catcher Austin Barnes, and center fielder A.J. Pollock. Turner is not actually on the IL, but instead is nursing hamstring tightness. At least at this point his availability is considered day-to-day. Lefty reliever Tony Cingrani also is on the IL with left shoulder soreness.

SHIBE VINTAGE SPORTS STARTING PITCHING MATCHUP

  • Jose Alvarez: 0-1, 3.92 ERA, 1.452 WHIP, 24 hits allowed over 20.2 IP with a 15/6 K:BB
  • Well, MLB Network’s Brian Kenney will be happy with this one, at least. Phillies manager Gabe Kapler is going with ‘The Opener’ strategy. He will deploy Alvarez for the 1st inning, then turn the game over to someone such as 25-year-old lefty Cole Irvin. Alvarez could get a second frame if he can get through the first quickly and unscathed. Irvin would go for as long as he can keep the team in the game before having to turn it over to the rest of the bullpen. Assuming it goes off like this, it would be the first start for Alvarez since making six during his rookie campaign back in 2013 with the Detroit Tigers.
  • Clayton Kershaw: 5-0, 3.46 ERA, 1.077 WHIP, 47 hits allowed over 52 IP with a 49/9 K:BB ratio.
  • Perhaps the best all-around pitcher of the last decade, the 3x Cy Young Award winner and 2014 NL MVP has built himself a Hall of Fame career over a dozen big-league seasons.
  • After spending most of the season’s first three weeks on the Injured List, Kershaw has returned as his usual excellent self. Seven of his eight outings have been of the Quality Start variety, and he has pitched at least into the 6th inning in all of his starts this year.
  • Kershaw has gone 3-5 with a 3.07 ERA in 13 starts against the Phillies, averaging 9.99 K/9 and holding Phillies batters to a .216 average against him. The southpaw last faced the Phillies almost exactly one year ago, on May 31, 2018 at Dodger Stadium. He worked five innings, allowing one run while striking out five and issuing one walk.

PHILLIES NUGGETS PREGAME NOTES

  • The Dodgers are 6-0-2 over their last eight series and will continue to try and extend that winning stretch with a victory in either or both of these final two games with the Phillies. They have now won 13 of their last 16 games, and their 23-7 record at Chavez Ravine is the best home record in baseball.
  • Los Angeles has taken 11 of their last 15 games against the Phillies, and also have won 11 of the last 15 played at Dodger Stadium between the two teams.
  • Prior to this Saturday night game, the Dodgers will hold their annual ‘Alumni Game’, with the first 40,000 fans receiving a special Steve Garvey bobblehead. This commemorates his induction into the Dodgers Legends of Baseball, sort of like the Phillies Wall of Fame. Garvey, Don Newcombe, and Fernando Valenzuela are being honored this year as the initial inductees to the group.
  • The Quality Start registered on Friday night by Kenta Maeda was the 16th by a Dodgers starter in their last 18 games.
  • Muncy’s home run last night was his 24th at home in his 100th career home game. That ties Mike Piazza for the second-most long balls by a Dodgers slugger over their first 100 home games, just one behind Cody Bellinger.

TICKET IQ PROGRAMMING INFORMATION


Cody Bellinger hits for The Cycle to continue special rookie season

On Saturday night at Marlins Park in Miami, Los Angeles Dodgers rookie sensation Cody Bellinger put on a record-setting show.
Bellinger went 4-5, scored twice, and knocked in three runs to help pace the torrid, first place Dodgers to a 7-1 thrashing of the host Miami Marlins.
His night began with a single in the top of the first inning. In the top of the third, Bellinger’s 26th home run of the season opened the scoring, putting LA on top 2-0.
In the top of the fourth, Bellinger lined an RBI double to right field that upped the visitors lead to 6-0. Then in the seventh, he made history.
On the first offering from Marlins reliever Nick Wittgren, Bellinger ripped a ball to right that sailed over the head of Giancarlo Stanton. As the ball rolled to the wall, Bellinger raced around the bases, sliding into third easily ahead of the throw.
With that triple, Bellinger became the first rookie in the long and storied history of Dodgers baseball to hit for ‘The Cycle’ with a single, double, triple, and home run all in the same game.
“Every time he steps on the field,” manager Dave Roberts said per Andy McCullough of the LA Times, “something special can happen.”

MAKING THE MOST OF AN OPPORTUNITY

Special things have been happening all season where Bellinger is concerned. He entered the season as the Dodgers top-ranked prospect according to Baseball America.
In their evaluation of Bellinger, BA hung a 70 grade on his defense at first base. As for his hitting: “Bellinger has a chance to be a foundational hitter in the middle of the lineup,” went their summation.
They also opined that “he could make his debut in the second half of the year.” Clearly, Bellinger has accelerated that arrival timetable.
When the season opened, the four-time defending NL West champs didn’t have an opening for him. Veteran Adrian Gonzalez manned first base. The outfield had Andrew TolesJoc Pederson, and Yasiel Puig as starters.
However, as so often happens, injuries opened up a playing opportunity. First, Toles went down for the season after suffering a torn ACL in early May that required surgery. Then AGonz went to the DL in June with a degenerative disc in his back.
By the time that Toles was lost, Bellinger had already hit himself to Los Angeles with a .343/.429/.627 slash line at AAA Oklahoma City in April. He then took over the left field role full-time following that injury to Toles. Since Gonzalez went down, Bellinger has shifted to first base.
His hitting has suffered little at the hands of big league pitching. Through Saturday night, Bellinger has a .271/.349/.639 slash line over his first two months of Major League Baseball. He has 26 home runs, 44 extra-base hits, 61 RBI, 52 runs scored, and even stolen five bases.
Those would be strong numbers for an entire season for most rookies. They would make him a Rookie of the Year candidate almost any year. However, Bellinger has those numbers over just 72 games and 301 plate appearances.

ALL-STAR GAME AND HOME RUN DERBY

Bellinger was selected for the National League team in last week’s MLB All-Star Game. He even participated in the Home Run Derby, falling with no shame to eventual champion Aaron Judge in the semi-finals.
Throwing to Bellinger during that Home Run Derby was his own father. Clay Bellinger appeared in four seasons from 1999-2002 with the New York Yankees. The senior Bellinger was a part of two World Series championship teams in the Bronx.
Clay knew early on that Cody had a special talent for the game. “We knew right away he was going to be pretty good,” he was quoted by McCullough in another LA Times piece. Clay had coached Cody as a kid, including their team that reached the 2007 Little League World Series.
Special talent. That’s what Bellinger has brought to the LA lineup here in 2017. Thanks in no small part to his contributions, an already good Dodgers team has become a powerhouse. If he can continue to rake as he has, he’ll add a Fall Classic to his Midsummer Classic appearance.
Corey Seager won the NL Rookie of the Year Award last season, becoming the 17th Dodgers rookie to capture that honor. The list includes such legends as Hall of Famers Jackie Robinson and Mike Piazza.
Bellinger is sure to become the 18th winner this fall. He and Seager are just beginning what should be a dynamic 1-2 combination in the Dodgers lineup for years to come.

Barry Bonds Deserves Hall of Fame Enshrinement

A highly controversial former MLB superstar will again be eligible for Baseball Hall of Fame voting this year, and he deserves to be elected and inducted.

There is little doubt that Barry Bonds is one of the most controversial figures in Major League Baseball over the last few decades.
Along with players such as Pete RoseMark McGwireSammy SosaRoger Clemens, and Manny Ramirez, Bonds is a player who would be a slam-dunk Baseball Hall of Famer if only statistics and career achievements were considered.
Bonds is in a category with all of those players other than Rose. Issues with gambling on the sport are keeping the game’s all-time hit king from being enshrined at Cooperstown as a ball player. The issue with Bonds and the others is performance enhancing drugs. Use of PEDs appears to have been chronic throughout the 1990s and into the early part of this century.
The problems for Bonds can almost certainly be traced to the 1998 home run chase in Major League Baseball between McGwire and Sosa. That summer, the pair captured the attention and hearts of fans as they chased the single-season home run record of 61. That record was set by Roger Maris all the way back in 1961.
MLB was still trying to recover from the devastating effects of the strike of 1994.

Most seemed to turn their collective heads away from the obvious physical changes to the bodies of both McGwire and Sosa.

Big Mac would end up setting the new record that season with 70 home runs. Sosa fell just short of him at 66 long balls.
The generally accepted narrative goes something like this: Bonds sees all of the adulation heaped upon McGwire and Sosa, knows he is a better player, believes they are using some type of substance to help their performance, and decides to use it himself.
This is the exact narrative that serves as the basis for the book Game of Shadows by two San Francisco Chronicle reporters.
A further book, Love Me, Hate Me: Barry Bonds and the Making of an Anti-Hero, puts forth that following that 1998 season, Bonds told a dinner crowd at the home of Ken Griffey Jr. that he was going to “start using some hard-core stuff” to increase his power.
What he used exactly, when he used it, and even whether or not he exactly knew what it was that he was taking are all in dispute. There has been conflicting testimony. The worst that Bonds has ever publicly admitted to was ignorance.
But it has all been enough to severely tarnish Bonds, who in March of 2005 stated the following:
“You’re talking about something that wasn’t even illegal at the time. All this stuff about supplements, protein shakes, whatever. Man, it’s not like this is the Olympics. We don’t train four years for, like, a 10-second. We go 162 games. You’ve got to come back day after day after day. … There are far worse things like cocaine, heroin and those types of things.”
Bonds has also never been helped by what was always perceived as an aloof, entitled, sometimes abrasive personality.
All of that said, Bonds belongs in the Hall of Fame. It is an easy call for me. The fact is that like Mike Piazza, who was elected a year ago, Bonds has never been convicted of anything.
The fact also remains that if you completely ignore every statistic in Bonds’ career beginning with the 1999 season, he would be a Hall of Famer.

If Barry Bonds had died in a plane crash, or of some disease or illness, or in a boating accident during the offseason between 1998 and 1999, the following would be his legacy.
Over 8,100 plate appearances in 13 seasons he crushed 411 home runs. During that time he produced 1,216 RBI, and had 1,364 runs scored.
Bonds wasn’t only about power; he also stole 445 bases. He was the ONLY 400/400 (homers/steals) player in Major League Baseball history.
By that point he also had a career .290/.411/.556 slash line. He had won three National League Most Valuable Player Awards, eight Gold Glove Awards, seven Silver Sluggers, and was an 8x NL All-Star. Eight Gold Gloves for defensive excellence! And these weren’t honorary due to his offense. Bonds may have been the best left fielder in the history of the game.
In yet another season he was the NL MVP runner-up, and finished in the top five of NL MVP voting in three further seasons. Anyone who watched baseball during the 1990s knows for a fact that Barry Bonds was a wonder, the greatest all-around player of the decade.

I have been watching baseball since 1971, and can say without qualification that Bonds of that era was the greatest player that I have ever seen personally. While what Bonds did at some point after that 1998 season may indeed be tainted (though again, we don’t know when or how much), you cannot simply ignore every single thing he accomplished.
There is no doubt that had Bonds taken no questionable substances, his career would not have ended there at age 33 years.
No, Bonds would not likely have finally satisfied his massive ego by passing McGwire when he set the single-season home run record of 73 in 2001.
No, Bonds would not likely have passed, even approached, Hank Aaron‘s all-time home run record. Bonds now holds that mark with his 762 career homers.
No, Bonds would not have likely won four straight NL MVP awards from ages 36-39. He also added on six more NL All-Star appearances and five more Silver Sluggers after the 1998 season.
But we don’t know any of that for sure either.
What is obvious from any honest evaluation of Barry Bonds’ career is that he was a Baseball Hall of Famer, one of the greatest players of all-time.
In last year’s balloting, the voters ignored rumors of Piazza’s possible PED usage and elected the catcher to the Baseball Hall of Fame. On that same ballot, Bonds received 44.3 percent of the vote, finishing with the sixth highest percentage in his fifth year on that ballot.
In 2015, Bonds received 36.8 percent of the vote. In 2014 it was 34.7 percent, and in 2013 he received 36.2 percent in his first year on the ballot.
In other words, there was a noticeable uptick in voting for Bonds last year. It is time now to stop the sanctimonious punishment of the man, and elect Barry Bonds to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Phillies MLB All-Star Games: 1996

There were many differences between the 1976 and 1996 MLB All-Star Games, which were held two decades apart at the same venue of Veteran’s Stadium in South Philadelphia.
For the host Phillies, the biggest difference was that the ’76 game had come while the team was emerging as a contender with a number of talented players throughout the roster. 
The team would win the NL East in that Bicentennial season for the first of three consecutive division crowns.
By contrast, the ’96 Phillies team was a losing squad in every way you could define such a team. 
They would finish 67-95 in last place in the NL East, and aside from the oasis provided by the 1993 ‘Macho Row’ NL champs, the franchise was in the midst of 14 out of 15 losing seasons.
My own life situation had changed drastically as well. Back in ’76, I had enjoyed many of the Bicentennial events in Philly as a 14-year old, and had watched that year’s All-Star Game on TV.
By ’96 and the 25th anniversary of Veteran’s Stadium, I was a grown man of 34, and was able to attend the MLB All-Star Game FanFest held at the new Pennsylvania Convention Center. It was a wonderful event
, with numerous displays and activities for all baseball fans.
Jul 26, 2015; Cooperstown, NY, USA; Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. waves to the crowd during the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies at Clark Sports Center. Mandatory Credit: Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
As for the game itself, there were a number of notable events prior to and during the game. 
First, as the American League team picture was being taken, a mishap resulted in Baltimore Orioles ‘Iron Man’ shortstop Cal Ripken Jr breaking his nose.
Typical of Ripken, who was still in the midst of his record consecutive games played streak that he had set the previous September and that would ultimately reach 2,632 games, he was patched up and played on.
During the pregame introductions, the 62,670 Phillies fans on hand in true Philly fashion playfully and lustily booed Toronto Blue Jays’ slugger Joe Carter, who had beaten the Phils with his famous walkoff home run in the 1993 World Series.
Jun 27, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Hall of Fame pitcher unning throws a first pitch prior to a game with the Chicago Cubs and the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
The honorary “first balls” were thrown out by the living Phillies Hall of Famers, led by pitcher Jim Bunning, who was elected that year. Joining Bunning were Robin RobertsSteve CarltonMike Schmidt, and Richie Ashburn.
This was also the 15th and final MLB All-Star Game for “The Wizard of Oz”, Saint Louis Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith
The crowd gave Smith a rousing ovation when he entered the game as a substitute in the middle innings, chanting “Ozzie, Ozzie, Ozzie” in respect for the future Hall of Famer, the best defender to ever play the position.
Only one Phillies player was selected for the National League team that season, closer Ricky Bottalico. ‘Ricky Bo’ had 20 Saves at the break, with a 49/19 K:BB ratio, and had allowed just 29 hits over 42.1 innings to that point in the season.
The NL starting lineup featured what may one day turn out to be as many as 6-7 Hall of Famers, one of whom would not be the leadoff hitter, center fielder Lance Johnson of the New York Mets.
Following Johnson in the order for the senior circuit were shortstop Barry Larkin of Cincinnati, left fielder Barry Bonds of San Francisco, and 1st baseman Fred McGriff of Atlanta.
Local native, catcher Mike Piazza of the Mets, hit 5th and was followed by right fielder Dante Bichette of the Colorado Rockies, Atlanta 3rd baseman Chipper Jones, and 2nd baseman Craig Biggio of Houston.
Apr 13, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinal former player Ozzie Smith waives to the fans before the game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
The starting pitcher for NL manager Bobby Cox of the Braves was his own John Smoltz
Among the NL reserves was future 2009 Phillies pitcher Pedro Martinez, who was just starting out on his own Hall of Fame career.
For AL skipper Mike Hargrove of the Cleveland Indians, two of his own were in the starting lineup, leadoff man and center fielder Kenny Lofton, and cleanup hitter and left fielder Albert Belle. He also had four future Hall of Famers to write in.
The AL starters also included Wade Boggs of the Yankees hitting 2nd, with 2nd baseman Roberto Alomar of the Orioles batting 3rd, and Mo Vaughn of Boston hitting 5th at 1st base. 
The man known as ‘Pudge’, catcher Ivan Rodriguez, was batting 6th. Ripken would bat 7th, while his Orioles teammate right fielder Brady Anderson hit in the 8-spot.
On the mound, the assignment to open for the American League went to Tribe starting pitcher Charles Nagy, who was in the midst of five consecutive seasons winning 15 or more games. 
Coming out of the AL bullpen would be a pair of future Phillies relievers in Jose Mesa and Roberto Hernandez.
Much as with the 1976 game at The Vet, the NL jumped on top early and never looked back. Johnson led off the bottom of the 1st with a double, moved to 3rd on a ground out, and scored the game’s first run on an RBI ground out by Bonds.
Piazza, an area native from Norristown, PA who had roamed the aisles and ramps at The Vet on numerous occasions as a kid, led off the bottom of the 2nd inning with a mammoth solo homer to left field.
Four batters later, Henry Rodriguez of the Montreal Expos, pinch-hitting for Smoltz, would score Jones with an RBI single and the NL had a 3-0 lead.
In the bottom of the 3rd with Chuck Finley of the Angels on to pitch, Piazza laced an RBI double to right-center, scoring Larkin with a run that opened up a 4-0 lead for the National League.
Bottalico came on to pitch the top of the 5th inning, giving the Phillies fans something to cheer in the midst of a bleak summer. The Fightins’ closer struck out Rodriguez swinging to start off his appearance, then retired Ripken on a fly ball to left.
With two outs, Anderson grounded to new 3rd baseman Ken Caminiti, whose error put a runner on base. But Bottalico then got pinch-hitter Jay Buhner to line out to center field, ending his lone inning with no damage.
Pedro came on for the top of the 6th and allowed two hits, as well as a stolen base from Lofton, but got through his inning unscathed as well.
Caminiti made up for his error when he led off the bottom of the 6th with a solo homer. Bichette doubled one batter later, and would score on a Biggio ground out that upped the NL lead to what would prove to be the final 6-0 margin.
This would turn out to be the only MLB All-Star Game in history in which no batters were walked. In the end, the hometown kid Piazza would be named the Most Valuable Player off his 2-3 performance.
This would also mark the first MLB All-Star Game in which that award was presented by Bud Selig, who was then the Chairman of baseball’s Executive Committee. He would not be named the formal Commissioner until 1998.
That was the fourth and final time to date that Philadelphia has played host to the MLB All-Star Game. The city has hosted twice at Shibe Park, and twice at Veteran’s Stadium. Now, when will Citizens Bank Park get its chance to finally host the midsummer classic?

The Little Girl Who Stole My Ball

I have a theory that if you attend enough professional baseball games over a long enough period of time, eventually you are going to see and experience almost everything that the great game has to offer.
I just completed my 44th season of attending Philadelphia Phillies games. I’ve seen a lot of things in person: a World Series game in 1980. Numerous playoff games, including Doc’s 2010 no-hitter.
But over the course of hundreds of games during that span, there is one thing that I’ve never experienced: catching a foul ball at a game. I did get close once. Should have had one. And then a little girl stole my ball. Sort of.
I’ll always remember the night of my should-have-been foul ball, because after 30 years it would be my final night at Veteran’s Stadium. For three decades, since the stadium opened in my South Philly neighborhood at age 9, I had been attending games here, and this would be the last.
The date was Thursday, September 4th, 2003. The Phillies were in a battle for the NL Wildcard playoff berth, tied with the upstart Florida Marlins for that position. And they were sending my favorite pitcher, lefty Randy Wolf, to the mound against the New York Mets.
Manager Larry Bowa wrote out his lineup card for the game: Marlon Byrd in center field, Jimmy Rollins at shortstop, Bobby Abreu in right field, Mike Lieberthal at catcher, Jim Thome at 1st base, Pat Burrell in left field, Tomas Perez at 3rd base, and Nick Punto at 2nd base, with Wolf in the pitcher slot hitting 9th.
The Mets countered with Hall of Fame lefty Tom Glavine on the mound, and his battery mate was future Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza. But aside from those two, the Mets didn’t have much. They were a shell of the team that just 3 years earlier had reached the World Series, and now floundered in last place in the NL East.
New York scored a run in the first off Wolf, and then another in the top of the 5th, both knocked in by shortstop Jorge Velandia. But then the Phils erupted for a 4-spot in the bottom of the 5th. Wolf helped himself with a rbi double, and then a 3-run homer by a then 24-year old JRoll put the Phils on top.
Not the smile I was referring to, but it does the trick.
The Mets scored again off Wolf in the top of the 7th, cutting the Phils lead to a single run. But in the Phillies half, Bowa sent up Jason Michaels to pinch-hit for his pitcher. Michaels drove a homerun to left field, putting the Phils back up by a pair.
I had missed the top of the 7th, because I decided that, with this being my likely final trip to a Phillies game here at The Vet, I wanted one final hotdog. So I had gone down to a stand just under our seats, which were pretty good, right behind the first base bag.
I was scarfing down my dog when Michaels homered, and it seemed that this was going to be a fitting way to end my three decades relationship with the old concrete giant at Broad and Pattison. Enjoying a hotdog during a clinching homerun of my final Phillies game while they were in serious playoff contention.
And then Byrd stepped up to the plate.
Aug 27, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies right fielder Marlon Byrd (3) hits a single during the fourth inning of a game against the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
At some point in his at-bat, he got around late on a pitch, and shot a foul ball my way. This was no popup or looper. A screaming line drive was honing in on me like a Patriot missile on a Scud in Desert Storm.
As soon as the ball was off the bat and headed in our direction, myself and those around us stood up. I was on the end seat in our aisle, with my wife directly to my right. I had just a couple of seconds to react, tops. With no glove to defend me, I used the only padded object available to me. I turned my butt.
The screaming missile found it’s target, nailing me directly on my turned left butt cheek. My thought in the next split second was “Oh my God, at my last Phillies game here at The Vet, I’m FINALLY going to get a foul ball!” Though the first small pangs of pain were creeping into my consciousness from that left cheek, I was happy. For a second.
It’s funny how much your mind can take in with just a couple of seconds to react. I knew that I had been hit by the foul ball, square on that butt cheek. I knew also that there was no one really close to me except my wife. There were just over 19,000 in attendance that night, and the crowd directly around us was spread out.
In the split-second after the ball met the cheek, I had heard a sound. Later, the best way that I was able to describe this sound would be, if you ever have played a game of Skee-Ball on an amusement pier or at a carnival, the sound that the wooden balls make when they plop into the hole? That was the sound that I heard in the second after getting hit with it.
I turned to try to find the baseball, knowing that after it hit me, it must have dropped right down at my feet. I didn’t see it, and turned around to observe that when I had stood up, my plastic seat had flipped back to the upright position. The ball must have hit my butt cheeck, and dropped down into the space between my seat and the seat-back. That was the Skee-Ball sound I had heard.
I looked down, but didn’t see the ball. And then I did, it was rolling out into the aisle. I got to see the ball. I got to watch it slowly, excrutiatingly slow, roll out into the aisle. I had just enough time to think about how I was going to just reach out and scoop up my prize.
And then SHE appeared. Out of nowhere. A little girl, couldn’t have been more than 5-6 years old. She wasn’t running for the foul ball. She just happened to be walking up the steps in the aisle as MY ball rolled out into it. The ball rolled directly into her path, and in one motion she reached down and picked it up.
My foul ball was gone: that fast, and that simple.
I am not proud of the thought that passed through my then 41-year old head in that moment. It involved swearing and cussing and all manner of outrage. But none of that came out of me. You had to see this little girl. She was like a little, innocent angel who had simply stumbled into something at age 5, maybe at her first Phils game, that I had waited a lifetime to have happen.
I smiled at her as she looked up at me, holding my foul ball in her little hands. Then I looked up and saw what must have been her Dad right behind her, and I smiled at him. If he was a human being at all, he had to see the hurt in my eyes behind my half-hearted, purely polite smile.
He scooped up his little girl, and I watched the smiles on their faces as they looked at each other and the ball, and he offered her some sort of congratulations. And I was happy for her. Genuinely happy. She would have a story to tell for the rest of her life. And a ball. My ball. Her ball.
But she wouldn’t be the only one with a story to tell, so would I. My wife and I sat down, and with my butt still throbbing a bit, we talked about what had just happened, wondering how it was possible that things could have turned out the way that they did.
Back in the ballgame, the Mets tied things up in the top of the 9th. In the bottom, tied at 5-5, Lieberthal singled to score Byrd, and the Phillies walked off with a 6-5 win that kept them tied with the Marlins for the Wildcard berth for another day.
We walked out of the old stadium generally happy, but also melancholy. The Phils had won and were contending still. My butt was feeling better, but my psyche was still a bit bruised from the loss of the ball. I asked my wife to wait for a moment as we walked down the ramps to leave, and one last time, I walked out to look on the field.
The lights had been turned down, giving the old Vet a shadowy feeling. For a few seconds, I thought back on all I had seen here over 30 years: astroturf and dancing fountains, Bull Blasts, Schmidty going Outta Here, Lefty gems, Bowa’s glove, Charlie Hustle, Tugger slapping his thigh, the Phanatic, Dutch, the Dude, Krukker, the Wild Thing, now a new generation with JRoll and Pat the Bat and The Wolf Pack.

Veteran’s Stadium gave me a thousand great memories over three decades. I soaked it all in one last time, thinking about all of these things. Then I smiled, thinking again about the one thing that I had never got, but so nearly did on that final night, thanks to the little girl who stole my ball.