Tag Archives: Randy Wolf

Phillies suffering through a southpaw starting pitching drought

There was a time not all that long ago when the Philadelphia Phillies starting pitching rotation included outstanding southpaws among the group. And looking back through history, the team has nearly always presented a lefty option.

As recently as 2014, the season began with both Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee still in that starting rotation. The two left-handers had been teammates at that point for the better part of four of the previous five seasons.

When Lee first joined the Phillies in a 2009 trade from Cleveland he stepped into a starting pitching rotation that already included both Hamels and veteran Jamie Moyer.

Hamels was first called up to the big-leagues by the Phillies as a 22-year-old rookie in May 2006. The Phillies had no lefty options in their rotation as that season opened. Before it was over they would have three.

In the middle of the 2005 season, Randy Wolf, who had been a member of the team’s starting pitching group for the prior six years, suffered an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. He would miss the entire second half of that 2005 season and the first four months in 2006.

Wolf returned to join Hamels in the Phillies rotation on July 30, 2006. Less than three weeks later, Moyer arrived in a trade from Seattle. The three would finish out that year together before Wolf moved on to the Dodgers via free agency.

Wolf had been promoted to the big-leagues back in 1999, joining the rotation for good in June. In the prior two seasons, Matt Beech had been the lone left-handed Phillies starting pitcher.

Back further into the 90’s, the club had seen Sid Fernandez, Mike Mimbs, David West, and a late-career Fernando Valenzuela take regular turns at one point or another. And in the early part of the decade, the duo of Terry Mulholland and Danny Jackson helped the 1993 team win a National League pennent.

Mulholland had joined the team in a 1989 trade from San Francisco which also brought southpaw Dennis Cook. Those two joined Bruce Ruffin and Don Carman, giving the Phillies four left-handed starting options.

Carman could trace his own career beginnings back to the final effective years in the career of not only the greatest left-handed starter, but also the greatest Phillies pitcher of all-time, Steve Carlton.

During the early 2000’s, Wolf would be joined in the Phillies pitching rotation at various times by other left-handed starters, including Omar Daal, Bruce Chen, and Eric Milton. After Wolf was lost to the elbow surgery, Eude Brito was called up and made five starts as a left-hander.

Some of these southpaws were among the greatest pitchers to ever pull on a Phillies uniform. Some were effective starters for short periods. Others were journeymen filling a rotation spot for just a short period.

But one thing that Phillies teams had in their pitching arsenal for decades was a legitimate left-handed starter. Even before Carlton’s arrival, the last place 1971 Phillies had veterans Woodie Fryman and Chris Short and young Ken Reynolds, all lefties, pitching out of the rotation.

The pipeline, if you will, of left-handed starters has dried up down at Citizens Bank Park since the departure of Hamels. The next-man-up was supposed to be Adam Morgan, but he was never able to secure a long-term role and has now settled in as a reliever.

After Morgan finished up the 2016 season still as a member of the rotation, the Phillies had no left-handers take a regular turn for most of the next two-and-a-half years.

Trying to keep his team in the playoff hunt last season, general manager Matt Klentak signed 30-year-old Drew Smyly in late July and a week later swung a trade for 36-year-old veteran Jason Vargas. That gave the Phillies a pair of southpaws in their rotation down the stretch. But both were short-term additions, and neither will be back for the 2020 season.

As the Phillies get set to open the Grapefruit League season down in Florida this coming weekend there are once again no legitimate starting pitching options for the rotation.

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t lefty arms around camp, even a couple who could fill a rotation slot briefly at some point. The bullpen has a variety of left-handed options for new manager Joe Girardi, including Morgan, Jose Alvarez, and Francisco Liriano.

Liriano has made 300 starts in MLB over 14 seasons and could potentially be used as a spot or emergency starter. The only other two left-handers currently in camp who appear to have any chance to take the mound as a starting pitcher in the big-leagues at some point would appear to be Cole Irvin and Ranger Suarez.

Irvin is now 26-years-old. He went 2-1 with a 5.83 ERA over 16 games, just three of those as a starter during his first taste of MLB play a year ago. However, Irvin has made 41 starts at Triple-A Lehigh Valley over the past two seasons. The Phillies are likely to keep him stretched out there again to begin 2020.

Suarez made three starts when first called up in 2018. He was used exclusively out of the bullpen in 37 games with the Phillies last season. Suarez made 28 starts over the last two seasons between Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

Down in the minor leagues the Phillies currently have only two left-handers who appear to have even a possibility of one day taking the mound as a starting pitcher. Those would be Erik Miller, chosen in the fourth round of the MLB Draft last June, and Ethan Lindow, who was the organization’s Pitcher of the Year last season. Both are a couple of years away, and neither can be considered a true top prospect at this point.

Is it important to have a left-hander in the starting rotation? Does it matter? That is a legitimate question. If the Phillies had five legitimate, effective, right-handers in their rotation at any point over the last half-dozen years it might not be an issue.

Showing opposing hitters the change of pace that a left-hander offers, neutralizing top left-handed hitters for the first two or three turns through the batting order. These are just a couple of ways a southpaw would help.

For my money, I would prefer to always have a right-left starting pitching mix that included two of one and three of the other. My preferred rotation would alternate lefties and righties against each opponent.

It would be nice if the Phillies could at least develop one truly legitimate starting left-hander. That, or trade for one who could be an effective member of their rotation for a few years. Right now, that arm does not appear to be on the 2020 roster.

 

MORE RECENT PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES CONTENT:

Philadelphia Phillies December 2019 mailbag

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No one in baseball is more under the spotlight this off-season than Phillies general manager Matt Klentak.

 

Back on Christmas Eve Eve, I asked my social media followers to shoot me out any questions that they might have on the Phillies.

As you might expect, the majority of those ended up in reference to moves the club has made and might still make during this current off-season.

Following are a representative sampling, along with my responses, presented in a question (Q) and answer (A) format.

 

Q: Sean Fitzpatrick (@SeanFit91141350 on Twitter) asks “I’m questioning the configuration of the infield as it stands now. I dont see either Segura or Kingery as a legit third base option, and which one plays second? Do we bring in an outside option?

A: As we sit here in the week between Christmas and New Year’s the Phillies 2020 infield configuration appears that it will feature Rhys Hoskins at first base, Jean Segura at second, Didi Gregorius at shortstop, and Scott Kingery at third base. Kingery is likely keeping the spot warm until top prospect Alec Bohm is ready, at which point Kingery would return to a super-utility role. That assumes he is not needed at another position due to injury.

Q: Robin Heller (@flower_auntie on Twitter) says “I am wondering about who will play third base and how they will address the holes in the rotation!

A: As for third base, see the above answer – though there remain rumors that the Phillies could consider a trade for Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant. The starting rotation is currently projected to be made up of Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin, and Vince Velasquez.

It doesn’t appear as though GM Matt Klentak feels that there are “holes in the rotation” – though you and I would disagree with him. Arrieta needs to prove that he can stay healthy and produce past May. Eflin and Velasquez have been consistently inconsistent.

Wheeler was a great signing. But we went into this off-season believing that the Phillies needed two new starting pitchers of the type who had proven to be winners at the big-league level. There is still plenty of time to bring in another arm via free agency or trade.

Among free agents remaining, perhaps Klentak would consider taking a shot on Alex Wood, if the 28-year-old southpaw keeps hanging out on the market and his price is reasonable. The Phillies have also been linked to Arizona lefty Robbie Ray.

Q: Dan McElhaugh on Facebook asks “You (Phillies) need to address the bullpen and get another starter. What are you doing about it?

A: I addressed the starting pitchers above. However, you also have to consider that top pitching prospect Spencer Howard is close to big-league ready and will likely impact the rotation at some point in 2020. He is probably going to start at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, and assuming health and success there we should see him by the second half of the season, at the latest.

The bullpen is a tough question. There actually are the makings of a decent group here. But much of that depends on them being healthier than last year’s group. Right-handers include Hector Neris, Seranthony Dominguez, Victor Arano, Edgar Garcia, Trevor Kelley, Robert Stock and possibly even Nick Pivetta or prospect Adonis Medina.

Among lefties the club currently has Adam Morgan, Jose Alvarez, Austin Davis, and Cristopher Sanchez. You could even see minor league starters Cole Irvin, Ranger Suarez, and JoJo Romero slide into a pen role.

There are a number of veteran relievers remaining on the free agent market including Daniel Hudson, Will Harris, Steve Cishek, Pedro Strop, Francisco Liriano, and Fernando Rodney. Any of them would help upgrade the bullpen. Klentak may be waiting to see if any can eventually come dirt cheap.

Q: JBFazz1213 (@JBFazz1213 on Twitter) stated “Very Disappointing if the Phillies don’t sign Dellin Betances because of the Luxury Tax.

A: As we now know, the Phillies indeed did not sign Betances, who received a one-year deal at $10.5 million guaranteed from the division-rival New York Mets which can rise to $13 million based on incentives. He also received two player option years, though if he proves himself healthy it is likely that Betances re-sets his value and returns to the free agent market next fall.

Having previously pitched his entire career in the Big Apple with the Yankees, he has a number of ties to New York. Likely of most importance were that the doctors who treated his shoulder injury and his Achilles injuries are located there. Those injuries, especially the September Achilles, are likely most of the reason that the Phillies and any number of other ball clubs in need of bullpen help were not involved.

Q: Wally Potter on Facebook asks “Why does the Phillies farm system have a bad history of producing quality starting pitching ? More specific within the last 40 years.”

A: Back in July of 2019, Dan Roche of NBC Sports Philadelphia did a nice piece on this very subject. In that piece, Roche listed the top 10 homegrown Phillies pitchers over the last four decades as ranked by Baseball-Reference WAR value.

Those ten arms belong to, in order, Cole Hamels, Aaron Nola, Kevin Gross, Randy Wolf, Brett Myers, Ryan Madson, Don Carman, Kyle Kendrick, Hector Neris, and Ricky Bottalico.

It’s not a bad list, but there is a major and obvious flaw. Nola and Neris are “now” arms on the current roster. Hamels, Myers, Madson, and Kendrick were all pitchers with the 2008 World Series champions and were with the club for a number of years around that magical season.

What you are left with are Gross, Carman, and Ricky Bo as the only pitchers developed out of the Phillies farm system from the late-1970’s through the mid-2000’s who had any real impact on the ball club.

Roche estimates that the Phillies have drafted upwards of 1,000 pitchers over the last 40 years and stated “Even by blind luck, a team should be able to do better than the Phillies have.

The answer to the “why” is difficult to explain. That poor history comes under various regimes led by eight different general managers and a number of higher executives.

Perhaps that poor homegrown pitching record is beginning to change. If you make the history just of the last dozen years or so, you get seven of the above 10 names. You also get arms such as current top pitching prospect Spencer Howard and former top pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez, the centerpiece of the J.T. Realmuto deal.

Q: d dask (@DocD19 on Twitter) wanted me to “Ask Matt Klentak if he is allergic to southpaws?

A: I am not sure regarding the topic of Klentak’s allergies. But I get it. Madison Bumgarner, Cole Hamels, Dallas Keuchel, and Hyun-Jin Ryu were all available as free agents this time around. Any would have been a perfect fit for the Phillies rotation – especially our old hero Hamels on a one-year deal. The exact reasons why the GM didn’t get any of those arms to Philly is perplexing, to say the least.

Q: DDNAGS (@DDNAGS1 on Twitter) opined “They will not win with the current roster. Ask Matt Klentak when he is going to get off his big ass and make a couple trades? We don’t need all these scrubs he always signs.

A: Well, that’s simply wrong. Klentak signed Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen last off-season. He signed Zack Wheeler and Didi Gregorius this off-season. They had a .500 roster prior to the recent moves and on paper appear to be improved. So, it would seem that, given health, they are already good enough to “win with the current roster.
Now, if you are talking about winning enough to reach the playoffs, maybe even contend for a division crown, and beyond that, a world championship, I get it.
It is my contention that the Phillies need a more proven center fielder, a left-handed veteran starting pitcher, another veteran bullpen arm with a successful track record, and another bench bat with pop from the right side similar to what Jay Bruce brings from the left. Let’s see what the GM does between now and the start of the season.

Q: PhilliesCurveballMachine (@phillies_the on Twitter) asks “Will a “culture change” in the clubhouse under the new coaching staff really make a difference in the team’s intensity/ focus/ “hustle” this season? And will this translate into wins? Why/how?

A: When you talk about a “culture change” inside the Phillies clubhouse, you specifically mention the change of managers from Gabe Kapler to Joe Girardi. Honestly, we’re not going to know how the club responds. But I expect that a proven winner with a championship pedigree will be more influential and regarded more positively than a rookie with a cheerleader personality.

There is another major change inside the clubhouse, with a pair of starting players gone in Cesar Hernandez and Maikel Franco. This year should find Realmuto, McCutchen, and Harper stepping into even more vocal leadership roles. I don’t know about you, but that prospect elicits more confidence from me.

I am expecting that Girardi will simply not tolerate any lack of hustle. He is not only going to be willing to make an example out of any player, but also have the confidence and support from management to bench anyone for any reason.

This comes from the popularity of his hiring, the unpopularity of the general manager, the fact that Girardi is just beginning what should be at least a three-year run in the dugout, and his own confidence based on his experiences as a championship-winning player and manager.

Now, will this change in style and substance result in more victories? I think it will have some effect. However, the team has to stay mostly healthy, especially where its biggest stars are concerned, and needs to receive actual improved performance from a few players. Any more positive attitude needs to be backed by positive performances.

Q: Andrew (@Andrew201711 on Twitter) asks “With the roster as it stands , I don’t see the Phils doing any better than third place …. your thoughts ?

A: For me the big thing right now is that factor of health. If the roster as currently assembled remains healthy, they can contend for a postseason berth. If they stay healthy, get improved performances from a few players such as Adam Haseley, Hoskins, and Arrieta, and if Klentak can make a couple of big in-season moves, they can win the division.

All of that said, the Braves are two-time defending NL East champions with a talented young core. The Nationals are defending World Series champions. Both teams have solid overall rosters. The Mets have improved their already tough pitching staff in both talent and depth this off-season. All three of those teams finished above the Phillies in the 2019 standings.

It is way too early for me to make any predictions. A lot can still change on not only the Phillies roster, but that of their division rivals. But right now you can make a legitimate argument for the club finishing anywhere from first to fourth in the National League East Division in the 2020 season.

That’s it for the mailbag this time around. I’ll open it up once again as spring training gets underway in February. Between now and then, you can always hit me up on social media: @philliesbell on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

 

Phillies Wall of Famer Jim Thome inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame

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Thome delivers his acceptance speech in Cooperstown, New York

 

On Sunday afternoon, retired Philadelphia Phillies star first baseman Jim Thome finds himself officially enshrined among baseball’s immortals.

Also inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame are five more superstars: Vladimir GuerreroTrevor HoffmanChipper JonesJack Morris, and Alan Trammell.
Even though Thome played just four of his 22 big league seasons with the Phillies, his impact on the organization was considered so great that he has previously been enshrined on the club’s Wall of Fame.
Last summer, Thome joined Mike Lieberthal (2012) as the only players enshrined on the Phillies Wall of Fame who appeared in a majority of their seasons with the club during the 2000’s but who had not played with the 2008 World Series team.
Thome signed with the Phillies as a free agent following the 2002 campaign. By that time, he had become one of the most feared sluggers in the game. As a member of the Cleveland Indians, Thome had been a three-time American League all-star, a Silver Slugger winner, and a perennial MVP candidate.
The Phillies team that Thome was joining for the 2003 season was not dissimilar to the current 2018 team. After years of losing, the Phillies had spent a few seasons rebuilding and retooling their roster.
Thome was signed to become the new Phillies first baseman and help the team step up to contending status. He was also brought in to provide a drawing card as Veteran’s Stadium closed in 2003 and Citizens Bank Park opened in 2004.
In his first season, the team’s final year after 33 seasons at The Vet, Thome led the National League with 47 home runs. He finished fourth in the NL MVP vote that year for a Phillies team that led the NL Wildcard race before collapsing to lose seven of their last eight games.
The following year, Thome made the National League all-star team for what would be the lone time in his career. He banged another 42 home runs that season, finishing among the top 20 in NL MVP voting. Among the many highlights were the 400th home run of his career, which he banged in front of the home fans in South Philly.
He would be honored following that 2004 season with the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award given to a player who best exemplifies strong character both on and off the field.
That Phillies team turned it on down the stretch this time, finishing the season with a 21-8 record after September 1. But again, it wasn’t enough to land a playoff berth.
His third season with the Phillies would prove to be abbreviated. It would also lead directly to a change that would have reverberations for the Phillies ultimate fortunes, and for the rest of his own career.
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Young slugger Howard would finally replace
the injured Thome for good in July 2005

In that 2005 campaign, Thome suffered a pair of injuries. He was driven to the disabled list first by a lower back strain, and then again by a bout with elbow tendinitis. Meanwhile, a 25-year-old first baseman named Ryan Howard was blasting moon shots in the minor leagues and pushing for playing time.
Thome would play his final game of the 2005 season on June 30. It would be his final game with the Phillies as well. At least for the next seven years.
As Thome finished up the end of his three-year, $36 million-dollar contract with three months on the disabled list, Howard stepped into the starting lineup.
The young slugger immediately became a star, bashing 22 home runs, 21 of those after Thome’s season was finished. Howard captured the NL Rookie of the Year honors, beginning a magnificent career in Philly during which he became “The Big Piece” and helped lead the 2008 team to their World Series championship.
Thome signed as a free agent with the Chicago White Sox. He would bounce back strong, blasting 42 home runs in 2006 with the Chisox and becoming an AL all-star. He would play in parts of four seasons with Chicago before being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers at age 38 in 2009.
With Los Angeles in 2009, Thome would once again see his career intersect with the Phillies, this time as a postseason opponent. He actually received a pair of plate appearances as the Dodgers and Phillies battled in the 2009 National League Championship Series.
Thome drew a walk off J.A. Happ in the bottom of the sixth inning of a Phillies 8-6 victory in the NLCS Game One. He would be immediately replaced by a pinch-runner who also had previous Phillies ties, pitcher Randy Wolf.
In Game Two, a 2-1 comeback victory for Los Angeles, Thome rapped a pinch-hit single off Scott Eyre. He was again removed for a pinch-runner. But that hit came in the midst of a two-run Dodgers rally that gave them the victory and tied the series.
Thome would then play for five different organizations over his final four seasons, including returns to both the Indians and Phillies.
He would slam five final homers in a Phillies uniform over 71 plate appearances during the first few months of the disappointing 2012 campaign. That season would prove to be the swan song for a long era of winning baseball at Citizens Bank Park.
As the team floundered, the 41-year-old Thome was dealt to the Baltimore Orioles on June 30, 2012 for a pair of nondescript minor league prospects. He would retire after finishing up that season in Baltimore.
Over part of four seasons in red pinstripes, Thome recorded a .260/.384/.541 slash line. He blasted 101 home runs, banged 42 doubles, knocked in 281 runs, and scored 243 times.

 

 

Today’s a special day for a very special guy.

Congratulations to Jim Thome on his induction into the @baseballhall today!

For his full 22-year career, Thome blasted 612 home runs. That places him eighth on the all-time Major League Baseball home run leader board. He finished up with 1,699 RBI and 1,583 runs scored. Thome also walked 1,747 times in his career.

 

Though his time in Philadelphia was relatively brief, it was also undoubtedly memorable and influential. He helped the organization in the early-mid 2000’s emerge from a decade of losing and ushered in an exciting new era of winning baseball at a beautiful new ballpark. Today, Thome takes his rightful place among the most memorable players in the history of the game.

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.