For Phillies fans, Saturday was a day to reflect on an old, imploded friend. Veterans Stadium, lovingly referred to as The Vet, would have turned 50 years old, had it not been reduced to a pile of rubble to make way for — what else? — a parking lot in 2004.
The anniversary of The Vet’s opener on April 10, 1971 (which doubles as the anniversary of Harry Kalas’ first home opener with the club) was an occasion to remember a bygone era of baseball — the era of multi-purpose, cookie-cutter stadiums with AstroTurf and subpar sightlines that, long after they outlived their usefulness, still manage to pull at our heartstrings.
Joe Girardi did not manage the Phillies on that day in 1971. The job was then held by a different Italian-American skipper, Frank Lucchesi. But Girardi nevertheless had plenty of his own memories of The Vet from his playing days in the National League.
“Man, I just remember it was a fun place to play in those years,” Girardi said. “It was Kruky [John Kruk] and [Darren] Daulton and [Lenny] Dykstra and [Dave] Hollins and all those guys. They were a good team. It seemed like the turf was always wet and balls were sliding through the outfield. Day games, if I remember, were really tough to see there, because of the backdrop in center field. And the bullpen could be a rough place in that little cage that we were in.”
Playing on, essentially, carpet was an entirely different brand of ball than the one now featured at Citizens Bank Park, which is in its 18th season.
“I think it was a lot of times more advantageous to hit the ball on the ground, because you could get the ball through the infield,” Girardi said. “I know it was a lot hotter, and it was a lot harder physically on your body. I think teams looked a little bit more for speed back in those days, because they could take advantage of the turf. We’ve gotten away from that, and I’m happy that we’ve gotten away from that, because [the turf] chewed guys up.”
Girardi recalled his former Cubs teammate, Andre Dawson, needed “an oil change on his knees every year.”
The Vet served its purpose for 33 years of Phillies and Eagles games, including three World Series (1980, ’83 and ’93) and two All-Star Games (1976 and ’96). And it welcomed 66 million fans through its gates, lodging itself in many a mind and heart.
But 50 years after The Vet’s debut, the Phils were playing a game Saturday at 4-year-old Truist Park outside of Atlanta, and, well, that one’s not so hard on the knees.
‘A great moment of humanity’
One subtle moment during Friday’s game against the Braves got a big reaction on social media.
A father and son dressed in Phillies gear retrieved Freddie Freeman’s eighth-inning home run off David Hale. Rather than keep the ball for themselves, they gave it to a young Braves fan wearing a Freeman jersey.
Braves podcaster Grant McAuley tweeted an image of the moment from the game broadcast, and his post went viral.
The father, James Scott, responded to McAuley’s tweet and said, “Blessings to you for promoting a great moment of humanity. It was a great experience for us but honestly, that’s the DNA of the Scotts. (Pay it forward in love.)”
When told what happened, Girardi was impressed by Scott’s son giving up the ball.
“Wow, what a nice boy,” Girardi said. “Well, hopefully he’s here [Saturday night], and we can hit him one.”
Knapp catches Eflin again
For the second time in as many starts this season, Zach Eflin was paired with backup catcher Andrew Knapp on Saturday. But that doesn’t mean the two are betrothed as batterymates. Girardi just felt it was too early in the season to catch J.T. Realmuto five days in a row.
“I still want J.T. to catch everybody, and I want Knappy to catch everybody, just in case,” Girardi said.
But Girardi said Knapp would likely catch Eflin again Thursday against the Mets, which is a day game after a night game. And having filled a backup catching role himself back in the day, Girardi understands the benefits of familiarity.
“If you can team them up a couple times in a row,” Girardi said, “you felt like you knew the pitcher better and you could feed off what he did his last start.”