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The Old Timers Baseball Game

By

D. A. Workman

 

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This article is dedicated to two former major league baseball players who have always had a zest for the greatest game of all:  most specifically to Bob Feller, one of the greatest pitchers of all time, and to Tug McGraw, my favorite relief pitcher.  In my opinion, he led the Philadelphia Phillies to a World Championship,  and his pure enjoyment of playing the game cannot be matched.  Tug recently lost a battle with cancer, but will always be in our hearts.

Recently my daughter, Katie, and I spent 4 days in Clearwater enjoying the Philadelphia Phillies spring training camp.  We are transplanted Philadelphians who now live in South Florida.  We met longtime Philadelphia residents and old friends, Dave and Ann Edwards and their daughter Sandra on Clearwater Beach for the long weekend.  It had all been prearranged - with Phillies game tickets purchased together and rooms at the same hotel.  It was a weekend full of love, laughter, and, of course, baseball.  Dave Edwards and I have talked and argued baseball for more than forty years, once as two diehard Phillies fans and now as rivals rooting for the Phils and the Florida Marlins.  I stubbornly clung to my Phillies’ allegiance for many years after moving to Florida in 1980, mainly, of course, because Florida did not have a major league baseball team at that time.  Even in 1993 when the Marlins came into existence, I was not won over.  I confess that I jumped on the bandwagon in 1997 when the Marlins were World Series winners, and suffered with the rest of South Florida when Wayne Huizenga (owner of the Florida Marlins at that time) became disenchanted with baseball and sold off “our” team. Then came 2003, a magical year; everything went right and the Marlins again became World Champions, for the second time in their short history.

The advent of spring training, the most hopeful time of the baseball year, the promise of seeing our friends, and my long history of affection for the Phillies, led Katie and I to Clearwater to enjoy all the promise that spring training brings.

Saturday, March 13, we attended the spring training game between the Phillies and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at the brand-new Bright House Networks Field Stadium, a lovely, cozy new facility. We were part of the largest crowd to attend a baseball game in the facility, although I am sure this record will be broken almost daily in this Grapefruit League season.  The stadium sported spacious seating, clean restrooms, excellent hot dogs, and a super Phillies baseball store right in the facility.  The only difficulty we had was that the line into the store was so long that we had to return the following day to purchase our souvenirs.  I should also complain slightly about the scoreboard which was almost unreadable during the day with the brilliant Florida sun shining on it, but was quite spectacular at night.

 

The Phillies lost to the Rays 6-5, which really was not important.  The first batter for the Devil Rays sent the first pitch out of the park.  It was not an auspicious beginning to the game.  I enjoyed watching outfielder Pat Burrell of the Phillies, a personal favorite of mine, who is a University of Miami grad and recently had his college team number retired in a nice ceremony by the Hurricanes at their opening home baseball game. However, I missed the presence of Jim Thome, the All-Star first baseman, out with a broken thumb, and Jimmy Rollins, the Phillies speedster, who did not play.  My loyalty to the Marlins is without question, but my heart is also with the Phillies, my hometown team from 1950 through 1980.  It still hurts that in 1980, the year I moved from Philadelphia,, the Phillies won the World Series, without my presence!

At any rate, we sat in the new stadium, in pleasant sunlight with a cool breeze, enjoyed the hot dogs and peanuts, and shared old baseball stories of the “Whiz Kids” of 1950 and many other players who would only be remembered by the true Philadelphia fan.  My friends discovered the power of the Florida sun as all three sported the boiled lobster look at the end of day 1! 

The following day we were in for a treat!  We watched a Legends of Baseball game, initiated by Wade Boggs, for the benefit of the Childrens Hospital Foundation.  As a baseball fan, imagine my pleasure at watching the following former major leaguers, heroes of yesteryear, , play the game:  Lou Brock, Randy Hundley, Ferguson Jenkins, Jay Johnstone, Jerry Koosman, Dave Parker, Kent Tekulve for the National League and Paul Blair, Bert Blyleven, Wade Boggs, Bert Campaneris, Ryne Duren, Mudcat Grant, Desmond Howard, Bill Lee, Craig Nettles, Jim Rice, Brooks Robinson, and Luis Tiant  for the American League.

But the highlight of the evening was watching 85-year-old Bob Feller take the mound for the American League.  He pitched well, forcing a double play in his inning of work, and giving me a thrill of a lifetime!  On the other side of the coin, I was startled to see a very rotund Gaylord Perry, who looked a little like Santa with a long white beard and the appropriate shape. 

The disappointments of the evening were the absence of certain ballplayers that had been advertised as players, notably Greg Luzinski and Darren Daulton, two former Phillies I wanted to see.  Juan Marichal was there but did not play in the game, although he looked like he was still in shape to do so.  And the biggest disappointment was that although Mike Schmidt made an appearance, he did not suit up or play.  

This is not the first time my daughter and I have indulged in Phillies spring training with the Edwards family.  On an earlier trip we had the pleasure of meeting Andy Seminick, catcher on the 1950 pennant-winning team.   Andy passed away this off-season, one of the last surviving members of the 1950 “Whiz Kids.”

I look forward to the start of the regular season with a joy that springs up every year about this time.  The Phillies and Marlins, formidable division rivals, will play in the second series of the Marlin season, and we already have our tickets.  Let baseball begin!

 

 

 

 

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