by Stephen Pagano
As I gaze through the gates at Broad & Pattison, I try to wrap my mind around the fact that Veterans Stadium has been gone for 13 years. The place where many South Philadelphians, including myself, grew up watching both Phillies baseball and Eagles football. For most people, it was just a building that housed sporting events and concerts, but to me, it was much more than that. It was a second home, a getaway to enjoy live sports with friends, family and other fans during the 1990s and early 2000s. I vividly remember chasing players around for their autographs before and after games. The fireworks were ever so bright each July 4th. As kids, it was more to us than just a ballpark, it was everything to us, and we simply called it “The Vet.”
Vet Stadium opened on April 10th, 1971 as the old Connie Mack Stadium was crumbling to the ground in North Philly. Its unique multi-purpose design allowed for Phillies, Eagles and future Army vs Navy games. It quickly became a staple of the community with its state-of-the-art octorad style, and 65,000 seats. The ballpark hosted the 1976 All-Star Game, concurrently as Connie Mack Stadium was razed from the baseball world forever. As the 1970s concluded, the near decade old Veterans Stadium was missing just one thing and that was, a championship.
The year 1980 was a special one for Philadelphia sports. The Eagles made it to the Super Bowl, the Flyers advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals, the 76ers represented Philly in the NBA Finals and the Phillies won the National League Pennant. No city in history has had all four major sports teams win the title in the same season, but Philly had a chance. The Flyers, Birds, and Sixers all lost respectfully that season on the big stage, leaving just one team, the Phillies in the World Series at Veterans Stadium.
Perhaps the greatest moment in the stadiums history was on October 21st, 1980 as the Phillies had “Lefty” Steve Carlton on the mound against the Kansas City Royals in Game 6. Carlton pitched seven stellar innings in front of a packed house in South Philadelphia. He gave up just one run before handing the ball over to Tug McGraw. Tug pitched the 8th and 9th innings as the team zeroed in on the title. The Phillies closer struck out Willie Wilson as the fans went nuts! The Phillies won the World Series 4 games to 2, and finally brought Vet Stadium its first coveted championship. The stadium saw two more World Series played there in 1983 against the Baltimore Orioles and in 1993 against the Toronto Blue Jays, but both in losing efforts. As the years passed, the ballpark had seen better days, its dreadful AstroTurf caused an abundance of injuries and the building itself was in need of a long overdue facelift.
In preparation for the All-Star Game in 1996, Veterans Stadium was upgraded with brand new blue seats and other newer amenities around the ballpark. The City of Philadelphia was excited to host the “Mid-Summer Classic.” My brother Mark and I attended the annual Home Run Derby on July 8th, 1996. We witnessed Barry Bonds conquer Mark McGwire in an epic showdown at The Vet on a hot Monday afternoon. The next night, Norristown native Mike Piazza won the MVP award of the 67th annual All-Star Game. As the 1990s rolled on, the Phillies were not a good team, but that didn’t stop us from going to the games.
Tickets were sometimes given away as this would put us in the infamous 700 level. Some of the raunchiest fans dwelled in this section of the ballpark as prices were as low as $3.00 a game. The 700 level was notorious for its rowdy and loud troublemakers. In fact, some fans were so unacceptable that a holding cell was built in Veterans Stadium to deal with those wrongdoers. Many opposing teams feared playing at The Vet because of the fans and the terrible field conditions. I’ve always believed that the nosebleed seats featured the most passionate fans in sports.
I’ll never forget the Phillie Phanatic, our beloved mascot, spraying people with super soakers during those hot and humid summer nights in the ballpark. His huge green costume gingerly walked across both dugouts in a playful manner as his wacky antics distracted fans from the miserable teams on the field. As the New Millennium approached, it was inevitable that the Phillies and Eagles both needed new state-of-the-art facilities. The years of multi-purpose stadiums were long gone, as it seemed Vet Stadium would meet its demise sooner than later.
The City of Philadelphia agreed to build two new ballparks in South Philly called Citizens Bank Park and Lincoln Financial Field, which would both feature real grass. It was announced that 2003 would be The Vet’s final season. I personally had mixed emotions about the news; however, I was also excited for a new era in Phillies baseball and Eagles football.
Veterans Stadium was imploded on March 21st, 2004. It took a mere 62 seconds for a structure that both the Phillies and Eagles called home for over three decades to come crashing down. Many fans watched from their cars and homes in the city as Vet Stadium became dust. Although, it was dubbed a “dump” by many people, it was still something very special in its own way. A numerous amount of my childhood was spent at that place and it also kept us safe and out of trouble. I’ve personally been to all 30 current MLB ballparks, but my favorite one does not exist anymore. Nowadays, as I stare at this empty parking lot, all I have left are the memories that rugged old Veterans Stadium gave me, which stood on the corner of Broad & Pattison, in South Philadelphia.