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Phils open final season at Vet
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04/04/2003  8:34 AM ET 
Phils open final season at Vet
By Ken Mandel / MLB.com

The Phils are planning a series of events to commemorate their home for a generation. (George Widman/AP)
PHILADELPHIA -- Of the 2,191 hits of Larry Bowa's Major League career, he vividly recalls No. 143 -- the single that opened Veterans Stadium.

After netting five hits over two games to begin the 1971 season at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, Bowa sliced a single to right off Expos starter Bill Stoneman. He later recorded hit No. 144 as well, a triple that was also the first for the park.

"It's not going to mean much when there's a parking lot there," said Bowa, who nonetheless remembered the pitch "was a fastball. It was great to get that first hit out of the way."

Through its 32 seasons at the corner of Broad and Pattison, the Vet has seen 2,536 games and entertained more than 64 million fans who attended Phillies games. There are just 81 more to go and the first will be Friday against the Pirates. The opener is sold out for the first time since April 11, 1994, the year after the Phillies went to the World Series.

For its 33rd and final season, the Phillies are planning a series of events to commemorate their home for a generation. Despite the cancellation of the ball drop from a helicopter -- the FAA has prohibited airplanes or helicopters from flying over stadiums during Operation Iraqi Freedom -- the day will contain memories from that inaugural season.

Alumni who played at the Vet during the 1971 season, including Greg Luzinski, Tim McCarver and Rick Wise -- will be introduced during pre-game ceremonies. Jim Bunning, the starting and winning pitcher for the Vet opener, will throw the ceremonial first pitch to Shag Crawford, a retired NL umpire who worked the first game at the Vet.

Sharing the honors with Bunning will be U.S. Marine Corporal Frank Mastrogiovanni, who threw out the first ball for the 1971 opener. He lost both legs as a 21-year-old when he stepped on a land mine in Vietnam on January 23, 1971.

The Phillies will wear uniforms styled after those they wore in 1971, while the Pirates will wear yellow uniforms from the mid-1970s. All fans will receive a Phillies rally towel. Hungry fans can also buy $1 Hatfield Phillies Franks.

On Sunday, fans will get a 1971 styled Phillies cap. and the team will salute the teams of the 1970s. "We would love to have Tug join us but we just don't know," said Larry Shenk, the team's vice president of public relations. "It would be neat to have him at the Vet, but his recovery is the number one priority."

In June, the Phillies will salute the 1980s, starting with the World Series championship team. Fans will receive separate bobbleheads such as Steve Bedrosian, Bob Dernier, John Kruk, Mike Schmidt, Garry Maddox and, hopefully, McGraw.

The '93 team will receive accolades during a series against Montreal on July 19-20. Members of that team scheduled to appear are Darren Daulton, Lenny Dykstra, Jim Eisenreich, Danny Jackson and Mitch Williams.

The final fan appreciation day, on Sept. 21 against the Reds, will feature a fan winning a 1971 car.

The Expos and Phillies closed Shibe Park/Connie Mack Stadium on Oct. 1, 1970, then christened the Vet at 2:15 p.m. ET on April 10, 1971. It was 48 degrees and windy that day, as Bunning -- the Majors' oldest starting pitcher at 39 -- won his 220th game. Bowa still has the ball from that first hit of Philadelphia's 4-1 win.

The crowd of 55,352 was the largest to attend a Major League baseball game in Pennsylvania. Expos manager Gene Mauch said at the time that the Vet had to "be the best new park in baseball."

"When the Vet opened, it was like Taj Mahal. That day was pretty electric," Bowa said. "I had a lot of great times there."

On that brisk day, Bowa never imagined that he one day would be part of the stadium's final season.

"When you get a stadium like that, you think it's going to be there forever."

To commemorate each of the 81 final home games, a countdown showing the number of remaining home games will be displayed on the right-field wall. A variety of alumni, celebrities, fans and Phillies employees will change the number during the sixth inning of every home game, until Sept. 27.

Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.



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