04/14/2003 3:07 PM ET
Salute to '70s adds memories
By Larry Shenk / Philadelphia Phillies
The last opener in Veterans Stadium history is indeed history. In this year's Field of Memories season, the Salute to the 1970s opening weekend added more memories.
Alumni who played here when the Vet first opened in 1971 were the key introductions at the Friday afternoon opener. A handful of Alumni who played in the 1970s were added to the mix for Sunday's intros.
We had hoped to have all the living Alumni from the Opening Day lineup of April 10, 1971, but third baseman Don Money and left fielder Johnny Briggs couldn't make it. Money is managing the Beloit (WI) Snappers in the Class A Midwest League and Briggs is a member of the sheriff's department in his hometown of Patterson, NJ. His work schedule didn't leave any room for a journey to Philly.
Whether it was hobnobbing in the hospitality room at The Ritz-Carlton, riding the buses, waiting to be introduced or during other spare time, the Alumni recalled stories and more stories. From my experiences, it is always that way when former players get together. Wearing a Major League uniform creates a bond that we can't appreciate.
It is amazing what they remember, detailed to the "nth" degree.
I tried to make a mental note of some of the conversations but the memories were endless. A few stuck in my memory bank, a bank that sometimes can't remember something five minutes ago:
While riding the Press Elevator on Friday, nearly all of the Alumni along with PA announcer Dan Baker and others got stuck because of an overload of bodies. The elevator stopped about two and a half feet above the second level and it took about 25 minutes before the doors could be opened. Has a game ever been delayed because the pre-game guests were stuck in an elevator? The thought crossed my mind many times. We got out in time for the Alumni to put on their jerseys and head for the home plate runway to be introduced. It truly was a moment that won't be forgotten.
"Two policeman helped me out of the elevator," kidded Senator Jim Bunning. "Yeah, the rest of us had to jump," responded Greg Luzinski. "If the Bull (Luzinski) wasn't in the elevator, we would have been alright," quipped Willie Montanez.
Montanez was so cold on Friday that Terry Harmon went out Saturday and bought a pair of work gloves at a dollar store. Willie was so proud of the gloves he had all the Alumni autograph them.
Willie Stargell hit the longest home run in Vet history, into the 600 level exit in right field in the Vet's first season. "It was a high slider," remembered Bunning, who gave up the tape-measure job. "I didn't want to look because I didn't want to see where it landed. or, if it landed."
Tim McCarver embraced Dick Allen and recalled Manager Gene Mauch's comment about the former Phillies slugger, "Find him. Fine him. Play him." Allen went into one of his typical belly laughs.
The Alumni were introduced by position on Sunday. When instructed on what was going to happen, Allen responded: "Then I better go to the batter's box. That was my best position."
Luzinski: "If I have to go to left field, can I go now and get a head start?" The Phillie Phanatic wound up giving the Bull a ride to left field.
Frank Lucchesi, the manager of the 1971 Phillies who is now 75 years old, spent much of his time tossing trivia quizzes at the Alumni. "He stumped everyone but me. I'm five-for-five," bragged Montanez.
Reliever Gene Garber revealed how one should pitch to Pete Rose. Garber was the final pitcher the day Rose's 44-game hitting streak was stopped. "I learned from Jim Lonborg on how to pitch to Pete, just by watching Jim. As a right-hander, if you come inside on Pete, he will hit it hard to right. If you go outside, he will hit it hard to left. If you throw down the middle, he'll hit a fly ball to center."
As Sunday rolled around, the final day of the three-day reunion, the stories were interrupted by autograph requests from virtually every Alumni member. They all wanted keepsakes. Many wanted individual photos with Senator Bunning. Then came the hard part, the good-bye hugs and kisses.
The scene will be repeated three more times this final season at the Vet. There's a Salute to the 1980s in June, a reunion of the 1993 bunch in July and then the Final Innings at the end of September. The names, faces and memories will be different, but the affection will be the same.
Larry Shenk is the Vice President of Public Relations for the Philadelphia Phillies. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.