09/26/2003 8:13 PM ET
Fans say farewell to The Vet
PHILADELPHIA -- For Dale Gromley, attendance is mandatory at this weekend's
closing ceremonies, has been for 33 years.
He had to say goodbye to his longtime concrete and steel pal that he met on
April 10, 1971, and has been friends with ever since.
Having attended every home opener and final home game since 1971 -- including
Game 6 of the 1980 World Series -- the 53-year-old Gromley had been preparing for this
weekend for the past six months.
"I cried a little when I bought my tickets, and I'll cry a little more each
day," said Gromley, as he stood in line with his wife and two daughters. "This weekend is
going to be hard."
Gromley, who has tickets for all three games, has seemingly done it all at this
location. He and his wife, Carla, took in a game in August 1977 -- their first date
as part of a group. They got engaged here four years later, a few days before a strike
ripped through that season.
"We were lucky," Carla said. "I didn't want to wait another two months."
The Gromleys are four of the approximately 165,000 or so Philadelphians who will
pass through The Vet gates one final time. They got married in November 1982 -- the
offseason of course -- and generally come to "about 10 games a year," and those always
include the first and last home games of that season. Carla has missed a few over the
years, but Dale boasts perfect attendance.
He marveled at Karl Wallenda and booed Kiteman -- twice. He chuckled at the
elephants and the dancing dogs. Seeing the first steps of the Phillie Phanatic on April
25, 1978, he wondered what was going on.
He laughed when Mike Schmidt appeared wearing one of Larry Andersen's wigs.
He cheered on Aug. 15, 1990, when Terry Mulholland tossed a no-hitter. Having
missed very little over the years, his face seemed to light up more with each memory.
"We may live in Malvern, (Penn.) but this is our home."
Susan Kelling, 28, isn't a miserable, bitter person. She just doesn't consider
herself to be the sentimental type.
"I won't miss this place one bit," she said.
Kelling was "dragged here by her hair" by her boyfriend, Nick Swarko, who
apparently is the "world's biggest John Kruk fan," both figuratively and literally.
That's only fitting considering Kruk's size then and now. The couple has been dating
five years, though this is the second time they have attended a game together.
"Her choice," said Swarko. "Not mine. I'd come every day if I could."
While Kelling is not the caring, nurturing type -- at least not when it comes to
Veterans Stadium -- Swarko is emotional. He saw his first baseball game here during the
1980 season, and got an autograph from Pete Rose who immediately became his idol.
Swarko has tickets for Saturday's game, but gave a pair of Sunday tickets to his
father for a birthday present, with the stipulation that he gets the second ticket. His
dad took him to his first game.
"Maybe (the gift) was rigged," said Swarko. "But he really wants to go and so do
I, so it worked out."
This of course is fine with Kelling, who plans to attend Opening Day at Citizens
Bank Park with her "fiance."
"It all depends on him," she said, showing her barren ring finger.
Roughly 2,000 miles of prime North American real estate lay between Missoula, Montana and Philadelphia.
Randy Ammon, 48, made the flight from Missoula, and took a detour through his hometown of Eagleville. There he picked up his 73-year-old mother, Jane. The pair arrived Friday afternoon to take in their final games at The Vet.
Decked out in a red Hawaiian shirt -- with mom in a retro-button -- the pair was ready for Friday's game, their final one in this building.
"We just had our pregame cheesesteaks and Tastykakes, so we're doing it right," he said. "I grew up a Phillies fan and remained one over the decades. I had to get one more game in at the Vet. My mom is a die-hard Phillies fan too."
Kyle Trendom left for his freshman year at Kent State University a few weeks
ago, leaving the home of parents Bonnie and Jim Trendom devoid of children for the first
time since 1976.
They've crossed the bridge from Ventnor, N.J., to say farewell to "the palace."
"Are you kidding?" Jim said. "How could I stay away? I need this as much as
Trendom's memories of coming to games are largely personal -- from sneaking into
games at Connie Mack Stadium to having large Sunday afternoon gatherings in the
700-level. He ranks watching Karl Wallenda walk across the Vet in between games of a
doubleheader as one of his greatest highlights.
Like all fathers who bond with their sons, Trendom dragged his kids here as soon
as they were old enough to be dragged.
Now he's dragging his own feet.
"I'm going to miss it," he said. "I celebrated over there (points to a parking
lot at 4:40 one morning (July 3, 1993, when Mitch Williams won a game with a single).
The new park should be awesome, but it can never be here. It's as simple as that."
Ken Mandel is a reporter for
MLB.com. Mike Gennaria contributed to this story, which was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
By Ken Mandel / MLB.com