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Ballpark

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Ballpark History
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Phillies Ballpark History
One of the most important components of a baseball team is its ballpark. As the current interest in a new stadium in Philadelphia suggests, a ballpark can play an extremely vital role in many of the areas that affect a team.

Ballparks are a major part of Phillies history. Over the years, they have made sizeable contributions to the team's colorful background, and they have provided a special dimension to the rich tradition of Phillies baseball.

Since the club began in 1883, four ballparks have been home to the Phillies. The first three were located in North Philadelphia, where the team played until it moved to its present location in South Philadelphia.

The first Phillies' park was its most unusual. Called Recreation Park, it was located on an odd-shaped lot bordered by Columbia and Ridge Avenues and 24th and 25th Streets.

The field had been used for baseball as early as 1860. During the Civil War, it was occupied by a Union Army cavalry. Later, amateur and professional teams played there until the late 1870s when the field was neglected, and part of it became a horse market.

By the time Al Reach was awarded the Phillies franchise in 1883, he had purchased the site, rebuilt the playing field, added a three-section wooden grandstand and named it Recreation Park. The park had a total capacity of 6,500.

What made Recreation Park particularly strange, were the dimensions of the playing field. It was 300 feet down the left field line and 331 feet to straightaway center. But sticking out into Ridge Avenue, the park reached 369 feet in right-center before closing drastically to 247 down the right field line.

After holding their first spring training at Recreation Park, the Phillies opened their maiden season there, losing to the Providence Grays, 4-3, on May 1, 1883. The Phillies remained at Recreation Park for four seasons, but in need of a park to accommodate larger crowds, finally moved out after the 1887 season.

The Phillies moved into a brand new stadium at Broad Street and Lehigh Avenue. Oficially called National League Park, it was informally called Huntingdon Street Grounds and Philadelphia Base Ball Park, it was built at a cost of $101,000. The original park seated 12,500.

Soon after its construction, National League Park was being hailed as the finest and most modern stadium in the nation. Using brick instead of wood for the outside part of the structure, it included two 75-foot high turrets at either end of the 5,000-seat pavilion behind home plate and a 165-foot high turret at the main entrance at 15th and Huntingdon Streets. Sheds for 55 horse-drawn carriages were located under the grandstands.

The park also had some highly unusual features, foremost of which was the high outfield wall that extended from right to center field. Just 272 feet down the right field line through most of the years (originally, it was 300 feet), the wall was notorious for turning pop flies into home runs and screaming line drives into singles.

National League Park opened on April 30, 1887 with the Phillies defeating the New York Giants, 19-10. In 1894, a major fire destroyed much of the park, and it was rebuilt using mostly steel, a radical new technique in stadium construction. Capacity was increased to 18,800, and clubhouses were installed in center field. The Phillies clubhouse contained a swimming pool.

Over the years, the park repeatedly made the news. A balcony collapsed in 1903, leaving 12 dead and 232 injured. In 1913, William Baker bought the team and renamed the park after himself. The Phillies won the National League pennant in 1915, and in the second game of the World Series at Baker Bowl, Woodrow Wilson became the first president to throw out a ball to open a Series contest.

Always known as a hitter's paradise, Baker Bowl deteriorated badly in the 1920s. It eventually reached the point where the stadium was falling apart. It was called all kinds of insulting names, and became the laughingstock of baseball.

After calling Baker Bowl home for 51 1/2 years, the Phillies played their last game there on June 30, 1938. The park, which was also the home of the Philadelphia Eagles from 1933 to 1935 and the site of numerous other sports activities, came to an end in 1950 when its few remaining parts were torn down.

When problems had occurred at Baker Bowl, the Phillies had also played briefly at the University of Pennsylvania's Varsity Grounds (1894), the Philadelphia Athletics' Columbia Park (1903) and at Shibe Park (1927). On July 4, 1938, the Phils made Shibe Park their regular home, losing the first game of a doubleheader with the Boston Bees, 10-5, and winning the nightcap, 10-2

Shibe Park, which had been built at a cost of $315,248 on a 5.75-acre site that had been farmland, had been home to the Athletics since it opened in 1909. Named after the Athletics principal owner, Benjamin Shibe, and located at 21st Street and Lehigh Avenue, it had originally seated 23,000, but would eventually be expanded to hold 35,000.

By the time the Phillies arrived, Shibe Park had been the scene of seven World Series. In the ensuing years, it would also be the site for two All-Star Games (1943, 1952), the first American League night game (1939) and numerous other noteworthy events.

The park was also noted for its imposing wall, which extended across the outfield from right to center. The height of the wall was increased several times, until it reached 34 feet.

Shibe Park was the home field for the Phillies when they went to the World Series in 1950. In 1953, the park's name was changed to Connie Mack Stadium in honor of the Athletics' owner/manager.

The A's left town after the 1954 season, leaving the the Phillies as the sole baseball occupants of the park. During football season from 1940 to 1957, it was used by the Eagles. All the while, alterations continued on the park's interior, including the addition of a scoreboard purchased from the New York Yankees in 1955.

After 32 1/2 seasons there, the Phillies left Connie Mack Stadium after the 1970 season. Several subsequent fires heavily damaged the park, and eventually it was torn down in 1976.

The History of Veterans Stadium

As early as 1953, city officials plus the Phillies and Eagles began discussions for a new multi-purpose sports stadium. After years of disagreements over the site, size, design, funding and name, the ground-breaking ceremonies were finally held on October 2, 1967.

Veterans Stadium was at long last finished in 1971. Built on a 74-acre site that was formerly marsh land, the park was made in the shape of an octorad, an architect's work that comes from the Latin words for eight and radius or eight points on a radius.

The multi-colored, multi-purpose stadium, the largest in the National League, was completed at a final cost of about $52 million. Seating capacity for the baseball field was originally 56,371.

On April 10, 1971, the largest baseball crowd at the time in the history of Pennsylvania, 55,352, packed the stadium despite temperatures in the low 40s for the first game. Jim Bunning was the starting pitcher for the Phillies and Montreal's Boots Day sent a grounder back to the mound on the very first pitch. Bunning threw to first baseman Deron Johnson to record the stadium's first out.

The Phillies went on to win, 4-1. Larry Bowa got the park's first hit, a single.

The stadium turned out to be a good omen for the Phillies as they entered the most successful era in club history. Three straight division titles were won starting in 1976. Pete Rose and Manny Trillo joined the club and big expectations were in order for 1979. But, the club fell to fourth.

With Dallas Green at the helm, the Phillies made 1980 their greatest year in the 98-year history of the club.

When Tug McGraw struck out Kansas City's Willie Wilson to end the World Series, it was as though all the ghosts of the Phillies past had finally been exorcised.

Throughout the 31-year history of the stadium, the place has changed physically. Scoreboards in left-center and right-center were removed to add more seating; a home run spectacular, mounted on the fourth level facade in center field, which featured the Colonial-dressed Philadelphia Phil and Phyllis, departed, as did the dancing waters beyond the center field wall; an electronic scoreboard and video board were added; more Super Boxes were built and Sky Boxes were constructed at the top of the stadium for the Eagles.

In the last decade, the Phillies and the City of Philadelphia have spent more than $40 million to make sure the stadium continues to be a first-class facility. The earth-tone colored seats were phased out and replaced by all blue seats. A state-of-the-art video board replaced the old Phanavision in center field and, prior to the 2001 season, a new synthetic grass surface, Nexturf, was installed.

From hosting summer block parties on the concourse level to two All-Star Games (1976, 1996) to three World Series appearances (1980, 1983 and 1993), Veterans Stadium has been the home of some of the greatest moments in Phillies history.