On July 4 in the midst of a horrendous Phillies season (thanks Obama!), my mind can't help but wander back to my younger days when the Phillies played inside a cavernous monstrosity of concrete that featured way more yellow and orange (and then blue) seats than people.
Back then, if you lived in the Delaware Valley and wanted to see the best fireworks around, there was one place for you and one place only - the Vet. If the Phillies were in town for the July 4 holiday (and they usually seemed to be), they almost always played a night game on July 3 or July 5. On one of those nights (and sometimes even both), after the game they'd have a spectacular fireworks display. It was the place to be in Philadelphia.
To be sure, Citizens Bank Park still has fireworks displays for the Fourth of July. Though, of course, it's now the XFINITY Fireworks Show and keeping with this year's incompetence, it was held on Thursday and Friday June 26th and 27th, hardly the most patriotic days of the year. I've been to these fireworks shows at CBP and they are fun and enjoyable.
But there's a huge difference between the fireworks at CBP and the fireworks at the Vet - about 15,000 to 20,000 people. Citizens Bank Park's capacity is just about 43,500. The Vet's capacity was 65,500. As we all know, CBP sold out on a regular basis back in the day, so seeing 43,500 of your closest friends sitting with you at a game was nothing out of the ordinary.
It was a completely different story at the Vet. Selling out the Vet was almost unheard of. Even in the best of times, the place rarely seemed more than half full. For instance, in the exciting years of 1980, 1983, and 1993, the Phillies averaged only 32,736, 25,955, and 38,737 respectively.
Which made the fireworks night that much more special. Not only did there seem to be fewer big displays of fireworks available elsewhere, but you rarely got to see the Vet full with people, energy, and excitement.
On fireworks night, you did. The place was packed. Sometimes even close to capacity. The difference between sitting with 44,000 other people and 65,000 other people watching baseball and then fireworks afterwards is a big one. The Vet pulsed with energy in a way it often didn't.
July 3, 1986, is an excellent example. Going into the Thursday night game, the Phillies were in third place, 16.5 games back from first. The season was long done. Bruce Ruffin was making the second start of his career against the 6th place Reds. The Phillies lineup featured Gary Redus, Ron Roenicke, John Russell, and Steve Jeltz. The only thing the team had going for it was that Mike Schmidt was in the middle of his third MVP season. Other than that, the team was bad, and this game was irrelevant.
But on this Thursday night, with two bad teams playing a meaningless game, 61,475 people showed up and packed the Vet almost to capacity. I have no idea for sure if I was at that game, but I would put money on it. Regardless, I'm sure the night was special in the midst of the wasted season. With that many people watching baseball (and a Phillies win too!), there's no way it couldn't be.
Citizens Bank Park is a phenomenal stadium in almost every way. And I don't fault the Phillies at all for building a smaller, more cozy park. It has succeeded beyond anyone's wildest dreams, and as much as I think the Phillies management is incompetent in so many ways, they hit the mark on this one, and I will never fault them for it.
But on this one day of the year, I miss its predecessor, and I miss the crowds of 60,000 people (or more!) watching Phillies baseball.