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Moth Night in Philadelphia

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One of my best memories as a Phillies fan is also the quirkiest.  I was 12 years old when I attended the Phillies-Pirates game at Veterans Stadium on June 21, 1985.  The Phillies rallied from a two-run deficit in the bottom of the ninth to tie the Pirates and take the game into extra innings.  They eventually won the game 7 innings later with a Juan Samuel RBI double that scored Derrel Thomas (an aside - you could have offered me millions and I would have never come up with that name as a former Phillie).  Final score: Phillies 4, Pirates 3.

But the long extra-inning game wasn't what made this game so memorable or so quirky.  Rather, it was the moths.  Friday, June 21, 1985, was the night that the moths descended on Veterans Stadium.  For whatever reason, moths started appearing during the game.  The conditions must have been perfect for moths, because they somehow notified their friends and soon it seemed that every moth in North America was at the stadium that night.  Looking up to the lights was a sight to behold - moths almost darkened them.

I have two distinct memories of that game, other than all the moths.  I remember sitting in the lower level on the third base side and counting the number of moths that would hit me.  As the game progressed and more moths appeared, more than 40 were hitting me each half inning.  Being a 16 inning game, not to mention one in which moths took over, the stadium emptied out as the game went on.  I took advantage of that and moved to the first row at third base.  I recall asking the third base ump and Pirates thirdbaseman Bill Madlock if they had ever seen anything like the moths that night.  Neither had.

With this bizarre memory of moths swarming Veterans Stadium firmly branded into my memory, I've always sought out a Sports Illustrated story that appeared sometime after the game talking about that night.  I've looked at SI's website in the past but had no luck because old articles were (originally) only available through special order or (more recently) behind a pay service.  But, this morning I discovered that SI has now seen the light and opened up its "vault" to all who want, free of charge.  I quickly found the article - How Bugs Drive Baseball Batty.  It's a fun read for any fan of the game, but especially so for Phillies fans who happened to be in attendance that night.

Here's the intro to the story, describing the night the moths took over Veterans Stadium:

June 21, 1985, will be long remembered at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia as The Night of the Living Moths. The Phillies were leading the Pirates 1-0 in the fifth inning when the moths began arriving, filling the air around the light towers.

By the seventh inning, millions, perhaps billions, of the fluttering insects were in the stadium. "It couldn't have been worse," recalls then Phillies catcher Ozzie Virgil . "You'd go up to hit, and they were in your eyes and ears and mouth." To Phillies outfielder Von Hayes , the ballpark suddenly looked like one of those water-filled paperweights that you shake to make "snow" fall. "It was just like playing in a furry blizzard," he said. "From the outfield you couldn't see home plate."

The game went extra innings. In the bottom of the 15th, Pirates third baseman Bill Madlock was in the process of fielding a routine grounder when he inhaled a moth, gagged and threw wild to first for an error. The Pirates were able to survive that moth in the ointment, but finally, in the bottom of the 16th, Juan Samuel won the game for the Phils with a one-out double down the rightfield line. No bugs were involved.