Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Uncle Frank and I Go To the World Series

The 1980 World Series holds a special place in the hearts of all Philadelphia Phillies fans, and none more so than myself. First of all, it is the only championship that the Phils have won thus far in their 125-year history. It is also special to me because I got to see it in person, having attended Game #2 at Veteran's Stadium with my Uncle Frank LoBiondo. How it was that my Uncle Frank and I attended a World Series game together is a part of the story. It's not that we were ever particularly close, though he is a great guy and someone who I have always liked and enjoyed being in the company of at family events and such. He is my father's sister's husband, so my uncle through marriage, and again, a great guy. It's just that at the age of 18, I had plenty of friends and family who would normally have been ahead of Uncle Frank in the pecking order for my extra ticket. In fact, that I even had an extra ticket is it's own story. Back in those days which may seem somewhat ancient now, there was no internet, and few of the types of ticket brokers that you find today. Most tickets to events were purchased either by standing in line at the box office or by procuring them at the venue on the day of the event from a 'scalper'. When the Phillies won the 1980 National League pennant by defeating the Houston Astros by 3 games to 2 in one of the most dramatic pennant battles ever, I knew that I just had to get to the first Phils appearance in the Series in my lifetime. I was a huge baseball and Phillies fan, as I remain today, and I went out to The Vet to stand on line waiting for tickets. I got up to the box office and there was a maximum limit of eight (8) tickets that each individual could purchase at $20 per seat, and so I bought my allotted maximum, shelling out $160 in the process. Believe me, that sounds like chump change to most of you here in 2008, and the fact is that it would cost you 10x that amount to get into Citizen's Bank Park for this years Series. Well back then it was a lot of money to me and my young family. As I said already, I was only 18 years old at the time, but I already was married with an 8-month old baby. I worked for First Pennsylvania Bank as a messenger clerk, a job that I had just begun a year earlier, right out of high school. Needless to say, it barely paid the rent and other necessities. But I had a plan in buying the 8 tickets, and it worked wonderfully. At the bank, I put out word that I had extra seats, and was quickly besieged with offers for my tickets. I sold two for $100 apiece, and another two for $50 each. Happy at having done so well, I sold the next pair on the cheap for $25 each. I had quickly sold six of the tickets, worth $120, for a total of $360, and I had my two remaining seats to still enjoy the game. The person with whom I was supposed to attend the game couldn't get off from work, and so I was left to scramble at the last minute for someone to go with me. You wouldn't think it would be a problem, but remember, it was 1980. No cellphones, no texts, no computers. The only way to get in touch with anyone was in person or by land-line phones. With literally no time before I should be leaving for the game, I began to make some phone calls. No luck. No one was answering their phones, or those friends whose homes that I reached were still not home from work or school. Unbelievably, my brother, father, grandfather, and my closest friends were all out-of-pocket in that short time that I had to get a game partner. After trying about a dozen or so people, I thought of my cousins, and I started out by calling the house of my cousin Donna LoBiondo (now Mooney). Donna and I were the same age, and I had always gotten along well with her, and she only lived about three blocks away. When I called, my Uncle Frank, her father, answered the phone. Much as everyone else that I tried, Donna was not yet home from work. But sensing an opportunity, Uncle Frank volunteered that he would go with me if I wanted. Well, there you have it. So I walked over to their home, and Uncle Frank and I walked to the 79 bus on Oregon Avenue, took it westbound to the Broad Street Subway, and took the subway down to The Vet. What excitement there was in what was then still a showplace venue of a stadium. The Phils had held off George Brett and the Kansas City Royals the previous day for a thrilling 7-6 win, and so took a 1-0 lead in the Series into our game. For this 2nd game, the Phils would send their future Hall of Fame ace, Steve Carlton, to the mound. 'Lefty' was cruising along and the Phils took a narrow 2-1 lead into the 7th inning when suddenly there was some type of ruckus down on the field. It seems that the Royals manager believed that Carlton had a foreign substance on his hands. The umps went out and checked, and whatever they found, they made Carlton stop and wash his hands. Whether it rattled Lefty or what, he proceeded to walk three batters, and then the Royals' star outfielder Amos Otis ripped a 2-run double. KC added another run, and took a 4-2 in the game into the bottom of the 8th inning. The Phils started to put a rally together, and pinch-hitter extraordinaire Del Unser eventually tied it at 4-4. Then up came outfielder Bake McBride, and the man known as 'Shake-n-Bake' rapped a go-ahead single through a drawn-in infield to put the Phils back on top. The crowd of more than 60,000 roared, including Uncle Frank and I from out seats way up in the 700 level, the highest point in The Vet, behind home plate. Then the Phils' MVP superstar 3rd baseman and future Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt drove a double off the wall to score bake with an insurance run (pictured above), and The Vet was literally rocking from the jumping up and down and the roar of the crowd. With normal closer Tug McGraw unavailable, tall righty Ron Reed came in for the Save in the 9th, and the Phillies and we fans celebrated a 2-0 lead in the World Series. That lead would evaporate quickly, as Kansas City won the first two games back at their home park to tie the Series at 2-2, but the Phillies won a dramatic 5th game and came back to The Vet exactly 28 years ago tonight. There and then, on October 21st, 1980, the hopes and dreams of all Phillies fans were finally realized when the Tugger slipped a fastball past Willie Wilson with the tying run at the plate, and the Phils took the 6th game by a 4-1 final score. No one who was around this town back then will ever forget that season, team, victory, and the ensuing parade. And in particular, I will never forget my first and only visit to the World Series, with my lucky longshot ticket winner Uncle Frank right there with me.

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