I wish I could say that I have always loved baseball and the Phillies, but that’s just not the case. Growing up, my life was all about hockey and the Philadelphia Flyers. My mom used to say that my first words (other than family names) were: chocolate, Bobby Clarke, Dornhoefer, and Schultz. My love of baseball came later.
My first real interest in the sport came during the late 1990’s. My then-boyfriend (now husband) was a longtime fan, and his mother even more so. Every Sunday we would go to his mother’s house for lunch, then settle down to watch her Phillies. She lived and died each Sunday over the years by watching “her” Mike Lieberthal, Bobby Abreu, and others.
More from Phillies History
- 11 Free-agent deals the Philadelphia Phillies wish fell through
- Philadelphia Phillies achieve franchise feat for first time since 2011
- Phillies History on August 23: Eric Bruntlett records historic triple play
- Remembering Vin Scully: Dodgers voice’s first game was against Phillies
- Phillies in hot water for inviting Pete Rose to 1980 World Series celebration
1997 was the first summer that I spent watching the Phillies. I learned the game by watching Curt Schilling, Ricky Bottalico and Mark Leiter pitch to Lieberthal. Scott Rolen was the NL Rookie of the Year. He, Lieby, and 1st baseman Rico Brogna were 20-homer sluggers. The 1993 middle infield of Mickey Morandini and Kevin Stocker were still around. Gregg Jefferies was the left fielder.
Rolen was the NL Rookie of the Year following the 1997 season.
The team still had Darren Daulton for much of the year, now playing out in right field in what was his final season. He would end up traded, winning the World Series with the Marlins. Even Ruben Amaro Jr was still out in the field.
The ’97 Phillies may not have been “Whiz Kids”, with a record of 68 wins and 94 losses and a fifth place finish in the NL East, but to my mother-in-law they were still her “dream team”.
In the coming years, my dear mother-in-law developed Alzheimer’s disease. The one thing she could still “do” was watch her Phillies. Because she was unable to do much else, she still got enjoyment from those Sunday Phillies games on TV. Long after most common things were lost to her, “my Bobby Abreu” was something she still remembered.
After she passed away, my husband and I started traveling down to spring training. In 2005, we went and stayed with family members who lived in Clearwater. A memorable moment from that spring came following a game against the Pirates. As we left, we talked about a player who had made an impression, and wondered who this “Shane Victorino” guy was.
We visited again for a game before the 2006 season, and in 2007 we booked a package deal through the Phillies. We had tickets to three games and “dinner with the Phillies”, which got us a dinner with Abraham Nunez and Geoff Geary. Those were the first autographs I ever got from ball players.
In 2008, we stayed in Clearwater for a week and I remember seeing Cole Hamels for the first time. I remember this year not only for the amazing World Series win, but the fact that I saw the very first game they played that year in spring training and followed them throughout the season to that last amazing out.
After that, I was hooked for good. We bought a place here in Clearwater and two years later sold everything in Pennsylvania and moved down here year round.
My first year here in Clearwater, I watched Cody Asche as a Thresher. So many of the “players of tomorrow” are players I’ve already been watching for years. Maikel Franco, Cameron Rupp, Adam Morgan, Ken Giles, Aaron Altherr, Darin Ruf and Kelly Dugan: I’ve watched them all work their way to the top.
This is why I am so invested in the minor league system, and with the Phillies in general. It’s why I go back day after day. It’s watching these players chase their dream of becoming a Major League Baseball player. And for me, it all began with my mother-in-law, and those 1997 Philadelphia Phillies.