Fishing

I   II

II


The woozy feeling had pretty much subsided by the next morning, but even thinking about the state I’d been in brought it back. Good thing, because I had those newspapers to deliver. I was up at six, skipped breakfast just to be on the safe side, and headed out on my bike to a rented garage a few blocks away where the truck dropped off a small mountain of Evening Bulletins or Sunday Bulletins every day.


Tommy was there, folding his papers and sipping on a Coke. Folding was tough on Sundays because the papers were so fat with all the advertising supplements stuffed inside. The best you could do was bend them over and slap a rubber band around them fast and hope they wouldn’t pop open when you flung them on your customers’ porches.


I started stuffing the papers in my canvas bag, deciding it would be easier to fold them along the route. Besides, I was running out of rubber bands, so I figured I’d have to improvise along the way.


Make any money this week?" Tommy asked me between gulps of Coke.


Some. A few bucks," I said.


Good. Any left from last week?"


"Maybe. Yeah, I’ve got maybe ten bucks altogether. More or less. Why?"


"What do you say, let’s serve our routes together, help each other out," he said, downing the last of the soda. We had done this before, and instead of saving time, it always took twice as long to finish each route because we messed around so much along the way. He seemed to be reading my thoughts. He was good at that.


"This time, I mean it, we’re going to fly. Tell you why," Tommy said with a smile and a gleam in his eyes. "What do you say we go and see the Phillies play? You and me."


The idea sounded great. I hadn’t been to Connie Mack Stadium since I was, oh seven or eight, when my Dad took the family, but I’d never gone on my own.


"C’mon, let’s get riding and we’ll talk about it," I said.


For a change, Tommy seemed to be moving with dispatch, like he was on a mission. The game would be at 1:30, against the Milwaukee Braves. He assured me it would be OK with my parents; heck, he’d gone to Connie Mack on his own a dozen times or more. He laughed off my story about being seasick all day on the fishing boat. "You’ll be fine. You’ll see."


We finished up at my house and parked our bikes. I went inside to talk to my parents. Dad had just slapped some bacon into a pan and was starting to cook breakfast. Mom was making coffee.


To my surprise, it took practically no wheedling, cajoling or begging to get them to let me go.


"Why don’t you have some breakfast first?" Dad said.


"Nah. Tommy’s waiting."


I think Dad must have felt bad because of how the day before turned out for me.


"Bring a jacket," he said. "Be careful. Do you have enough money?"


I told him I was all set, ran up to my room to get a sweatshirt, said good bye and was out the door.


Funny, my parents never asked why were leaving so early, and truthfully, I didn’t know either. Nine thirty, and we were off to see the Phils.


We walked uptown to catch the bus. Our town was across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, 10 miles from downtown. The Public Service bus cost 35 cents, but if you waited for a slightly older, smokier Wood bus, the ride cost only 30 cents. We decided that whichever came first, we’d take it.


The Wood buses always looked a week or two late for a washing, with road dirt smudging the dark orange paint and square windows, which you wanted wide open this time of the year. The Public Service buses, dull gray and striped white with a sort of wing-span PS logo on the front, were slightly cleaner and there was an off chance you’d get one with air conditioning.


The first one to show was a PS, but without air conditioning, so the first thing we did was muscle the windows up once we paid our 35 cents and got our seats. I was still not quite 100 percent right after yesterday’s fishing trip, so I had to make sure I had air.


The bus rolled through the little borough of Westville, skimmed the side of tiny Brooklawn, a town whose big, boxy homes sprang up around World War I; and then down Broadway in tatty, Irish Catholic Gloucester, a city of tiny duplexes and row homes where every block had a local bar. It was also a bad place to be if you were black because the neighbors would yell and chase them down the street.


Next was Camden, whose main street, once a busy shopping area, was now in serious decline. We passed the shuttered New York Ship, the once-bustling shipyard where my grandfather had been a metallurgist. I never could figure out why they’d name a South Jersey shipyard New York.


Since his retirement, Gramp had in dedicated himself to the Phillies like no other fan I’ve ever known or ever will. He would sit in his screened-in porch he called the sun room, his RCA radio locked into the right frequency to pick up By Saam’s velvety voice, and listen to every single game, every inning, every pitch. He never lost faith even during the dreadful post-Whiz Kids years when Eddie Sawyer’s boys set a straight-losses record, 23 games in a row in 1961, and finished the season with a face-reddening 47-107 record . Gramp kept a black loose-leaf binder filled with lined paper and used a wooden ruler to draw his own score sheets, keeping track of every at-bat, every fence-topper, every error, steal, fielder’s choice, pitching coup or tough outing by Robin Roberts, Del Ennis, Richie Ashburn, Stan Lopata, Curt Simmons and the rest of the Phils. Gramp would nurse one Budweiser through the nine innings and puff on Sweet Caporal cigarettes through the game, add up the stats at the end and close his binder until the next game.


Phillies lore in my family goes way beyond Gramp’s passion for the team. Well before he met the woman who was to become his wife, my grandmother had helped with scorekeeping for the Phillies. A graduate of the prestigious Notre Dame Academy in the city’s Rittenhouse Square, and a harpist who played for the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, Gramma somewhere along the line became acquainted with the Phillies players. One of them, shortstop Mickey Doolan who was a Phillie from 1905 to 1913, became godfather to one of her sons, my Uncle Pete, so the family lore goes.


The PS bus crossed the Ben Franklin Bridge into Philly and made the loop toward Market Street, where it would stop for the return trip. It was still morning when Tommy and I stepped off, in the neighborhood of grand department stores like Lit Brothers, Strawbridge & Clothier and Gimbels (all closed because it was Sunday).


Past the Horn & Hardart automat, a marvelous cafeteria-style place banked by giant checkerboards of little glass doors. You plunked a couple of dimes and nickels into a slot and - voila - the door popped open so you could grab your sandwich, slice of pie or other culinary delight.


We peeked in for a minute but Tommy said we should save our change for the subway. At Broad and Market, just under City Hall, we got to the train station.


"Get a transfer," Tommy ordered.


I didn’t know what a transfer was but I went along with the command, which got me a little slip of paper in exchange for another dime or 15 cents. But it seemed like a good deal when we got off the train at Columbia Street and got on a green city bus for the short ride to Lehigh.


At the top of the stairs leading out of the subway station a beggar, both legs gone below the knees, sat on a box, peddling long, yellow pencils and repeating in a gravelly, desperate voice, "Help me out." His countenance on that steamy, summer morning has lingered in a little corner of my mind ever since.


Then it was a hike through some sketchy neighborhoods to 21st St. where Connie Mack’s unkempt statue marked the way to the claptrap ballpark named for the long-time manager of what was Philly’s long-favored team, the Athletics.


But now, the A’s were long gone. So were Jim Konstanty, Granny Hamner, Willie Jones and the rest of the old Whiz Kids guard. Ashburn was kicking around with the Cubs or Mets, and Simmons had ended up in St. Louis. This was now a new era, with the fresh, new faces of Johnny Callison, Tony Gonzalez, Ruben Amaro and Bobby Wine, Tony Taylor, Cookie Rojas and that slugger they got from Milwaukee, Wes Covington. Pitchers Jim Bunning and Chris Short and Art Mahaffey. And the rookie sensation with glasses, the kid from Wampum, Pa., who could clock the ball a mile, Richie Allen. The club that had the nightmarish 0-23 slump a mere three years earlier was now generating excitement in the City of Brotherly Love. Callison had hammered a tater in the bottom of the ninth in the 1964 All-Star game to bring in three runs and win the game for the National League. Allen was hitting crushing dingers on his way to Rookie of the Year honors, and Bunning hurled a perfect game against the hapless Mets.


They were on a course to win their first pennant since 1950.


We paid our $3 to get past the steel turnstile and Tommy began leading the tour. The squeamishness in my stomach had eased and gradually vaporized as the smell of hot dogs, popcorn and cotton candy wafted through the air of the stadium’s underside corridors.


Tommy, quite familiar with the site, commenced to lead me on a tour, first down to the field, where we could get a good glimpse of the dugouts before ushers hustled us away, then to the deluxe box seats, where our visit was also cut short. We watched as the batting cage was set up and a few early bird players drifted out to warm up. We strolled from the good seats to the cheap ones, then out to the left-field bleachers to check the view to the field. On our way back to the stadium, I felt the long-missing sensation of hunger return and bought a box of popcorn and a 15-cent program. I tucked the lineup booklet under an arm and munched away as I followed my friend around this corner, down that corridor and finally to a spot where he stopped, turned and smiled.


"What’s this?" I asked through a mouthful of popcorn. I held out the box and Tommy took a handful.


He just nodded toward a door at the side. "Phillies Clubhouse" the painted sign on the door read.


"Just wait. They’ll be by," he said in a half-whisper. I had barely finished my popcorn before Tony Gonzalez whisked by in his cream-white, pinstripe Phillies uniform. Tony looked straight ahead and barely took notice as he headed for a narrow corridor leading to the dugout.


"Don’t worry, there’ll be more," Tommy assured me. I was getting it now; this was autograph haven.


A minute or two later, John Briggs, the young outfielder, was standing in front of us, almost waiting to have something to sign. Tommy pulled a pen from his shirt pocket and snatched my scorecard and handed it to Briggs, who didn’t seem as big as the players looked on TV. The outfielder quietly obliged us as a couple of other players drifted by behind him. Bunning came in from the dugout side and encountered a small knot of admirers who asked for his autograph. Rather than quietly brushing them off, he told a fan, "No, I will not" and mumbled something about protecting his pitching arm before continuing to the clubhouse.


Then Frank Thomas, wearing No. 45, appeared out of the dugout corridor. He stopped when he saw my outstretched arm with the scorecard, and signed. A few more players sauntered past by the time Frank handed back the pen, and we waited. Soon Gene Mauch was walking by and Tommy called out to the manager, "Mr. Mauch, can we have your autograph?" He stopped and, using his own red-ink pen, signed.


That seemed an apt end to our quest for signatures. We found our seats and I carefully avoided smudging the signatures on my scorecard with Coke or mustard and ketchup from the succession of 30-cent hot dogs I would chow down through the course of the game.


My seasickness of a day earlier was now gone, like the ball Callison would send over the right-field wall that afternoon. It still wasn’t enough to get the Phils past the Braves, who won 6-2. win over the Milwaukee Braves.


We left Connie Mack from the doorway in right field at the end of the first base line, drifting now and again into the field so we could get the feel of the turf on which the Phillies played. The buses and trains ran on time and, after a detour for pinball in a Market Street arcade, we were on our way home.


What a weekend.


My first deep-sea fishing trip ends up with me seasick, and the first trip on my own to the Phillies end up with a loss. So what. It was a perfect weekend.


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© Buzz Adams, August 2010