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Vet Cemetery
Mark Bowden
March 15, 2004
The impending destruction of Philadelphia's aging stadium will mark the end of an era. And maybe an error
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March 15, 2004

Vet Cemetery

The impending destruction of Philadelphia's aging stadium will mark the end of an era. And maybe an error

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At 7 a.m. on March 21, Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium will be imploded. The 33-year-old structure has already been almost completely dismantled and will be a concrete skeleton when it is destroyed....

We are called on to speak well of the dead, so on the verge of its formal execution, let me find some nice things to say about the much-reviled former home of my Philadelphia Phillies and Eagles.

I'm thinking.

Ah! It had symmetry. It formed a clean and monumental circle on the city's southern skyline. If you walked around the outside, it looked the same, north, south, east and west. It was like a giant concrete dog-food bowl on Philadelphia's back porch, and that's a nice image. Almost everybody likes dogs.

It had size—for a while, the largest seating capacity (56,371) in the National League. When they added seats for football—you might remember the temporaries that collapsed during the 1998 Army-Navy game, sending cadets tumbling into the outfield—it could hold even more. Former Eagles head coach Richie Kotite jogged around the 300 level in the early afternoon. Buddy Ryan, his predecessor, didn't jog. He sat in shadows underneath the stands, spitting tobacco juice into little paper cups and thinking of new ways to maim quarterbacks.

...Vet fans were famously obstreperous. During a 1997 Eagles-49ers game, 60 fights broke out in the stands. A municipal court was set up in the stadiums basement....

The Vet was practical. Admittedly, this virtue was not always obvious to baseball fans. On a sunny afternoon in the 700-level outfield seats one could not actually see the ball. You could watch, off in the distance, thumbnail-sized Steve Carlton go into his leggy windup, you could see his smooth and beautiful throwing motion, and you could hear (at a slight delay) the smack of the ball in Bob Boone's mitt. But you might as well have been watching one of those pantomime games of Shadow Ball performed to amuse fans before old Negro leagues games.

Remember, the Vet was designed to allow Philadelphia to stage rock concerts, evangelical crusades, Monster Truck rallies—often on consecutive nights, with a green plastic rug to absorb the abuse. It wasn't a ballpark, it was a venue, and as a venue it sort of worked.

Here are two other nice things about the Vet.

?The seats were set farther away from the field than at most stadiums, so when people tossed batteries and beer bottles it was often without consequence. For instance, when Eagles fans threw snowballs at Santa Claus, no one actually hit him.

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