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as seen on phillyBurbs.com

So long, old friend
A vet of the Vet bids farewell.

Maybe it was just my imagination or the dust rising high into the Philadelphia skyline, but I'd swear that somewhere up in sports heaven Tug McGraw and Paul Owens shed a tear Sunday.

Leonard Tose shed a few too, but I think he was looking down on Atlantic City, not the pile of rubble that once was The Vet.

It stands now only in my memory.

An ugly concrete coliseum to be sure, its seats were too small, its sloping ramps far too steep and its short stairs were enough to test the equilibrium of astronauts, not just drunken fans.

The Spartan oval was viewed as a pit by professional sports teams nationwide. Its artificial grass known for causing knees to pop and baseballs to bounce askew. Its perpetually pissed patrons world-famous for booing and cheering at the most inappropriate times and sending snowballs sailing from the 700-level. 

But there was something pure about the place where I misspent some of my youth while blowing off classes in high school and college. Something as blue collar Philly as cheesesteaks, hoagies, pretzels in a brown paper bag and stick ball on a quiet side street.

Its very name, Veterans Stadium, made it a place for the proletariat. Grunts who slugged through all kinds of hell, but came back home alive. Survivors.

Save for one magic moment in 1980, the teams that called it home mirrored that image. Never the best to take the field, they were scrappers who fought and clawed for credibility while richer teams spent their way to glory.

That's all gone now. Blown up.

What do the names Lincoln Financial Field and Citizens Bank Park say about the city and the teams that play for it? Has integrity sold out and moved to the suburbs? Has money finally won out?

I know, those are not really fair questions to ask. I haven't even set foot in The Linc yet or strolled down Ashburn Alley in the new ballpark. I'm sure the experience will blow away the stench and foul taste of lukewarm beer that greeted me during my last Phillies game at the Vet last summer.

Still, now I understand how my parents' generation felt when Connie Mack Stadium finally fell to the wrecking ball and why my dad used to get that far away look when he talked about the heyday of Franklin Field.

And I'm only three years older than The Vet was.


Even freakier than last week's late winter snow was the Eagles' sudden acquisition of a legitimate receiver in Terrell Owens.

But I'll hold off patting the backs of Joe Banner and Andy Reid just yet, thank you very much.

Watching the Eagles in the off season is like watching a street crew patch potholes in January. For every hole the team seems to fill, two more open up.

Sure Jevon Kearse finally fills the large gap left behind when Hugh Douglas left the nest last year. But with Duce now running loose in Pittsburgh, who's going to carry the ball?

Will it be the fragile, but promising Brian Westbrook or the veteran, but still-unproven running back Correll Buckhalter?

Speaking of running, does anybody really believe Dhani Jones will do a better job stopping the run than Carlos Emmons did before he got injured last year? If so, why would the Giants let him go and grab Emmons?

And with cornerback Troy Vincent fitting the Bill in Buffalo and Bobby Taylor apparently heading to the Seahawks, who's going to cover the receivers?

Forgive me if I don't start dreaming of a Super Bowl just yet. 

Or a pennant for that matter.

The Phils have looked pretty ugly so far.

Sure, Jim Thome, Todd Pratt, David Bell and Billy Wagner have been on the bench so far with injuries.

Sure, it's just Spring Training.

But with the expensive off season acquisitions of Wagner and Eric Milton, expectations are high. A Grapefruit League record of just 8-9, including yesterday's loss, doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

Dave Ralis' Pave The Grass column appears on Mondays. You can send him an e-mail at  or call him at 215-269-5051. To read his previous columns, click here.

March 22, 2004